Our second editor’s choice leading up to GAAD and the Diamond Award is WWE 2K22, chosen by Jeremy.
Visual Concepts’ second at-bat for WWE games without Yuke’s involvement was a massive step up from their prior one in every regard. Beyond bug fixing and stability, the increased emphasis on accessibility is something that I never could’ve predicted seeing in a pro wrestling game because it’s never been a part of one before. The norm in the genre is a standard set of menus and AI sliders, but nothing when it comes to accessibility. With the WWE games, they are so full of button mashing and timing-based mini games for things like kicking out of pins and escaping submissions that it seemed like the genre was a bit doomed to always have barriers in place.
2K22 changed the game by allowing players to choose from a single held button press instead of button mashing for crucial gameplay and it’s a huge quality-of-life improvement. Not having to button mash keeps the fingers from being fatigued as quickly in a game that requires stick movement and button presses and being able to nearly automate such a crucial part of the game showed that Visual Concepts was taking accessibility seriously for the franchise.
WWE 2K22 wound up doing a fantastic job establishing a new foundation for the series. Its combo system is a massive improvement in playability for fans of submission-based wrestlers as you can now map a few button string combinations together and unleash a wide variety of heavy strikes or submissions rather quickly. It does come at the expense of a few other moveset slots from prior games, but it winds up being a net gain due to there being so many more attacks available. Generally, for every one moveset slot lost from 2K20, you gain three with the new combo system.
The increase in versatility makes creating movesets for MMA/pro wrestling hybrid members like Brock Lesnar in the game or creations like AEW stars Jon Moxley or Bryan Danielson or Japanese pro wrestling, MMA and Pancrase legend Minoru Suzuki to feel more like their real-world counterparts. There is a bit lost due to everyone having combos in their moveset as not everyone would use them – like Hulk Hogan, but most of the in-game roster’s move assignments make sense for the combo system even if it something they wouldn’t really do in a match.
WWE 2K22 wound up delivering a far better-playing experience than the prior entry and served as a wonderful starting point for WWE 2K23, which wound up benefiting from better timing when it came to real-world roster cuts affecting the in-game roster. 2K23 also took the accessibility to a new level with more sliders – but without 2K22 establishing that foundation, who knows if things would have worked out as they did for that installment.