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How WWE 2K22 is reinventing itself after the disaster of WWE 2K20

WWE 2K22
(Image credit: 2K)

By the time WWE 2K22 lands next March, it’ll have been 29 months since the wrestling series’ last entry. That aberration – WWE 2K20 – was unforgettably dismal, but that isn’t the only reason expectations have changed. Back in October 2019, Vince McMahon’s troupe had little real competition; now there’s a whole new upstart company launching its own game. All Elite Wrestling is also headed to next-gen, and the star-packed AEW roster – featuring CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and more – should ensure strong sales. Quite the challenge, then, for WWE 2K22 creative director Lynell Jinks.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

Jinks is keen to press home the degree to which fan feedback has steered the series’ PS5 and Xbox Series X debut. It led Visual Concepts to create a 10-point development hit list, elements of which are necessary if predictable: improved graphics (Rey Mysterio’s entrance does indeed look uncannily lifelike), immersive presentation, a creation-suite overhaul. But one phrase stands out, because it’s been a feature of zealous community discussion for years - GM Mode.

Introduced in Smackdown vs Raw 2006, this beloved feature saw you take on the role of general manager for a brand within WWE: drafting a roster, overseeing feuds, managing individual morale. It was improved upon across the next two games… and then dropped completely. With the series developed by THQ back then, 2K has never had a crack at its own version of GM Mode since acquiring the WWE license in 2013. Until now – albeit with a fresh name.

“MyGM has been the most requested addition to the franchise for the better part of a decade,” says Jinks. “You can expect to draft superstars, book matches, manage contracts, and prove you have what it takes to manage the most successful brand in sports entertainment, progressively working your way up from high school gyms to prime-time TV.”

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

Jinks won’t be drawn into further discussion of MyGM, but we glimpse two screenshots. The first shows a draft in progress, with a list of wrestler names accompanied by their role (green masks for faces, red for heels), class (‘Bruiser’ for Roman Reigns’, ‘Fighter’ for Asuka), in-game salary (Becky Lynch sets you back $268,400), popularity and stamina. The second image shows an event card where you can choose to spectate or play each bout. Intriguingly there’s a cost affixed to every match – a TLC contest comes in at $5,000 – so financial management is set to play a major factor.

Universal challenges

If money matters sound too much like work, then know that MyGM isn’t intended to usurp WWE Universe – the mode which replaced it back in 2008. The latter is another one of WWE 2K22’s ten hit-list pillars – “you’ll have more control over brands, pay-per-views, match results and rivalries” says Jinks – as is MyCareer, albeit under a new name: MyRise. It takes your created superstar from WWE signee, to rookie, to superstar, to legend, with branching subplots promised for both male and female characters.

WWE Showcase, in which you relive classic matches of yesteryear, is also back, with cruiserweight legend Mysterio seemingly placed in a central role. “In a universe populated by monsters, giants, and larger-than-life beings, I was determined to find my own path to the top of the mountain in sports entertainment,” he says in a brief clip promoting the returning mode. They might not be classed as giants, but it should mean we get to relive classic bouts against Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

Art producer Christina Diem Pham takes over the presentation to talk us through an intriguing hit-list addition called MyFaction. “This all-new mode enables you to build a legendary crew that rivals the NWO, Hart Foundation, DX, Four Horsewomen, and New Day,” she explains. You can band together wrestlers from various eras of WWE, then use them to compete in weekly events throughout the year.

The initial similarity to FIFA 22’s Ultimate Team raises the issue of micro-transactions, so it's worth noting that MyFaction is a single-player mode. “MyFaction is the only mode in WWE 2K22 where purchasable VC comes into play," says Diem Pham. "It’s super important to note that VC does not offer any sort of competitive advantage or put players in a pay-to-win situation. The items purchased with VC can also be purchased with MyFaction points earned via gameplay.”

Control yourself, big guy

I’ve saved the most important hit-list pillars for last: controls and gameplay. After WWE 2K20 sunk in an ocean of bug-ridden infamy, Visual Concepts is aware that the fundamentals are paramount – particularly as that game senselessly decimated a familiar, functional control set.

To that end, I spy a screenshot of the Xbox Series X scheme. B initiates a grapple, X a light attack, A heavy attack, and Y has two functions: tap it for a reversal, or hold it for a block. RT is your modifier button: hold it then tap A for a finisher, X for a signature, Y for a payback move, or B to try a submission. The simpler means of hitting finishers and signatures is emphatically welcome after 2K20 forced you to press two buttons at once in order to pull off a wrestler’s best-known moves.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

As for that other priority, “the most important and critical change in WWE 2K22 resides in the engine itself,” says Diem Pham. “The team has rebuilt the entire gameplay and animation engine from the ground up to make every dive, kickout and finisher feel like you’re sitting ringside at WrestleMania… We’ve rebuilt gameplay to meet a frictionless standard of accessibility: intuitive attacks, counters, combos, giving you more options at your disposal.”

The numbers certainly sound impressive. WWE 2K22 retains 30,000 moves, and adds 5,000 new ones, while all existing strikes have been recaptured and retimed. Footage of Kofi Kingston thumping Jeff Hardy in the ribs, then bulldogging his face into the mat, certainly looks impactful. But will it feel that way, and – more importantly – translate to an exciting, realistic video game? While cautiously excited about GM Mode, that’s the main question we’ll be seeking to answer in an early 2022 hands-on.

WWE 2K22 is released on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and Xbox One in March 2022. Wondering who’ll feature in it? Then jump on over to GR’s WWE 2K22 roster guide.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.