It’s been an exceptionally strange year for WWE. WrestleMania took place in spite of the pandemic, without a single person in attendance, we’ve seen a huge increase in cinematic matches such as the Boneyard and Firefly Funhouse matches and Roman Reigns has turned heel and aligned with Paul Heyman. What. A. Year. It’s been a funny one in regards to WWE games as well, with the mainline 2K series taking a year off to recoup from the abysmal offering that was 2K20. In lieu of a full simulator this year, wrestling fans have been given the over-the-top, arcadey brawler, WWE 2K Battlegrounds. The gameplay is fun and easy to pick up and there’s plenty of entertainment to be had, but the game’s uneven game modes and aggressive monetisation might stop it from getting the three count on your wallet.
The realistic approach to superstars as seen in the mainline 2K games is gone in Battlegrounds. In its place are caricature-like, big-headed character models similar to the ones seen in WWE All Stars. The complex controls are out the window as well, in favour of a simplified scheme that pretty much anyone could get their head around. Your combat options are punch, kick, grab, Irish Whip and block for the most part, with variations of each being available if you use a portion of your heat bar (stamina).
A Future Shock DDT is probably going to do some damage from that height
Everything about the game’s aesthetic and gameplay is made so that you can have a few mates around, quickly explain the controls and then get into it; it’s simple, easy and fun to jump into. The moves and arenas are just as over-the-top as everything else in the game as well. For instance, instead of your standard DDT, you’ll hook them, launch into the air, spin three times and then spike your opponent on their head.
There are five classes that each Superstar falls into: Powerhouse (hit harder and break through blocks easier), Brawlers (more proficient with weapons), Technicians (can cause opponents to stumble via limb damage), High-Flyers (can springboard off ropes and move faster) and All-Rounders that have a cheeky pinch of everything.
Reversals are far more forgiving in Battlegrounds compared to the mainline series as well, giving you a button prompt to hit with a generous window of opportunity. Arenas are just as outlandish as everything else, featuring interactable objects such as a car on a lift that you can drop on your opponent, or an alligator leaning over the barricade with its mouth open (no prize for guessing what that does).
So in summary, the game is loud, dumb and doesn’t take itself seriously at all and that’s a great thing. Wrestling in itself is a fundamentally silly thing (that I love with all of my heart), so why shouldn’t the games reflect this?
Combat is deepened slightly by powerups that you can activate once you fill your heat bar, which you can do by successfully landing moves. These powerups include setting your fists on fire for added damage, buffing your recovery speed and making your moves unblockable. They aren’t going to make the match unbalanced, but if you’re on the backfoot it might give you an opening to get back in the fight.
It looks to me like old Stone Cold is afraid to step into Claymore Country
There are a decent amount of match types to choose, from your standard one-on-one, triple threat, fatal four-way, tag team and tornado tag team matches, to steel cage matches and the ever-popular Royal Rumble (though there are only a total of nine entrants, not 30). Regardless of match type, playing with an actual person is definitely the preferred method. The AI have taken one too many chair shots to the head if you know what I mean. They will choose two or three moves and stick to them which doesn’t make for a very compelling match.
Most matches are fairly straight forward and work as you would expect, but multi-person matches can be a bit of a pain, as you don’t stay down for long when you get hit by a move, even if it’s a signature. This results in some matches becoming longer than they should be, as you can’t put your opponent down for long enough to escape the cage for instance. Near falls can be exciting, but it does get pretty painful at times.
Alongside these matches Battlegrounds offers a campaign that features game-specific, fictional wrestlers. The story is told through short comic strips and is absolutely ridiculous, in a good way. The long and short of it is Paul Heyman and Stone Cold are putting together a new offshoot of the WWE called Battlegrounds and you play as the new recruits that are proving their worth before heading to WrestleMania.
This is by far my favourite comic panel from the campaign for obvious reasons
The whole campaign took me around four hours to get through and got a little old by the end, especially as I was playing as random create-a-characters, but it serves its purpose in showing you the ropes (literally) and also allows you to unlock some Superstars and arenas. Speaking of Superstars, there are a total of 70 available in the game, with 24 unlocked from the beginning. The roster is pretty sizable and importantly includes my boy, and the current WWE Champion, Drew McIntyre, but getting access to them all is part of the biggest issue Battlegrounds has.
The game is great fun overall, but its implementation of microtransactions is downright awful. Keeping in mind that the game itself retails for $69.95, a higher asking price than it’s worth already, the paywalls that are present are shitty at best and insulting at worst. Each Superstar can be purchased with in-game ‘Bucks’, which are earned through gameplay, or with Golden Coins, the premium, paid for currency.
In an arcade-like, child-friendly game such as this, these practices are dodgy at best, but the sheer number of characters locked being these paywalls is comical. Playing the game for around three hours I managed to save enough to purchase one Superstar. One. They all have different values as well, depending on power level (popularity more accurately). Worst of all, the bigger names in WWE such as Seth Rollins and the aforementioned Drew McIntyre (THE CURRENT WORLD CHAMPION) are locked, leaving you with a thin roster to begin with.
No matter you might be thinking, the game probably has a create-a-wrestler option, I’ll just make my own Superstar. Well you absolutely can and it’s pretty fun messing around with the crazy cosmetic items, but most of them are, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, locked behind a paywall.
It’s a real shame that they decided to monetise the game so heavily, because there’s a decent amount of content here once everything is unlocked, but choosing between hours of grinding or grabbing your wallet to do so isn’t acceptable.
The grinding you would need to do to unlock both The Beast Incarnate and the Irish Lass Kicker is insane
I’m of two minds with Battlegrounds. I’m a big fan of the pick-up-and-play gameplay, it’s a bundle of fun and is made even more so with friends, but those paywalls are really hard to look past. Even with the uneven game modes and general lack of depth after the first few hours this game is dumb, quirky fun that I want more people to experience, but not until that price drops or the micros are lessened. If you see Battlegrounds go on sale grab it, just know that it comes with a hefty side of money-grabbing practices.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher