We’ve played WWE 2K23 and this is what it really feels like to step into the new ring: new enough?

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Following the infamous WWE 2K20 misstep, the wildly popular WWE 2K22 arrived last year to correct the course of the saga and revolutionize the way wrestling sims are played. This year, WWE 2K23 is on its heels and wants to take advantage of the revolution of its predecessor. However, from what I’ve played so far it seems like he’s playing it cautiously.

As expected, WWE 2K23 comes with all the news what you would expect from a new WWE game. There’s an all-new roster featuring the likes of returning Cody Rhodes and up-and-coming NXT Champion Bron Breakker. The outfit, music, and general presentation of the wrestlers have also received an annual update. Everything is as up-to-date as it could be, but aside from these improvements, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that, deep down, it was very much the same game as before.

As with many sports games, which repeat their winning formula, in WWE 2K23 everything regarding the gameplay is the same as in the previous game. So much so that, despite only playing for an hour, I immediately felt comfortable with the breaking system, the combos, the setbacks, and all the ins and outs of fighting. If you’re familiar with 2K22, you’ll know exactly what to expect.

For the first time in the series, WWE 2K23 expands the canvas with the addition of an extra ring.

That’s not to say there aren’t some nifty new features. The first to note is the arrival of an expected and requested type of combat: WarGames. For the first time in the series, WWE 2K23 expands the canvas with the addition of an additional ring. WarGames features two rings side by side with a cage surrounding both, with participants from a team of three or four entering at intervals. At first glance, it might look like a tweaked version of other six or eight man specials like Elimination Chamber, but there are a couple of interesting details that not only help set it apart from the pack, but also make it stand out in its own right.

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Like his real life counterpart, WarGames combat features an interesting swing in advantage for either team, with one less fighter in several intervals. At this point, the team with the disadvantage has to defend against their opponents knowing that they are severely disadvantaged, biding their time until one of their teammates can get into action. That partner, however, can choose to take a weapon (or weapons) to not only even the odds, but also to reverse the advantage.

Unlike Hell in a Cell or Elimination Chamber, WarGames’ two-ring setup also offers the player more space to work, avoiding the stuffiness and clunkiness seen in the aforementioned modes. Also, the fact that the fight is decided by a pinfall, something that could happen while you are facing each other in the other ring, adds an interesting dose of drama. This poses an interesting risk/reward dilemma, forcing you to separate yourself from your teammates and potentially miss out on the important parry in order to allow yourself the space you need to deal maximum damage to your opponent. All of this is an interesting change in combat dynamics, something I hadn’t experienced before in a fighting game. And now that WarGames is available online, I’m excited to see this back-and-forth play concept play out against other players.

The 2K Showcase marks a predictable return to the saga, but with its potentially freshest and most exciting twist to date. Even though the Showcase focuses on John Cena, this year’s cover star, he never gets to play as the sixteen-time world champion. Instead, the match series now focuses on every time John Cena lost a major match., and the player takes control of the superstar who defeated him. The story of all his defeats is not only an interesting story that Cena himself can tell between fights, but it also has the advantage of offering variety to the player by not forcing him to play as the same character a dozen times in a row.

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Although the mode now offers that much-desired diversity of playable characters, I’m still slightly cautious about the entertainment value of this Showcase.. I only got to experience one match like this, which was ECW’s historic One Night Stand match, which saw Rob Van Dam dethrone Cena as WWE Champion. But from what I’ve seen, there seems to be an over-reliance on the (albeit impressive) switch to live footage, with various periods of only watching actual combat for minutes. I felt like I wanted to get back into the action and create those moments myself, instead of just watching sequences that are already burned into my brain. It’s a small drawback from a small sampler, and I’m still very interested in playing the full game, but I’m a little concerned that it’s not everything I expected.

Despite what I’ve said before about the gameplay, there is one announced change that makes a difference to the core mechanics. WWE 2K23 brings to the fore an optional variety of getting rid of the three count on pin attempts, giving players the option to move the right stick in a timed window instead of pressing a button. The kick out zone is a slider bar that gets smaller and moves more unpredictably as the game progresses and your vitality decreases. I immediately liked this alternative option, which surprised even me, but the tactile feel of the slide, the one-on-one representation of the movement, and the last-gasp nature sold me on the concept of accurately capturing the drama of a combat of the wwe. With the quick button-pressing option, knowing you’re out for the count telegraphs soon, but the new timed-window system always offers the elusive opportunity for a kick out that you don’t get when the button-pressing demands are beyond your control. the limits of human capacity. And what can be more wrestling than the drama of that surprising kick out?

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It can be argued that WWE 2K22 set a new benchmark in terms of gripping gameplay, and my personal (and perhaps controversial) opinion is that the saga is now the best it’s ever been. But with this comes the struggle for the next game in the series to do more than just small iterations. From what I’ve seen so far, WWE 2K23 is fun and worthwhile, and fans of WarGames, John Cena, and having an updated roster are in for a treat. I’m just worried that the final game won’t have the impact that its revolutionary little brother had..