WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS is a first of its kind, that does for wrestling like what Saber Interactive’s own NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 did for basketball. You’ll play as caricatures of WWE’s past and present performing exaggerated movesets in extravagant arenas. It’s not a complex game by design, and allows anyone to pick it up and play. Fun is at the forefront, and there’s a strong emphasis on an arcade brawler type of game over the mainline game’s simulation aspects of wrestling. WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS has a surprising amount of depth, but not without a few botches along the way. It’s not enough to deter for what’s enjoyable game that lands a little more than it misses.
There’s two main tracks for WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS, the Campaign and Battleground Challenge. The campaign sees legendary manager, Paul Heyman reaching out to Stone Cold Steve Austin for recruiting wrestlers with attitude based on an idea that Vince McMahon greenlit. These interactions are told through static, comic book style cutscenes. They aren’t voiced, narrated, or feature any kind of motion. However, the art is really well done and normally I complain about these sort of things, but it works here. Now, this isn’t to be confused with the WWE PPV of nearly the same name. Once Paul Heyman and Stone Cold start assembling wrestlers from across the globe, they start calling this brand “Battlegrounds”, as its this upstart and grassroots kind of thing. From there, it’s about an eight hour campaign playing as each of the recruits as they make a name for themselves in the WWE, essentially in their own backyard. It’s a fun experience, if nothing else to see Stone Cold Steve Austin wearing an alligator hat.
The Battleground Challenge is where you take your created wrestlers through a long series of matches to unlock skill points to invest into your characters, and unlock other rewards. It’s a massive tree of fights, but gives you a journey that the exhibition mode can’t really compete with. Every created wrestler starts off basic, but as you fight more, you can eventually earn everything to bring them to the top. Or, you can spend real money to buy all the points they need to be leveled up. Creating a wrestler offers limited options, from the look to how they dress. This is fine for the most part, but still a little disappointing. The whole game centers around five classes of wrestlers: brawler, all-arounder, powerhouse, technician, high-flyer. When creating your character, you’ll slot them into this mold, which also dictates how tall an individual can be. So there does need to be some consideration given there. While it’s just a vessel to level up your characters, the series of matches you’ll undergo are varied and the rewards are bountiful, that you’ll want to keep fighting through them all.
There are plenty of other modes, such as the Exhibition mode which is split amongst the men and women’s division. This is where you can just pull up any match, with any stipulation like a Royal Rumble, Cage Match, or Triple Threat to battle in while solo, or in local multiplayer. It’s the most basic offering found in the game, but a solid way to just jump right in if you’re looking for something to do.
The Tournament mode is actually an online mode, but you won’t know it’s multiplayer until you get into it. There’s free and paid tiers to participate. The barrier to entry is using your earned or bought currency to enter in the tournaments. Now, if you do well, you’ll be paid out at least twice of what you paid to get in. So the rewards are definitely worth it. It’s all time-limited matches, with different win conditions, like a revolving door. Next is the King of the Battleground, the main multiplayer mode that has no costs associated. It’s an ongoing Last Person Standing match where players drop in when entering, and drop out when eliminated. The winner receives the biggest cash prize, and is an easy way to earn money if any of the other modes aren’t giving you a return on investment. What I think is great about how the multiplayer is done, is that it’s all crossplatform. So that means PC players can play with Xbox, Switch, and so on.
When you’re in a match, it’s all pretty intuitive on what to do. Though, the game puts some extra details underneath your character so you can keep your eyes focused on the match instead of the HUD. You have your health bar, and next to it is your stamina bar. The stamina bar allows for running, and executing special moves. It regenerates on its own as long as you’re not performing any of the aforementioned movements. Lastly you have the heat bar, this builds up as you punch, kick, take beatings, or taunt for the crowd’s spectacle. When filled, it’ll allow you to enact signature or finisher moves that will do massive damage to an opponent’s lifebar. Do this enough, and you can either get them into a submission hold or pin them for the 3-count. During the entire match, the crowd will ask for specific moves or things to happen, and by doing them you’ll sway the crowd in your favor. Though you can lose favor by being idle, repetitive, or otherwise uninteresting. Fill that bar, and it becomes a sure bet that you’ll win by pinfall or submission.
From wrestlers like Drew McIntyre to Kevin Owens to Shawn Michaels and the likes of Alexa Bliss, they all have power-ups that can be swapped out as you unlock new ones. You’ll unlock them all by playing through the campaign, but even as a created wrestler, you’ll be able to find your own style and preferred way to play. They are all separated by tiers, so you can’t slot three tier 3 power-ups and completely decimate in every match. But there’s lots to play with, and it’s all preference. In the early going with the default power-ups, I rarely used them except the tier 2 skill that restores health. Once I unlocked others, I found a series of them that complimented how I played to benefit me the most. Much like WWE itself, you’ll be able to exit the ring and scrounge underneath to find things like chairs and kendo sticks to deal additional hurt to your opponents. Unlike WWE, you can perform environmental attacks for massive damage. In the Mexico level, you can control a mechanical bull and deal three charges. In Florida, you can throw opponents to the gators. And in Boot Camp, you can jump onto a low-flying helicopter to perform a devastating punch complete with a superhero landing. It’s all so ridiculous from the power-ups to the attacks, that you can’t help but have a good time (unless this is all happening to you).
There’s some oddities to be found, most noticeably in the announcing. While the delivery of WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry “The King” Lawler and former WWE announcer Mauro Ranallo are excellent for what sound bites they provide, the problem is that most of their dialogue kicks off way too late, or is entirely inappropriate for what’s happening in the ring. There’s some visual glitches, mostly when special moves are kicking off, specifically your character will blink out of existence for just a second before returning to the mortal plane for the rest of the animation. Some of these things are minor in the grand scheme of things, but are no doubt visible and have an impact on the overall enjoyment.
There are times where you have to perform in tag matches, and your AI partner can be less than helpful. Sometimes they just stand there and let you get ganged up on by both tag partners, other times they stay out of the ring for too long and get counted out. This tends to you to essentially ignore them, and try to do it all yourself. When you tag your partner, you become them, so it’s almost like having a second health bar at your disposal. I ended up winning a lot of one-on-one matches by cheesing attacks, and baiting opponents into getting counted out. It’s a solid strategy, and does ease what is already a forgiving game.
WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS lets you create your own Battlegrounds arena. Now, much like the create-a-wrestler feature, this too is limited. It is not as involved or detailed as what you can find in the WWE 2K games. But for what it is, you can make something of your own, name it how you like, and use it in matches. They can’t be shared, also like your created wrestlers. While that was a big component on the simulation series, it’s just not what this is about. There are items of building your arena that are locked behind the game’s in-game currency. Which lends itself to the overall feel of the microtransactions.
Almost everything in the game can be earned, but you can pay real-money for a different currency to unlock everything at once (like for your created wrestler), or to get a particular item. Not every wrestler is unlocked from the beginning. Some of WWE’s title holders are locked behind this currency, such as Drew McIntyre. Now, there’s considerations there is a “lock-in” date for when individuals are considered champions, as it is not an ever-changing roster when these events happen. All the same, it’s weird who is locked, and who’s not.
While WWE 2K21 was canceled for this year, I found WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS to be a solid replacement. While they are not facsimiles to one another, it fills the gap nicely. I think there’s valid concerns with the microtransactions, but for the most part isn’t egregious or tacky. The game’s biggest modes are chock full of content for hours of entertainment, and even the remainder of the modes are fun to play with its stylized visuals. The longevity will lie in its multiplayer modes, and crossplay deepens the player pool. WWE 2K BATTLEGROUNDS is an ultracompetent brawler that doesn’t try to be more than it is, which is a really entertaining take on wrestling.
A Steam code was provided by 2K for review purposes