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Earlier this month I had an opportunity to play a near-complete version of WWE 2K19. I spent almost 8 hours playing every offline mode and got an opportunity to learn about the online components from developers and the game’s creative director Lynell Jinks.
AJ Styles in WWE 2K19
Credit: Brian Mazique – WWE 2K19
It was a full experience, but I’ve narrowed my day of gameplay down to 14 major points. I was mostly pleased with what I saw and played, but like most fans, I was also disappointed with some things as well.
These Menus Are AWESOME!
WWE 2K19 Menu
Credit: Brian Mazique – WWE 2K19
The menus have been completely and radically redesigned.
It almost looks as if Steve Jobs became a rabid WWE fan and created an entirely new look for the game. It’s as clean and slick as you’ll find in any sports title. Some of the other games in the genre could learn from this almost mobile-app-like interpretation.
Lighting Makes All The Difference In The World
Credit: Brian Mazique – WWE 2K19
I don’t believe the art team did a ton of work with character models this year, but they did drastically improve the lighting in the game. The result is a spectacular looking product with outstanding renders across the game’s humongous roster.
People who aren’t aware of the process would be surprised how big of a difference adjusted lighting can make. If you look at the faces in NBA 2K19 compared to NBA Live 19, that’s the biggest difference.
Last year’s game would hesitate for than Kyrie Irving on a dribble drive to the basket whenever there were more than four wrestlers in the ring, or in situations where there was a structure in play like a steel cage or Hell in a Cell.
I played WWE 2K19 in almost every mode available, including a Royal Rumble. I didn’t notice one framerate issue. That slowed action was a killjoy in WWE 2K18.
The Loadout Concept
Ahead of matches in Road to Glory, you can choose your reversals. It’s essentially like choosing a loadout in a non-sports game. This adds an element of strategy that is more permissible in wrestling than it is in other sports-themed titles. I usually don’t care for this type of infiltration into the genre, but this could be an exception.
The Game is Harder
WWE 2K19 is far more challenging than its predecessor. Superstar A.I. is one of the main reasons for the increased difficulty. The CPU will look for pinning and submission opportunities more intelligently, and tag-team partners aren’t complete numbskulls as they have been in the past.
Also, I found reversals a little harder to time. I checked to see if the monitor was in game mode, and it was, which further speaks to the visual quality of the game. It’s just that the reversals weren’t quite as automatic.
I liked that. It adds more longevity. If you accomplish some of the goals set before you in single-player modes in this game, you will have earned it. I’d still like to see the franchise get a new engine, but I think this year’s game might offer the best gameplay experience with the current system.
HITC And Cage Matches Redone
I mentioned the improved framerate within these match types, but there is also new functionality to improve the action. Breaking through the cage and fighting on top of the structure is easier, and designed to be more fun that it was in the past. Thankfully, you can enter and exit the cage in a variety of ways. I saw someone else break through one of the cage walls in a Hell in a Cell match, and it surprised everyone watching.
I didn’t get a chance to play any of these matches, but the development team briefly spoke about the changes. This aspect of the game will have to be something I delve deeper into once I have the full version in hand.
You can call these enhanced reversals, or at least that’s the first thing that came to my mind as the concept was being explained. It’s essentially more signature moves replacing some of the generic counters from previous versions of WWE 2K. I really like this addition as it creates more of an organic and smooth experience.
Big Head Mode
Credit: Brian Mazique – WWE 2K19
I don’t usually like gimmicky stuff like this, but I have to admit, the Big Head Mode in WWE 2K19 looks really cool. Imagine the same level of detail that you see in the traditional mode, only it’s blown up to the cartoonish size. It’s the best looking Big Head mode I’ve seen, for what it’s worth.
Showcase Didn’t Really Move Me
Credit: WWE 2K19
The return of Showcase has been the feature 2K seems to be selling as the primary feature in WWE 2K19. I like it, and I love Daniel Bryan (the subject of the documode), but the live action narration isn’t as cool as the rendered cutscenes from the older versions of Showcase.
There were some recreated mic work from old Freebirds, Macho Man and Stone Cold clips in the other Showcases that blew me away. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy this journey as much.
MyCareer Story Improvement, But Still No Women
I only played through the first hour of the MyCareer story, but I can already tell you it is the best in the series’ short history. There are real WWE Superstar voices and there is real depth. It was written by a former WWE story writer, and I enjoyed what I had an opportunity to experience.
The story begins in the Indies, and every character you encounter is fully voiced. It’ll remind you of one of the stronger story years from the NBA 2K franchise. There are more than 200 cutscenes, 1,000 voice lines from 26 different WWE Superstars. The WWE commentary crew and other commentators from the other fictional promotions all have lines recorded specifically for MyCareer. This really adds to the immersion and it makes the mode feel unique.
Before you get into any of that, you still have to create your MyPlayer. You can get into all of the options the creation suite has to offer, or you can use the MyPlayer Wizard to speed up the process. I’d never go that route, but it’s good to see that you can if you were pressed for time, or simply not interested in creation.
Last year, big men were too restricted, and you couldn’t really make an athletic giant.
This year, there are five core styles when you create a Superstar for MyCareer and your character can have up to two substyles The core and substyles can be leveled up and branched out to create even more unique custom Superstars. If you can level up the third tree in the progression, you can unlock unique abilities, but more on that in a minute. We’re looking at the archetype and badge system, so to speak, and it is likely a precursor into competitive gaming for the WWE 2K series.
On the downside, there still is no way to have a female character in MyCareer. I asked Jinks why it wasn’t in this year’s game, and he explained the absence.
According to Jinks, the level of detail the 2K development team wanted to include in the story required a large time commitment. Adding females would mean the team had to write, motion capture, voice and shoot two different sets of cutscenes.
Based on the development cycle the team was working with this year, it just wasn’t feasible to get it in WWE 2K19.
However, Jinks assured me the team is well aware of fan’s desire for female lead characters in MyCareer, and that it is something the developers will continue to look at for future versions of the game. I fully expect this to be the biggest criticism the game faces ahead of its launch.
Universe Appears To Have Made Some Incremental Improvements
Another aspect of the game fans have been begging to see expanded is the Universe mode. In WWE 2K19, the number of titles per show has been increased. The insanely good creation suite has only gotten better, and much of its brilliance can be felt in Universe.
You can now customize the Money in the Bank briefcase, as you can see in the trailer below.
There are also more contextual promos available to make the mic work a little more engaging. As it was in WWE 2K18, the story building wasn’t great. Quite honestly, I’d be surprised if that changed in WWE 2K19. The team seems to know that there is a more fun and intuitive way to deliver this concept but only so much can be remade in a year.
Translation: fans of the old Create-A-Story feature are still waiting for the development team find a way to bring the option to this generation of consoles.
There Are a Number of Road to Glory Layers
Loot Cases (now Loot Packs) have been nerfed in this year’s game. While still present, the dependency and randomness of the items have changed significantly. Pack categories help gamers get more of the content they want when they purchase the virtual products.
Also, in the event that you acquire unwanted items from a Loot Pack, you can trade them in for tokens. Those tokens can be used to purchase specific content for your RTG character. This helps to take the sting off of those futile pulls in loot case concepts. I truly hope other games follow this formula. It would help to curb some of the complaints about these practices.
There is even more to the mode.
If you prestige with your character 5 times, you will unlock special rewards. RTG will also offer new challenges, the ability to join a faction, and specific challenges for characters who are in a faction.
The last major piece of the RTG puzzle is the unique abilities that can be unlocked once you open up the third progression tree for your character. We didn’t get to see any of them, but we’re told the effects are over-the-top, fun and momentum shifting.
Tower of Power
The biggest challenges I found came in Tower gameplay. For those who aren’t aware, the new mode introduces a ladder system of gameplay where you take control of a single character and are challenged to fight your way up to the top. If you can defeat the boss of the ladder, you can earn the reward associated with the Tower.
There are a number of Towers available on the retail version, but more will be added post-release.
The matches have different themes such as no top-rope maneuvers, no running, 8-Bit mode, and the opponents may all belong to a specific group. some Towers may only feature former Intercontinental champions or winners of other titles and events. It was really challenging and a lot of fun to play.
The Gold AJ Styles you see in the Phenomenal One trailer is an opponent in one of the Towers. Just imagine how tough it will be to beat him.
If you’ve read my articles and/or follow my YouTube channels, then you know how passionate I am about creation suites in sports video games. WWE 2K has consistently had the most exemplary creation options in the genre, and this year’s game only adds to its merit.
This year you can create characters with block bodies, and use a tool that is similar to paint apps on your phone or desktop to color them. There are also custom sideplates for WWE championships, new lighting effects in the Create-An-Arena feature that adds a seemingly endless amount of looks to your venues.
While all of those things were great, my favorite feature was the new CAP randomizer. I literally spent more than an hour of the play time just thumbing through the characters and making up stories for them as they popped on the screen.
This isn’t some ridiculous randomized character that has no cohesion from a color-scheme standpoint. The randomizer actually puts together a coordinated attire for every creation. You could sit there and have the CPU generate an entire roster for you if wanted.
What’s even better, you can use the randomizer for the entire character, or just for one aspect of the creation. You might have a good idea for a hat, but you want the CPU to generate a face, or boots, belt, knee pads, whatever, it’s all available. I will be spending embarrassing amounts of time with that tool once the game is available.
It seems to me the WWE 2K franchise could be headed toward a major change, perhaps something new with the engine, in the near future. If this is the last version before something like that happens, the dev team has done a decent job making the most of this base.