Review: WWE 2K Battlegrounds (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • Google Stadia

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • PS4 Slim
  • HD TV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: WWE 2K Battlegrounds
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (6.1 GB)
Release Date: September 18, 2020
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Saber Interactive
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes; however, the reviewer purchased a copy of the game for their personal use and used that copy for review.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
After the disastrous critical fallout of last year’s WWE 2K20, publisher 2K has given their annual WWE 2K franchise this year off. In its place is WWE 2K Battlegrounds from developer Saber Interactive. It features a more arcade style of gameplay designed to be approachable for everyone, with more streamlined controls, over-the-top acrobatics (complete with glowing energy pulse flourishes), extraordinarily deformed depictions of wrestlers, and a roster spanning several decades. 2K attempted this before about a decade ago with WWE All-Stars with positive results, and almost successfully accomplished that again here.

Saber largely nailed the general arcade style control scheme by simplifying the controls greatly from the annual WWE 2K games. The straightforward controls are quick to grasp, and the average matches are usually quick three-to-four minute affairs. There are effortless kick and punch combos for general striking, only a few grapple moves (or “throws” as Battlegrounds labels them) to pull off, and a more dialed back amount of submissions and top rope dives that are available. The wrestlers are classified in one of five classes like “Powerhouse” or “High Flyer” which puts restrictions on some of their moves, like being able to perform dives over the ropes, or able to lift heavyweights. The only drawback with this lighter move-set is a lot of the wrestlers share similar moves and only have one, maybe two distinctive signature moves and taunting animations to give them their distinctiveness. This results in a noticeable chunk of the roster not feeling all that dissimilar from each other.

A big gameplay addition to Battlegrounds is the “Battlegrounds” arenas themselves, where most of the location-based themed stages have an interactive element. An example of this is in the Florida Everglades stage where a wrestler can be tossed into, and then chewed up and spat out by, a crocodile chilling at ringside. These interactions are a riot to pull off and fun to take advantage of during matches. Three tiers of power-ups can be equipped, with some offering only marginal statistical improvements, but others being convenient game changers, such as regenerating health or delivering an enormous twirling swing maneuver. I am a fan of the wild card mechanic the power-ups brought to the table. Extra power-ups can be unlocked in the primary campaign story mode, or via the digital “battle bucks” in-game currency.

Yes, this being a 2K game, it is no surprise the dreaded virtual currency is pushed heavily throughout the menus. Thankfully, decent amounts of currency is awarded for completing matches, grinding through the primary single player modes, and larger amounts are rewarded by completing one of three daily challenges. “Golden Bucks” currency can be purchased as DLC. There is a lot to unlock if you fully invest in all of Battlegrounds’ unlocks and customization options, and while some of the unlocks and currency values seem fair, there are others that cross the line from my perspective. The create-a-wrestler feature is where this is most apparent, with the slicker customization parts requiring currency. Past WWE 2K titles usually offered options to create up to dozens of wrestlers, but Battlegrounds puts a cap at five, with each additional created wrestler slots requiring currency, which seems excessive.

There are 70 wrestlers available in the base game, and 63 to come in downloadable content. The bummer is that of that 70, only 21 are unlocked from the start (24 if you get the deluxe version of the game), with many big name current stars like Becky Lynch, AJ Styles and Seth Rollins requiring unlocking. A decent amount of them can be unlocked through playing the story-driven Campaign mode, but most require currency to unlock, and even more currency to unlock all of the wrestler’s alternate attires. One more gripe with the currency is each created wrestler starts with an overall rating of 60 out of 100. You can either grind away in a variety of matches with created wrestlers in the “Battleground Challenge” mode to unlock attribute points, or pay the equivalent of roughly $10 to maximize the ratings of your wrestler. So while a lot of this is fairly priced, and if you are not one to mess with created wrestlers then the virtual currency may not be that much of an issue, but all the unlocks culminate in a ton of currency to be earned.

At least earning that currency is pretty fun in said story-driven Campaign mode. It features amusing comic panels where Paul Heyman assigns Steve Austin to travel the world to discover untapped talent for his new “Battlegrounds” promotion. Every several matches in the core branching path you play as one of a handful of fictional wrestlers trying to break into WWE. The comic book panels do a fine job establishing their personas and backgrounds and finding unique ways to set up their matches. I was cracking up at how they introduced Brock Lesnar in a fitting, fantastical way into the storyline, and Steve Austin’s consistent travel hiccups. The campaign has a huge branching tree arc layout to it, with a core path down the middle that serves up the narration and the only matches required to finish the mode, but you can get a lot more value, currency, and unlocks out of it by playing the many branching matches off the main path. The final stretch of matches ramps up significantly in difficulty, and I had to stop and walk away a few times after some intense Gauntlet matches, and a nasty bout with The Undertaker, who reverses a majority of your moves and made me think his undefeated WrestleMania streak was still alive. Getting through these final matches will undoubtedly test your tolerance in an otherwise very entertaining Campaign mode.

While Battlegrounds may not measure up to the immense amount of modes and match types accumulated over the years in the mainline WWE 2K games, almost all the noteworthy primary and specialty matches are here. Aside from standard singles, tag team, triple threat, and fatal four-way matches, there are also cage matches, and the over-the-top-rope classic, The Royal Rumble. Cage matches have a fun twist to them I have not seen in prior games, where wrestlers have to fill up a meter with randomly placed cash pick-ups before being able to climb over the cage that will randomly electrocute wrestlers at will. It added a refreshing twist to cage matches. If you are looking for more of the specialty matches seen in other games, like Ladder matches and Hell in a Cell bouts, then you will be out of luck, but for a first game in a new series, Battlegrounds offers up a respectable amount of available variations.

Visuals:
The exaggerated, deformed looks of the wrestlers perfectly encapsulates the ridiculous nature of gameplay. I love the outlandishly animated moves, and how the action winds up with the wrestlers leaping up in midair and wildly flipping and somersaulting through the duration of these maneuvers. If you played WWE All-Stars, it is reminiscent of how that action was animated. I could get nitpicky and point out how certain facial textures on some of the stars are noticeably off, and how a few of the wrestlers in the comic panels in the Campaign mode are eyebrow-raising representations, but for the most part Saber Interactive stuck the landing in detailing WWE’s roster. This being a wrestling game, I feel obligated to say there is noticeable clipping apparent, and the occasional glitch where wrestlers suddenly warp out of the ring and into mid-air, but they are not at an alarming rate like in some of the recent WWE 2K titles.

Audio:
I hope you are a fan of The Score’s “Glory”, because outside of the Campaign mode, it is the sole song playing throughout the rest of the menus. The WWE 2K games would mix the many wrestlers’ entrance themes in with a curated soundtrack while sifting through the menus, and I have no idea why Saber neglected to do that here. The entrance themes are apparent while browsing the “Superstars” section where the wrestlers are unlocked, and in the abbreviated entrances, and hearing some of the legends’ classic themes had me grinning with nostalgia. There is also a variety of up-tempo rock beats that perfectly underscore the action. WWE announcers Mauro Ranallo and Jerry “The King” Lawler provide plenty of gusto with their commentary, but it is sporadically inserted at odd intervals, and it is wise to ignore it if possible.

Online/Multiplayer:
The way online matches are implemented threw me off initially, because there are no online lobbies, and the ability to play most match types online is restricted to players on your PSN friends list. From the main menus, the only noticeable online modes are tournaments that feature a rotating set of themes to participate in, and “King of the Battleground” mode, which is essentially an endless Royal Rumble. It is an interesting concept where your wrestler will be waiting momentarily to enter after an elimination occurs, and your character is rewarded with currency bonuses the longer they last, and with more wrestlers eliminated. Tournaments and King of the Battleground modes are the only two ways to play against non-friends list opponents. Otherwise, there are no general online lobbies for the rest of the standard matches available. Why Saber made this mammoth oversight I have no clue, and I hope they one day resolve this by updating the ability to play against non-friends list opponents. The actual online play went pretty smooth otherwise. I played about twenty matches with PS Nation’s Glenn Percival, and we only had one bout that had a connection issue.

Conclusion:
This is a solid first entry from 2K and Saber Interactive that they can build on. If it was not for these pandemic times, I could easily see WWE 2K Battlegrounds being a regular go-to party game with friends over. The core action here is plenty of fun, and there is a fair amount of single and multiplayer options to keep you coming back. My main gripes that knock this down a couple pegs are that the virtual currency eventually feels too heavy handed, the wrestlers don’t feel that distinctive from each other, and some questionable online menu implementation. If you can live with those qualms, then WWE 2K Battlegrounds is a recommended wrestling game for both fans and non-fans alike.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Gruel

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