WWE 2K Battlegrounds Review – MicrotransactionMania

Sep 22, 2020
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GAME INFO

WWE 2K Battlegrounds

September 18th, 2020
Platform PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
Publisher 2K Sports
Developer Saber Interactive

WWE 2K20 was an unmitigated disaster. I gave the game a 3 out of 10, and in retrospect, I may have been too generous. That game was so bad it forced 2K Games to do the unthinkable and take a year off from their annual WWE release schedule. 2K and developer Visual Concepts are working on a new core WWE game for 2021, but in the meantime, contractual obligations need to be met, so we’re getting WWE 2K Battlegrounds from the reliable workhorses at Saber Interactive.

WWE 2K Battlegrounds harkens back to arcade-flavored games like WWE All-Stars or perhaps even classics like WWF WrestleFest, which sounds like a good idea in theory, but building up a new wrasslin’ game contender from scratch is no easy task. Is WWE 2K Battlegrounds a paper champ just filling space until the real star of the show returns? Ring the bell, it’s time to find out…

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The in-ring action is the foundation of any good wrestling game, and in that respect, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is on fairly solid footing. Yes, the game’s controls and mechanics are fairly simple, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The face and shoulder buttons are used to unleash an array of basic moves, including punches, kicks, Irish whips, top-rope maneuvers and certain Special attacks. Your main lineup of signature Special Moves are unleashed by simply tapping the right stick in one of the four cardinal directions. As you build up your “Heat” by inflicting/absorbing damage and taunting, you’ll also unlock your finisher and a variety of powerups like rock-hard skin or unblockable shots.

On a basic level, WWE 2K Battlegrounds’ is certainly more entertaining than the motley collection of broken mechanics the core WWE 2K games have been inflicting on fans for years. Action is fast and fluid and the pieces of an actual functional combat system are intact. Certain moves can cancel others, allowing for some legit strategy! You have the ability to block/parry incoming shots and the timing of reversals won’t make you want to throw yourself into an active volcano! Yeah, these are extremely basic things, but it’s still incredibly refreshing to see them in a WWE game again. Battlegrounds also does a good job of implementing various match types, including the classic steel cage (you now have to collect a certain amount of cash prior to escaping) and the Royal Rumble (eliminating opponents isn’t the hassle it is in many other wrestling games).

Unfortunately, while WWE 2K Battlegrounds’ action starts out invigorating, a lack of depth means the charm wears off rather quickly. Wrestlers are divided into five classes (Powerhouse, Technician, High-Flyer, Brawler, and All-Rounder) each of which feel fairly unique, but most of those within each class are more or less the same. Not tailoring moves and animations to each individual wrestler means you end up with weird scenarios like Jake the Snake Roberts doing elaborate spinning karate kicks and hurricanranas and the Big Show bumping around the ring like he weighs 150 pounds. Even those crazy interactive stage elements you’ve seen in the trailers wear thin – how many times can you toss an opponent into an alligator’s hungry maw before the novelty wears off? Not as many as you might think!

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As far as visuals go, well, what can be said? Saber tried for a cartoony “super-deformed” look and they missed the mark. Badly. That said, while many characters only resemble their real-life counterparts in the broadest possible sense, Battlegrounds is still more appealing-looking than WWE 2K20. The game is colorful, well-animated, and performs decently. As a bonus, while it’s simple and repetitive, this year’s commentary is actually tolerable for the first time in forever.

So, WWE 2K Battlegrounds plays fairly well, but what kind of modes can you expect? Well, there’s a Campaign that forces you to play as a series of seven cringingly-uncool faux superstars made up by the developers. The Campaign tells the tale of Paul Heyman and Steve Austin’s attempts to start a new WWE “Battlegrounds” brand, which is actually an interesting setup, that’s ultimately undone by cheap presentation (the story is told via static, and not particularly well-illustrated, comic book pages) and a goofy, childish tone. If Jake Roberts spelling out cute messages with snakes, Daniel Bryan wrestling with diarrhea, and Brock Lesnar literally rising out of the muck like Swamp Thing sounds enjoyable to you, then Battlegrounds is for you, but I rarely cracked a smile.

When not groaning at the Campaign’s story, you’ll work your way through a branching series of challenges. Win matches and you’ll open up unlockables and the occasional side path you can complete for some extra goodies. It all flows by easily enough, although the developers throw far too many Royal Rumble matches at you. Thankfully, you’re not required to eliminate a full 29 opponents, but the Rumbles still grind the Campaign’s momentum to a halt. Aside from the Campaign, you can create your own character from a rather limited number of options and level them up by playing through Battleground Challenge mode, which is essentially just Campaign without the story.

Based on my description thus far, WWE 2K Battlegrounds probably sounds like an entertaining, if somewhat shallow, wrestling game that may be worth a shot for those looking for something a little different, right? Well, not so fast. Sadly, 2K scuttles any goodwill this game might have generated with their shameless money grubbing. Battlegrounds launches with over 70 superstars, but over half of them are locked away to start. These include most of WWE’s current top stars, including Seth Rollins, Drew McIntyre, and Becky Lynch, and favorites from the past like Andre the Giant and Triple H. A few characters can be unlocked through the Campaign, but to be brutally honest, they’re mostly characters nobody would want to pay for like Baron Corbin and Lashley. The rest of the locked characters can only be accessed by spending “Bucks,” which can be earned in game, or “Golden Bucks” which can be bought with real-world money. Sure, you can earn enough Bucks to unlock a Luke Gallows or Mickie James fairly quickly, but getting Becky Lynch will cost you 12,000 regular Bucks, which will take you a solid hour or two to earn.

Aside from unlocking wrestlers, WWE 2K Battlegrounds expects you to spend bucks for alternate costumes, create-a-wrestler and create-a-battleground options, extra custom wrestler save slots, the ability to choose your own upgrades for your wrestlers, and power-up upgrades. Bucks are mainly gained by levelling up your account, and initially they roll in fairly quickly, but the amount of XP needed to level up steadily increases and the Bucks you’re awarded don’t keep pace. In other words, the longer you play, the harder it gets to unlock stuff. At least Battlegrounds doesn’t feature loot boxes or any sort of random chance gimmicks, but that’s somewhat cold comfort.

Technically, there’s quite a bit of content in WWE 2K Battlegrounds, but the amount of time/money you’re expected to expend to unlock it will turn away all but the most diehard completionists. Battlegrounds is the high-flier that catches your eye with flashy moves but lacks real depth and personality, and mainly seems to be interested in selling you t-shirts. The Kalisto of wrestling games, if you will. Much like his PPV pre-show matches, you’re probably okay skipping this one.

This review was based on a PlayStation 4 copy of WWE 2K Battlegrounds provided by publisher 2K Games.

5

WWE 2K Battlegrounds is clearly a rush job, but the game’s simple, fundamentally sound action can be a real breath of fresh air at times. Unfortunately, that air is tainted by overbearing microtransactions that feel particularly crass given the game’s cartoony, kid-friendly aesthetic. Battlegrounds could have been a contender if 2K had truly believed in the game, but once again, the publisher only seems to be interested in wrestling open fans’ wallets.

Pros

  • Streamlined, entertaining action
  • Clever takes on classic match types
  • Fun online multiplayer modes
  • Commentary is bearable!

Cons

  • Braindead AI opponents
  • Lack of variety limits longevity
  • Campaign is repetitive and silly
  • Character designs are a mess
  • Out-of-control monetization
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