When I got my hands on WWE 2K16 for the first time a few weeks ago, the small amount of gameplay I saw had me worried. After playing a more complete build of the game this past week, however, that first demo seems to have been an earlier build that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Now, I’m more confident the franchise is taking the necessary steps forward to get it back to where fans of “sports entertainment” want it to be.
The most obvious difference between my demos was found in the gameplay. I experienced a lot less glitches in and around the ring, and now grapples and reversals both felt much tighter. I also saw the return of the collar-and-elbow tie up from last year’s game at the beginning of matches that prompts a rock-paper-scissors mini-game, showing the franchise’s commitment to providing more realistic, properly-paced matches.
The ability to “run-in” or “break-out” during entrances was also an interesting feature that I began to take more advantage of during my second time playing the game. While getting a cheap shot in on my opponents may not have been the most sporting thing to do, it was a lot of fun, and authentic to what you might see on RAW every week when you have two opponents who particularly hate each other.
Where I spent most of my time, however, was with the returning career mode. Once again, you get to create your own wrestler from scratch, see them toil in NXT, and then hopefully make the main-roster—with your primary goal being to see their 15-year career culminate in a WWE Hall of Fame induction.
Due to the limited amount of time I had with the game, I didn’t have much of a chance to dig deep into the specific options of wrestler creation. To save time, I just slapped some brightly colored trunks and boots onto my guy before sending him out to be lambasted by WWE’s new head trainer Matt Bloom (better known as Albert, or Lord Tensai, to longtime fans of the product). Here, career mode took its time teaching me the ins and outs of what it means to put on a good match, focusing on the importance of move variety and how the new Five-Star system works.
What’s really nice about this new career mode is that you now get a lot more dynamic feedback in the ring. Each move you perform can add or detract to your match’s five-star rating, and utilizing every move in your repertoire to keep the fans entertained is critical. Every time you step into the squared circle, it’ll be those fans—not wins or losses—that’ll be most on your mind.
There are other ways to get fans to react than what you do in-ring, however. After any big match, you’ll be interviewed backstage by WWE’s Renee Young, during which she’ll pose to you a multiple choice question. How you respond over the course of the interview can change you from a face to a heel (good guy or bad guy for those not up on the lingo) or vice versa, as well as help flesh out your personality. Do you want to be aggressive or cocky? Charming or funny? How you answer these questions will determine how the fans react every week when you make your entrance.
Your fellow NXT and WWE superstars are also paying close attention to these interviews, as what you say or who you call out can lead to different rivalries. Because tag-team wrestling has also been given a heavier focus in this year’s game, who you have a greater affinity with personality-wise will also help determine who is willing to wrestle alongside you when the time comes to find a tag-team partner.
Once you start working on your character, you’ll then be able to pick your own set of goals as you start working towards having a Hall of Fame career. You can focus on climbing the ladder, working your way from NXT to the main roster to obtain the US Championship, Intercontinental Championship, and finally WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Maybe you want to focus on being part of a tag-team, and go for double-digit tag team championship reigns like the Dudley Boyz. Or maybe you’re okay being a mid-carder, setting your sights on breaking Chris Jericho’s nine-time reign record with the IC belt. There are multiple paths to the Hall of Fame—but how you get there is your choice.
It’s this new depth to career mode and the pacing of in-ring matches that has me really excited again for WWE 2K16. While I think it’ll be fun to relive the glory days of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the real meat and potatoes of the WWE 2K experience needs to start coming from other places. In that, career mode looks primed to start pulling its weight as a top-of-the-line attraction in this annual sports entertainment simulator.