It’s an easy thing to forget that after the billions of dollars, years of character building, and the launching of hundreds of entertainment careers, the WWE is still essentially the act of smashing together action figures stretched out to the size of a massive media empire. In WWE 2K Battlegrounds, that childish act of toy destruction seems to be at the heart of everything that the game brings to the table.
If you’re wondering where WWE 2K Battlegrounds fits within the current line of WWE games, the basic answer is that it’s a pick-up-and-play party game with an arcade bent. The character designs here are even more exaggerated than their real-life counterparts, the animations are bombastic and colourful, and there’s a simplicity that’ll probably let you explain how to play to a friend in about 30 seconds.
Punching, throwing, kicking – all your moves are pretty standard, with the few ways to spice things up coming in the form of finishing moves, reversals and special abilities that you unlock as you land more blows on your opponent. You have a health bar, a stamina bar and a ‘heat’ bar that’ll allow you to pull off the aforementioned finishing moves. So far, so fighting game.
“The amount of fun that you have in WWE 2K Battlegrounds is probably going to depend on the amount of chaos on screen at any given time…”
The amount of fun that you have in WWE 2K Battlegrounds is probably going to depend on the amount of chaos on screen at any given time, and the game is at its best during a game mode like ‘Fatal-4 Way’ (four wrestlers battle to see who can force a submission first), where you’ve got a bunch of the game’s character types all duking it out. There are, of course, your one-on-ones, cage matches and royal rumbles as far as match types go as well.
Character types are the game’s way of shaking things up from a stats side of things, with each character type differing in terms of speed, damage, agility, grappling power, and skill with weapons such as guitars and folding chairs. That said, that’s where the variety kind of dries up, and while there is a wonderful amount of diversity to WWE 2K Battlegrounds on the visual side of things, the simplicity of the control scheme means that character types feel pretty similar to play, regardless of their supposed differences. The fact that there aren’t fundamental control differences between a light, agile wrestler like the High-Flyer and a slow heavy hitter like the Powerhouse is bizarre.
But, at the end of the day, we’re all here for the action fig—uh, wrestlers, right? From Hulk Hogan to Becky Lynch to Roman Reigns, the WWE 2K Battlegrounds roster is decidedly stacked with talent, with 77 wrestlers in the base game. Unfortunately, WWE 2K Battlegrounds makes the move of locking the full roster behind either hours and hours of grinding in its various game modes, or by throwing down cash on the game’s paid currency.
It’s not the best look, dangling a roster of legends and fan favourites on a string – but just out of reach. This is supposed to be a party game! There should be as few barriers in the way as possible when it comes to letting players pick their favourite wrestler to jump into the ring with. Unlocking a particular character doesn’t even give you access to all of their costumes, with each new getup coming with its own price tag. This carries over into the character creation mode too, with many of the truly interesting or wild character cosmetics either locked behind a paywall or requiring much grinding.
So, WWE 2K Battlegrounds ends up feeling a little at odds with itself. It’s a game which gets the closest we’ve ever seen to the weird mixture of dumb high art and athletic ridiculousness that WWE has distilled, but it puts up such barriers around some of its most prized content, which in turn is at odds with its pick up and play nature.
Ultimately, it comes back to that original youthful pastime. If you were the kind of kid who loved staging battles between your toys, then chances are that you’ll love WWE 2K Battlegrounds – despite all the lunges and grabs for your cash.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds is available now on PS4, Xbox One and Switch.