As with most annual iterations of popular franchises, WWE 2K19 - for better or worse - largely sticks to the formula that made it so successful in the first place. It's easy for things to get stale as the years go by, and while 2K18 went a long way towards freshening things up, there was still plenty of room for improvement. 2K19 builds upon last year's effort, tweaking a few gameplay mechanics and adding a welcome bunch of new modes and features that add a huge amount of value to the overall package.
Animations are faster and smoother than before, and each move feels much more impactful and devastating. It all feels a little more speedy, a little more arcadey, and a lot more fun. With 200 wrestlers to choose from, around 40 of whom are new to the game this year, and more on the way via DLC, it's by far the largest roster we've seen in a WWE game so far. To complement this, there's a phenomenally large variety of match types and modes to play through. The notoriously sluggish 8-man matches that were introduced last year have been tightened up to the point where there's no slowdown at all, and changes have been made to steel cage and Hell In A Cell matches, introducing new mechanics that make playing these matches much more enjoyable.
“2K Towers” are sets of matches and gauntlets (where players don't recover any energy or stamina between matches), and these are set to be updated regularly so there's always something new to try out. This year's Showcase mode focuses on Daniel Bryan's rise to the top of the mountain, starting with his very first WWE appearance in 2002 through to his title victory at WrestleMania 30 and beyond. Universe mode makes its return, allowing players to step into the shoes of Vince McMahon himself by running the entire company, from hirings and firings and Superstar management all the way to overseeing the weekly TV shows and Pay Per View events.
“MyCareer” challenges players to take a brand new wrestler from the indies to the big leagues through 14 story-based chapters, although it still isn't possible to use any of the wrestlers you might have already created - here, players start with a meagre amount of moves and customisation parts, with more unlocked via loot packs purchased with tokens earned through gameplay or bought with real money through those dreaded microtransactions. This isn't really the time or place to go into that side of things, but let's just say we'll have no more of that in future please, 2K.
The creation suite itself has been vastly expanded, with more moves and clothing options than ever before so you can create almost character you can think of. Free from the restrictions of MyCareer, players are able to add as many big moves and crazy outfits as they want, and it doesn't need to stop with just creating an actual wrestler. Make your own Money In The Bank briefcase, design a brand new title belt right down to the side plates and materials, or create your own show from scratch, including refurbishing the venue, assigning custom rosters, and designing graphics and TV filters (the cel shading and 8-bit options are pretty unique).
Match commentary could still use an overhaul, with an abundance of irrelevant moves and events being called out far too often, but with such an impressive amount of content and more refined gameplay than we've seen in previous iterations, wrestling fans are superbly catered for here. The folks at 2K have really outdone themselves this year, making 2K19 the first essential WWE game to arrive in quite a few years.
WWE 2K19 / DEVELOPER: YUKE'S / PUBLISHER: 2K SPORTS / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW