WWE 2K20 is a mess. The pro wrestling series has never been known for its polish, but this year, just about every issue that has plagued WWE 2K is even worse. It’s bursting at the seams with bugs; many of its character models look even uglier than they already did last year; the lighting effects glitch constantly; there are virtually no noteworthy improvements to the actual wrestling, which feels woefully outdated at this point; its biggest new feature, the 2K Originals, is locked behind DLC and isn’t playable at launch; the MyCareer mode retains all of the same problems as last year but with none of the charm; and, perhaps worst of all, the collision detection and targeting is somehow way worse than ever before.
It’s not worse than the completely unmitigated disaster that was the Switch version of WWE 2K18, but WWE 2K20 is nonetheless a Braun Strowman-sized step back for the series.
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Last year’s WWE 2K19 was a major turning point in the series when it came to the marquee single-player mode, MyCareer, which offered a lengthy, fully voiced campaign with a decent story, strong acting from the lead characters, and great support from actual WWE Superstars. It wasn’t a complete stone cold stunner by any means, but it laid the foundation of what could be a great story mode going forward. But of course, like so much else in WWE 2K20, the attempt to build off that foundation misses the mark.
The story revolves around both the hotheaded Red and her best friend Tre, who… well, he’s a complete idiot who compulsively needs to turn literally every sentence he speaks into an insufferably bad joke. Neither is as likable as Buzz or Cole from last year. Wrestling is often corny, but here it’s just relentless, like a Gatling gun of bad gags and one-liners.
Their journey plays out over the course of 18 chapters as Red and Tre reminisce on their careers while being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Everything is framed as a literal “To-Do List” that Tre and Red maintain, including tasks that range from typical WWE goals like “Win the Royal Rumble,” to bizarrely specific ones like “Wrestle in a Crybaby Match.” You cross them off the list one by one, covering everything from their earliest years wrestling on the indie scene to their big break at NXT, and even their literal dream matches. It’s a nice way to frame MyCareer that avoids a complete retread of WWE 2K19, but inside that framework is an incredibly dull story. It takes way too long for Red and Tre to make it to the WWE, and both the subplots involving the secrets that Tre and Red hold from each other and the rivalry between Red and her childhood bully fall completely flat.
Check out the trailer for the MyCareer mode below.
That’s not to say that it’s completely devoid of high points. Samoa Joe in particular turns in an incredibly entertaining performance that’s on par with some of his best work on WWE TV, and the few instances in which the writers are able to indulge in a little bit of fantasy also results in some of the most creative and fun moments the series has seen. These are too few and far between to lift the campaign out of its rut, though.
The same character-progression issues that hamstrung last year’s MyCareer are present as well. There are still loot boxes that frustratingly restrict the gear and moves you can equip on your created characters, primarily to whatever you randomly pull. Thankfully you can only buy them with Virtual Currency and not real money, so WWE 2K20 at least sidesteps the firestorm that’s engulfed NBA 2K20. You can also use VC to buy individual items à la carte, but they’re unreasonably expensive considering how many moves and items of clothing you can customize. As an example, a purely cosmetic jacket that I got for one of my characters’ entrances cost 12,000 VC. That’s almost half of what you’re given in the MyCareer Kickstart, which is a pre-order bonus! Remember too that you now have two characters to customize. It’s so obnoxious that I honestly gave up on customization entirely at a certain point and just stuck with what I had for the remainder of the campaign.
The way you get skills and attributes isn’t much better. You start off your career extremely weak, but as you win matches you’ll earn points to spend on a gigantic skill tree. Annoyingly, you can’t see what’s coming up until you unlock an adjacent hex, making it hard to plan a build for your character in advance and work toward the attributes you want. Each skill tree is laid out differently depending on the wrestling style you choose at the start of the mode, so high fliers will unlock hexes that improve their aerial related skills much earlier, while a strong style specialist will unlock hexes that improve their strikes, which is at least a nice way to differentiate the skill and attribute distribution of the different wrestling styles.
But it all feels unsatisfying because, just like last year, the stat increases each skill unlocks are so specific and so minor that the difference is almost imperceptible unless you bank a bunch of points and go on a big spending spree, which there is no beneficial reason to ever do.
Outside of MyCareer, very few things have changed – and of those that have, even fewer are for the better. There’s a new Showcase mode that takes you through the story of WWE’s Women’s Revolution by letting you relive key matches in the careers of the Four Horsewomen: Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley. While it’s wonderful that such an important event in women’s wrestling is getting this spotlight, WWE 2K20 still hasn’t fixed the underlying issue from last year’s Showcase: individual matches take far too long, and there are no mid-match checkpoints. It is soul crushing to be 20 minutes in only to fail because an AI pinned another opponent in a fatal fourway while you were outside completing an extremely specific objective. I’m not salty.
Beyond that, the changes are a grab-bag of tweaks that often do more harm than good. Default controls have been changed in odd ways for seemingly no reason; new promo lines and cutscenes have been added to Universe mode, along with a bunch of other minor aesthetic/gameplay/character changes that might be exciting if it was a free patch for WWE 2K19; Create-a-Belt is no longer available, reportedly to be patched in later; and there’s a couple of wild new Paybacks that wrestlers can equip to gain supernatural buffs, like the ability to turn the lights off and teleport behind your opponent, Undertaker style.
But the biggest difference is just how sloppy the actual wrestling feels to control. WWE 2K games have had years that were relatively light on new features before, but they’ve always been able to get by because the wrestling itself has been consistently solid thanks to seven years of iteration and improvement. But with 2K20, the wrestling is actually significantly worse than before, and that’s the worst possible mistake it could make. Targeting feels terrible, leading to more frustrating whiffs than ever before; enemy AI flip-flops between being dumb to the point of just walking into the ropes for 10 seconds and being a literal machine that effortlessly reverses every finisher you throw its way; weapons miss when they feel like they should hit and hit when it feels like they should miss; and limbs and objects clip through each other constantly. None of these issues are entirely new, but they happen much more frequently in 2K20 than in prior years.
There’s a paid post release DLC plan for WWE 2K20 in the form of the episodic 2K Originals. The first, called “Bump in the Night,” is free for those who pre-ordered 2K20, but was still not available to play at the time of this review. Included in the “Bump in the Night” episode is the hotly anticipated “Fiend” alter ego for Bray Wyatt, along with a host of monster-themed superstar skins. It actually does look really cool, which is all the more puzzling that it wasn’t included with the base game by default, especially considering how devoid of new content WWE 2K20 is without it. It’s especially disappointing considering that The Fiend is by far the hottest thing going in WWE right now, and to have him locked behind a pre-order pay wall feels pretty bad.