Ahead of WWE 2K Battlegrounds‘ launch later this week, Stevivor was provided access to a demo build with a handful of Superstars, two maps and two modes. The experience left us with more questions than answers.
The demo offered up access to two multiplayer modes in the form of the 2v2 Steel Cage match, in which you’re tasked to collect money that spawns on the side of the cage before filling your money meter and then climbing over the cage itself, and the Fatal 4-Way, a free-for-all match. These two modes were played over the Everglades and Auto Shop maps, with the former providing the chance to throw a Superstar into the waiting mouth of an alligator and the latter allowing explosive barrels and a jacked-up car that could be lowered onto an opponent’s head.
Moreover, we played with the following Superstars, with one — Edge — a confirmed pre-order bonus: Andre the Giant, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Jeff Hardy, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Fiend Bray Wyatt, The Rock, Undertaker, Xavier Woods, Asuka, Ronda Rousey, Sasha Banks and Stephanie McMahon.
All up, over 130 WWE Superstars in total will be playable in-game, and it’s here that our questions begin. Selecting characters, we noticed that some were ranked Legendary and others Epic, suggesting a tiered system of rarity that seems perfect-built for microtransactions. Saber and 2K have confirmed that more Superstars are coming via free updates, but those characters — and ones in the standard roster — “may require unlocking through game modes or in-game currency [called Golden Bucks]” which “can be earned or paid.” Whelp.
While our approach may seem pessimistic, we already also know that by ponying up an extra $10 AUD at launch, you’ll gain access to “all versions of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Ronda Rousey unlocked at the beginning of play, plus 1100 bonus Golden Bucks.”
It’s rather fitting — that desire to grab more of your hard-earned is coupled with a presentation that looks like it’s cut a few corners. While each Superstar has his or her own entrance music, moves and animations, their actual entrances are copy-paste affairs (“making his way to the ring!”) and despite an attempt to inject some personality seem rather soulless. Stone Cold Steve Austin has been confirmed as a mentor for new recuits in the game’s campaign, but the rather strange grunts he emits in his entrance don’t appear to be coming from the real life legend’s mouth. Admittedly, the entrances we witness in the preview are all an improvement to what was offered in the buggy mess that was WWE 2K20.
On the subject of the campaign, the multiplayer experience’s tooltips confirmed that in-game power-ups will be earned through the single-player mode. Hopefully that extends to some of the roster as well instead of a reliance on Golden Bucks.
In terms of actual gameplay, WWE 2K Battlegrounds seems solid, with punches, kicks and Irish whips standard fare. Each character has three meters: one for health, another for stamina and the last for heat. With full heat, you’ll be able to fire off a signature move, and your health and stamina are depleted by taking damage or by spamming attack buttons. Super-powered moves are available through the LT… and a host of other moves are available to, though in another low-cost move a tutorial system is relegated to pages and pages of move descriptions with any practical functionality that’ll let you try things out.
Power-ups like flaming fists are also at a player’s disposal in addition to the level-specific hazards we’ve mentioned previously. There’s a huge exaggeration on aerial moves, with characters throwing opponents ridiculously high into the air before a neckbreaker, piledriver or similar. While those moments are enjoyably over-the-top, in 4-player matches there’s so much going at the same time you’ll only appreciate them if you’re the one giving (or receiving) the move. The same is true for the gator.
In short, the handful of multiplayer matches we played were fun enough, but nothing to write home about. From the two modes on offer in the preview build, we’ve found that multiplayer provides a rather shallow, arcade-style experience that ultimately feels more like a mobile game than anything else. Additional modes including the Royale Rumble, one-on-one, tag team and a Triple Threat may correct that.
With its campaign promising the chance to build up a rookie through the WWE, will that side of things be more serious, with maps to match, or will a rookie be using alligators to make his or her way to the top? If my interest really wasn’t piqued by the offering, will a die-hard WWE feel differently? Or rather, will they play this, run into propositions of microtransactions and feel cheated that they weren’t given a true simulator this year? Time will tell.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds heads to Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch and Stadia where available on 18 September.