The WWE 2K series has been a mainstay in the sports genre for over 20 years, with 60 million copies sold as of writing. Up until this year, the games were released annually and featured updated rosters, new game modes and improved graphics. There have been some struggles for the champion of wrestling games over the past couple of years. WWE 2K20 was a technical disaster, leading to a 2K21 being cancelled. The upcoming WWE 2K22 has recently been delayed to March 2022. Some reports are also claiming that WWE and 2K’s relationship has grown “strained”.
With fans forced to wait longer for the next challenger, it’s a good time to reflect on the titles that have released under the 2K brand. I will be ranking the games from worst to best. It’s probably easy to guess what game holds the dubious honour of being first up.
#7 – WWE 2K20
The most recent entry is well known in the gaming world, but not for good reasons. WWE 2K20 experienced a troubled development that saw long-time developers Yuke’s leave in favour of NBA developer Visual Concepts. They were given short, strict deadlines and an aging engine that they had little knowledge of how to work with. An unfinished product riddled with bugs was the end result. Where do I even begin to start?
2K20 featured plenty of content and boasted an in-depth Creation Suite (despite the initial removal of Create A Championship). However, stepping into the ring was like walking into fire. Gameplay and graphical glitches were common. Wrestlers would get locked into bizarre animations and hair physics were all over the place. Created attires produced some truly terrifying results such as missing mouths. The game would also crash on many occasions, including when players would try to load up a match.
Alongside these bugs, the new “streamlined” control system was confusing and a lot of character models lacked attention to detail. MyCareer mode contained some fun story moments, but the experience was soured by unlikeable characters and unrealistic dialogue.
News of this game’s miserable launch went viral, so much so that #FixWWE2K20 trended on social media and mainstream outlets such as BBC News reported on the issues. Some WWE wrestlers even made jokes. It was an embarrassing time that damaged 2K and the license’s reputations. 2K20 is in a better working state nowadays after some patches. I regularly play and enjoy the sandbox Universe mode. There are still problems, though, and the damage was already done. Despite my experience with this game being satisfactory, its horrific launch means I have to place it at the Rock Bottom of the list.
#6 – WWE 2K17
Compared to WWE 2K20, this game is definitely superior in terms of technical quality. WWE 2K17 did, however, lack in the content department. One of the big reveals for this title was the removal of 2K Showcase mode. This was in favour of Yuke’s spending more time on MyCareer, although ultimately that mode failed to impress and did not seem to have many improvements. Universe saw some changes such as the new Promo Engine feature. It looked promising, but it was text-only and most of the writing were bizarre. Promo battles would end up being more awkward than dramatic.
Matches in 2K17 flowed a lot better than its predecessors, as small changes ended up making a big difference. Rollouts during multi-person matches prevented chaos and contests going on for too long. Taunts would now add temporary buffs to wrestlers, giving players better reason to execute them. The return of backstage brawls brought back some of the arcade fun from the THQ games. This title was plagued, though, with issues that this list will show are long-term, such as glitches and lackluster areas of presentation e.g. commentary.
Suplex City didn’t take up residence inside my PS4 many times after my first week of playing. As much fun as I had playing matches, the lack of quality improvements on game modes meant that I got bored quite quickly. Some bugs that occurred in Universe hurt my motivation to play also. The changes to the gameplay of matches, however, laid some nice foundations for the next two entries in the series.
#5 – WWE 2K15
The franchise’s first release on PS4 and Xbox One marked a drastic change in direction. 2K wanted more simulation-heavy gameplay that accurately portrayed real life WWE matches. This tied in with a new graphics engine, creating very impressive character models that wowed fans at the time. When I played WWE 2K15 for the first time, the series felt fresher than it ever had before. Unfortunately, new hardware and engines meant rebuilding from the ground up.
In-ring, this game was incomparable to any of the previous entries. A three-tier stamina meter, new submission system and fighting styles were just some of the additions that delivered a simulation gameplay experience that was satisfying enough. Smooth animations and visually appealing arenas added to the authenticity. Outside of the ring, however, 2K15 lacked in various departments. WWE 2K14‘s massive Creations Suite had been stripped down to the bare bones. The inability to even create a women’s wrestler was, quite frankly, disgraceful. The debuting 2K Showcase mode was a lot of fun. Its fellow newcomer, MyCareer mode, had a fair debut, but suffered from a lot of repetition.
2K15 was successful in giving fans a taste of the future of the series, but its severe lack of content compared to its predecessor gave them a horrid aftertaste. I view it as being superior to 2K17, though, for how technically impressive it was at the time. It’s one of the few WWE 2K titles that fared well in the fight against glitches. Universe mode provided more entertainment, too. The ability to select a storyline template for a created rivalry is something that I miss.
#4 – WWE 2K16
As expected, 2015 brought fans a bigger, better version of 2K15. Multiple creative modes returned and Create A Superstar save slots were increased to 100, something that Universe fanatics like me were thankful for. The roster of 120+ wrestlers was almost double the previous year’s number of 67. Newcomers included Arnold Schwarzenegger, the greatest pre-order bonus in the series’ history. Character models for these wrestlers were further improved. New clothing physics, sweat, etc. enhanced authenticity for WWE 2K16.
2K Showcase made a return and delivered one of my favourite wrestling story modes in the past decade. Revisiting the career of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin meant unlocking exciting classic wrestlers and arenas, along with listening to commentary from Jim Ross. MyCareer was expanded upon, giving players more control over their created superstars. It was a small step in the right direction. More work was still needed to produce an all-round great mode. Gameplay improvements were sparse but included entrance run-ins and limited reversals. JBL was added to the commentary team, although he didn’t make much of a difference in terms of quality with repetition being a major problem.
2K16 was a great follow-up; however, the very few changes to in-ring action meant that I got burnt out after a couple of months. A bad experience with MyCareer occurred where my superstar got screwed out of the World Championship in a cutscene, only for this storyline to disappear. Feeling like I wasted many hours is enough to take me out of any game. This prevents it from making the top 3.
#3 – WWE 2K18
This was a game that I was happy to lose many hours on. WWE 2K18 refined the good parts of 2K17, while improving on some of the negative aspects. A new graphics engine was implemented, allowing for better character models and superb lighting effects. It may still visually be the best in the series. Commentary was overhauled with a new team calling the action. They actually sounded like they recorded their lines together, meaning interactions seemed a lot more natural. The ability to have eight wrestlers in the ring at the same time was also a major change.
Universe mode saw its biggest update in years. Fans enjoyed a new rivalry system, a rankings system and superstar goals. The Promo Engine still lacked but the mode felt fresh again. Sadly, MyCareer received very few changes and 2K Showcase no-showed for another year. This meant that, just like 2K17, 2K18 wasn’t blessed with quality content. Playing matches continued to be a satisfying experience. Match types such as Royal Rumble were retooled and a new carry system provided more ways to inflict damage on opponents and create OMG moments. A huge variety of new animations and a revamped crowd system brought further realism to the virtual squared circle.
Improved gameplay and graphics mean that 2K18 submits the likes of 2K16 and 2K17 with ease. I had a great time playing this entry for a year thanks to its Universe additions and its roster of 200+ wrestlers. Fantastic DLC packs added more entertainment. I remember the one pack featuring Aleister Black being hotly anticipated. Game content was an area that desperately required improvement, however.
#2 – WWE 2K19
Yuke’s final WWE game marked a slight change in direction for the series, with the developers wanting to rediscover the arcade fun that they had been known for pre-2K. The simulation-heavy gameplay was adjusted to provide fans with faster paced matches and less “slow it down, brother” moments. Small but fun features such as Big Head mode and wacky screen filters were added, which would help the game appeal more to WWE’s young demographic.
WWE 2K19‘s biggest improvement over 2K18 was the drastic increase in content. 2K Showcase made its return, albeit not at its best. I love Daniel Bryan, but playing through his very recent WWE career wasn’t the most exciting experience. Towers, a brand new mode, emphasised the franchise’s renewed focus on entertainment. It was nice to see a wrestling game take inspiration from the fighting genre. Remarkably, MyCareer finally found its feet thanks to being reinvented into a more linear story mode. Filled with interesting twists and turns, it was an enjoyable experience. It’s a shame that 2K20 failed to build on the success.
Admittedly, I didn’t have the best time with 2K19. My gameplay experience was soured by multiple glitches, resulting in me not actually putting too many hours into it. These bugs were nowhere near the scale of 2K20, however. I know that there’s a decent game underneath these problems though which is why it’s ranking so highly. It could have made deciding my #1 entry a lot more challenging if it was a bit more polished.
#1- WWE 2K14
The head of the table. WWE 2K14 features an incredible amount of content, particularly in the Creation Suite where Story Designer was present. The roster includes wrestlers from all eras of WWE, meaning almost every dream match is possible. Matches have the perfect gameplay balance of fast paced arcade action and realism.
2K14 being at the top of this list shows how the quality of this series has been turbulent for a long time. Features being removed, a heavy focus on simulation gameplay and technical issues have been a detriment. This game kept things simple in the ring and Yuke’s focused on providing players with a product more entertaining than WWE itself. The amazing 30 Years of WrestleMania story mode was lengthy and had replayability. The Streak, focusing on the Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak, is one of the series’ all-time highlights.
Whether you’re defending or attempting to beat The Streak, so many hours could be lost here. Universe offered the most player customisation with numerous additions. Packed with fantastic content, this was just a very fun WWE game.
My only complaints of 2K14 are the absence of General Manager mode and the lack of backstage roaming. Otherwise, it’s close to being the perfect wrestling game. I would love to see 2K rediscover this kind of form again, but with 2K22‘s development seeming a bit unsteady it may be best to keep my hopes low.
How would you rank the WWE 2K games from worst to best? Let me know in the comments below!