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WWE 2K21 cancelled - but here’s everything you can expect from the series on next-gen

WWE 2K20
(Image credit: 2K)

There never was a WWE 2K21 release date: for the first time in two decades, WWE went without releasing a sim videogame in 2020. Few of those who purchased WWE 2K20 (whose Southpaw Regional Wrestling DLC is pictured above) were surprised. Full of bugs, and a downgrade on WWE 2K19 in terms of rise-based action, the game amounted to abomination. The series will be back though, inevitably on PS5 and Xbox Series X, with former Medal Of Honor guru Patrick Gilmore in charge. What will WWE 2K22 look and play like? Join us as we throw some Ricochet-athletic ideas around the virtual squared circle…

WWE 2K22 roster: Could CM Punk be set to return?

(Image credit: 2K)

Before it was canned, the big question surrounding the WWE 2K21 roster concerned CM Punk. The straight-edge Chicagoan last appeared in WWE 2K15, before a controversial departure from the company seemed to put him in exile for life. Yet he made a shock return in November 2019 as an analyst on internet show WWE Backstage, giving fans hope of an in-ring comeback. 

Even if that doesn’t materialise, videogame deals are made separately from wrestling contracts, so you can guarantee that 2K will have approached him to appear in 2K21 now bridges are being rebuilt. 2K loves to have a big star fronting its DLC offering each year – Ronda Rousey for WWE 2K19, Hulk Hogan for 2K20 – and Punk fitted the mould as a main target for WWE 2K21.

Other fresh names you can expect on next-gen include John Morrison, who returned to WWE TV in January 2020, and Raw newcomers Angel Garza, Keith Lee, and Retribution. Its leader Mustafa Ali is already in the series, but Mace (Brennan Williams) and T-Bar (Chris Dijak) look to be guaranteed debut spots on the WWE 2K22 roster.

WWE 2K next-gen release date: expect it in October 2021

WWE 2K20

(Image credit: 2K)

Unlike FIFA 21 and NBA 2K21, WWE games’ release dates have been inconsistent in recent times, although they've all materialised in the same month. WWE 2K18 emerged on 17 October; WWE 2K19 came out on 9 October; and WWE 2K20 dropped on 22 October. Even then, the latter felt like a rushed release, given the decision to cut ties with long-time developer Yuke’s partway through the game’s annual cycle. 

Visual Concepts have brought in a new executive producer, former Medal Of Honor overlord Patrick Gilmore, and it's likely that he'll want the maximum possible allotment of development time to make an impact on next-gen. We'd therefore anticipate the new game sticking to its traditional release window, and emerge on next-gen for the first time in October 2021. 

WWE 2K next-gen: what to expect

WWE 2K20

(Image credit: 2K)

This is a series currently at a crossroads after the horrendous launch of WWE 2K20, so 2K and Visual Concepts are likely to play things conservatively as regards PS5 and Xbox Series X. That much appeared to be confirmed by Justin Leeper, a former writer on the Smackdown vs Raw video games. “2K and the people within it are trying to distance themselves from [the series],” he says in a Youtube video. “I’ve heard about double-digit people who were on the team who have quit. They haven’t left for other stuff, they just quit because, ‘Man, I don’t want this stink on me anymore'.”

“2K20 is selling poorly, it’s doing poorly all around,” continues Leeper. “That means the budget is going to be cut. It means 2K21 is gonna have to be made for less money. Less money to fix things, innovate, and now there are about 10 less people on the team. As you can tell, the outlook is not good for 2K21.” 

He was right, of course, with 2K21 being ditched altogether. Still, the year off should do the series good. There will be an inevitable graphical upgrade - even with its problems, WWE gaming in 8K is an exciting prospect. You'd hope to see the biggest ever roster, but a raft of 2020 cuts such as Zack Ryder and Rusev may mean having to sign up more legends to fill out numbers, and there's no guarantee 2K wants to take aboard that expense.

Under Gilmore, fundamentals will surely be the key focus: making this feel like the product you see on Raw and Smackdown each week. 2K20 actually isn't a failure in that respect - but its baffling change of control scheme must be reverted as a first port of call, if it's going to win back alienated fans. 

WWE 2K next-gen features: what do the fans want?

(Image credit: 2K)

“My only wish for 2K21 is for it not to exist,” writes jackblady on Reddit. Well, that wish came true.

While that sentiment is echoed by many following WWE 2K20’s disastrous few months, some fans are kinder in terms of what they’d like to see next year. 

CisWhiteFailson, for instance, sensibly suggests a back-to-basics approach. “Only focus on gameplay and create modes. I genuinely couldn't care less about what the roster looks like.”

“[With] gameplay,” he writes, “I’m talking more differentiation between AI opponents, some kind of dumbed down rip-off Fire Pro logic system. Make the weapons feel less clumsy. Fix hit detection (easy for me to say, and with 3000 moves and a zillion-year-old engine I get that it's not gonna be perfect), more damageable/interactable backstage environments like THQ WWE games and every fighting game, save and load sliders like I'm pretty sure you can in any real sports game. More customizable options for stuff like damage and momentum. It would be great if I could play a match that gave you twice the momentum for hitting diving attacks, [which in turns also makes] the AI try a lot more dives.” 

Opponent intelligence is also the focus for RevyTheMagnificant. “Better AI. Have wrestlers recognise their allies and enemies, and then be biased towards or against them appropriately. I don't want to see AJ Styles teaming with Shinsuke Nakamura to put down Luke Gallows in the middle of the Royal Rumble. Also, the AI should go for OMG moves more in title matches and universe rivalry matches. I want to see the AI taunt more when their enemy is down. Basically, I want better AI that makes more sense to act how it does [based on a wrestler’s real gimmick].

We’ll share confirmed features for WWE on next-gen once they emerge - although that likely won't be until deep into 2021 now. Until then, all hail Drew McIntyre. 

WWE 2K21 replacement: is there one?

(Image credit: 2K)

Kind of. With WWE 2K21 cancelled, 2K instead focussed its efforts this year on WWE 2K Battlegrounds – an arcade brawler packing myriad larger-than-life brawls. But click on that link to go through to our review and you'll see that it's a bit of a stinker. If you need a wrestling game in the meantime, we recommended WWE 2K19, which 2K has said it will support well into 2021: “As you know, we have sunset support for 2K19 Road to Glory and Online Towers. However, in appreciation for our loyal community, we will continue to support all other WWE 2K19 modes (specifically matchmaking servers and Community Creations) until the launch of the next WWE 2K sim title."

I'm GamesRadar+'s sports editor, obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB – and very occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym. Namely: Bill Bryson, Pitch Perfect, and the Streets Of Rage series. I have two kids who aren't quite old enough to play Madden yet. Soon, though…