Before we get into this review I must preface by saying that I have been a fan of the WWE since I was a young boy and when the next yearly instalment in the video game series releases I can’t help but get excited purely because, to me, 2K is always changing or improving key elements of the game such as My Career, the online capabilities and overall graphical quality for a better all-around experience. WWE 2K18is no different and greatly improves over its predecessor. But while it does so much right for the iconic wrestling company, it lets long-standing fans down in some key areas as well.
WWE 2K18: Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Yuke’s Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: 13 October 2017
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Purchased by Reviewer]
Of WWE 2K18‘s modes, I spent the majority of my time in the My Player hub. For what it has to offer any fan of wrestling, I can safely say, I’m not even close to being done with it, nor am I close to being bored of it. WWE 2K18‘s My Player hub is for you, the creative player. It is also the area where you’ll access the games single-player campaign, and my god is 2K finally getting it. WWE 2K18‘s feels so much closer to the real-life product than last year’s entry in every conceivable way. In fact, it makes last years single-player mode completely irrelevant by comparison. Starting out as a rookie in NXT with no flashy moves and no flashy in-ring gear, players are tasked with proving themselves worthy of being on the main roster, and once you finally work your way up to winning the NXT championship, the story opens up many paths for the player to begin plotting their own journey to wrestling greatness.
One fascinating feature of WWE 2K18‘s single-player mode comes from the depth of player choice and how it affects the overall story. After being called up to RAW I was told I had to be a jobber for 2 of the largest athletes in the game Mark Henry and The Big Show, so I did as I was told and jobbed out to the world’s strongest man and the world’s largest athlete. When it came to the third straight week of being the world’s best jobber I was fed up and informed that I had to lose to Braun Strowman. Instead, I opted to pin Strowman for the 3 count and after savouring my victory I headed backstage only to be confronted by RAW general manager Triple H who promptly fired me for my actions.
Utterly dejected, I made my way through the parking lot only to be met by Daniel Bryan who subsequently hired me for WWE’s other main staple show – Smackdown Live. That personal account is from the first 3 months of the single-player in WWE 2K18, a campaign that alters drastically depending on the decisions you make. Another example of the ever-changing career mode comes from a close friend of mine who ended up as the Intercontinental Champion by the end of his 3rd month whilst still remaining on the RAW brand. Every choice you make no matter how big or small matters.
Being able to alter your own path directly by opting to go against what you’re told to do rather than follow a linear path makes WWE 2K18‘s single-player campaign a uniquely enjoyable experience, but there is another mode to invest time in from the My Player hub other than an engrossing campaign. From that very same hub, players can access another mode with their create-a-character – the all-new Road To Glory mode. My initial gut reaction to this was “oh god a dedicated online mode with the damn awful net code and servers from previous instalments that will never function nor interest fans in the slightest”, but boy was I wrong.
Road To Glory is everything you could ask for when it comes to facing off against opponents with your own superstar online. The net code is actually fantastic, I had no problems in any of the matches I played and enjoyed well over 10 games on a night with not even the slightest hiccup regarding connection. However, despite all the good that comes from WWE 2K18‘s online service, the matchmaking isn’t entirely fair. Being matched with players whose superstars were far above mine in terms of attributes and skills felt tough. Although I managed to pull out a win against a few of these opponents, it certainly lacks a certain balance to make it an even contest. The lack of balance isn’t a fault of the player though, more the system that allows it to happen in the first place and here’s where the biggest problem of WWE 2K18 comes into play.
WWE 2K18 features zero microtransactions, but that does not mean the game was not designed with them in mind. In order to progress and upgrade your character, players require attribute points. These can come from simple tasks such as completing quests or objectives which happen often enough to not be a problem. Alongside this, players also need a small amount of Virtual Currency (VC), which again is no problem as it’s just a few matches per upgrade. However, in order to equip 90% of the moves, in-ring gear or taunts players need to unlock them via loot-boxes and dear lord, these really take the piss. In order to unlock the rarest type of card which can contain anything from a finisher to a piece of headgear, you need to purchase a 30,000 VC loot-box and inside of this loot-box you only get 5 cards.
There are 1000’s upon 1000’s of moves and customisation items in the game, and with so many of them locked behind a loot-box system, it just feels ridiculous. Whilst playing through the two My Player modes players earn on average around 400 VC per match meaning you would need to wrestle a total of 75 matches just to gain 5 items of a decent rarity. Of course, there are some loot-boxes thrown at you here and there but these are mainly the cheapest ones giving you worthless items that you wouldn’t equip unless you absolutely had to.
I strongly believe that WWE 2k18 had a microtransaction system built in that would have allowed players to purchase VC with real-life money, thus making unlocking the gear and moves much faster but that this system was pulled last minute after NBA 2K18‘s microtransaction debacle in order to avoid negative PR. For the record, I strongly disagree with microtransaction in gaming in general, but this is just absurd. A system clearly designed to get players to spend even more money on a £50 game pulled last minute and never adjusted leading to nothing but frustrated players and absolutely absurd grinding times.
Despite the horrors of frustration to unlock the best items and wrestle fairly and successfully online, 2K always ensures that the graphical quality of each WWE game meets fan expectations, and this year they’ve outdone themselves. For years now the 2K WWE titles have been nothing short of average in terms of graphical quality, but with WWE 2K18, we’re getting closer and closer to those life-like character models that everybody so desperately wants. With an all-new lighting system and graphics engine, players will be DELIGHTED with the results. Entrances feel more authentic than ever, facial expressions really detailing a characters face or heel status and bruises and swelling showing the scars of battle between superstars. Even your own My Player no longer looks like a completely different species from the rest of the roster; visually WWE 2K18 is the best of the series.
With an intoxicating single-player campaign and often enjoyable multiplayer aspect, WWE 2K has certainly seen great improvements over last years entry, yet the addition of a loot-box system, returning bugs and glitches and lack of new match types such as Inferno and Buried Alive continues to hold the series back from achieving its true potential. Regardless, I’m definitely a believer in the WWE 2K series so I sit here with my fingers crossed praying that 2K will patch out the remaining niggles and abolish the ludicrous loot-box system or at the very least increase the rate at which you earn the VC because if they don’t, much unlike the Shield reunion and Kurt Angle’s return at TLC, 2K will truly disappoint its fans.