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A created Superstar enters the ring in “The Legacy” portion of WWE 2K23’s MyRise mode
In MyRise’s “The Legacy,” you’re the niece of a fictional WWE Superstar who was once a six-time Women’s Champion.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

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WWE 2K23’s MyRise story mode is a slow burn that’s worth the effort

For immersion, it’s hard to beat the career mode. Be prepared to spend a lot of time out of the ring

One of the lesser-discussed qualities as modern sports video games have developed ever more sophisticated narrative modes has been what I call the time-to-play. As in, how long does it take, after booting the mode for the first time, until your athlete is actually out there performing?

Some games’ career suites just don’t lend themselves to a quick time-to-play; WWE 2K23 might be the prime example. In Visual Concepts’ defense, you don’t buy a series like this to create generic superstars — you buy it to recreate every detail of a carefully scripted form of sports make-believe. The fact that WWE 2K23’s two new career storylines are worth this kind of detail management is a real credit to the game. Still, if the single-player career mode is the reason you buy and play a sports video game, you’re going to want to set aside a good chunk of time to nail everything about your character before taking them into the ring.

And I don’t just mean the multiple looks in the game’s creation suite, which are as eye-gogglingly deep as ever, or obsessing over the pyrotechnics in your character’s introductions. If you are a casual player (or a single-player-mode-only type fan) and need to brush up on your combat, you won’t be getting your tutorial match in MyRise, like last year’s game. (Those basics are covered in a strongly advised tutorial that ends with a match against cover star John Cena. You’re booted into it when you start the game, but it’s always available in the Extras menu.)

Combat in WWE 2K23, simple as the input schemes are, depends on subtle visual clues and, honestly, just putting the time in to develop a feel for the flow of a match, if not also your opponent’s tendencies. Do that in the game’s actual tutorial, and then work in real matches to understand just how fast you have to be throwing moves once a grapple initiates. Because MyRise, which has a fixed difficulty, isn’t going to give you much room to get your combos down in that first bout.

MyRise is split into distinct stories: one for female Superstars, the other for male. At first, the women get “The Legacy,” which has a novel flashback preamble involving a fictional Superstar (named Justine) taking down pioneering WWE Diva Molly Holly during her first championship reign (in 2002). Turns out Justine is “the aunt” of the new Superstar and the two share a cutscene, even, on her first day of work. That’s a little awkward to unwind if you’re going in with a generic star the game gave you.

For this reason and others, folks are probably going to want to create their Superstar and import them into the mode before beginning. It was about an hour of gameplay, role-playing conversations, and other interactions before I got into a match where I was wearing her individual gear. This is not a button-through mode; players need to be all-in on their created star’s career, from seeking advice to watching the ring intros, to get to the immersion it has to offer. But that kind of patience can only go so far; MyRise’s dialogue pacing is sluggish enough without feeling as if you need to see every conversation option. And the loading screen times (I played on the PS5) are… whew.

Somewhat by contrast, the male character’s story does start you out the way the old MyRise did, giving you a character creation screen before the action begins. Because this Superstar is going to be introduced as “The Lock,” a mystery man heavily promoted before his Monday Night Raw debut, you’re going to want to get into the action immediately. And honestly, you’re probably going to want to create someone who looks like a Lock before you see him in action. The Lock as a story seemed built for beefy, almost generic strikers that WWE Creative has long favored, rather than technicians or high-flying artists, whose move sets I have always enjoyed more.

All of this might strike some as being petty or persnickety about WWE 2K23’s aesthetics, but what is professional wrestling if not aesthetics? And Visual Concepts has an unrelenting demand from its fandom for costumes, customization options, arenas — there are 10 categories for which you can download community creations, and the Superstars category is 1,300 pages long. (Speaking of time-consuming, this isn’t really a browsable library; you should know exactly what you’re looking for with a keyword or a creator’s name, because you probably won’t just stumble upon it.)

Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns face off in the all-new “WarGames” mode of WWE 2K23
The modified Hell in a Cell event known as WarGames makes its video game debut in WWE 2K23.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

As for the big systems serving all modes of play, WWE 2K23’s combat still relies on counters and reversals to regain that all-important momentum and control of a bout. But now it incorporates a stamina meter that can make recovering energy a real chore. The best way to discover it is to stop getting hit. Well, the requirement to hold a controller away from the opponent when pressing the right bumper to dodge can seem inscrutable when his back is to the camera, and you have daylight left or right, but a rope behind you.

Even more teeth-gritting is the combo-breaker and blocking system. For starters, I’m playing on a 55-inch TV and the block warning (Triangle/Y over your fighter’s head) is microscopic. This is important: To block a grapple you have to press Circle/B. You can interrupt combos by correctly guessing whether your opponent is throwing a light or strong attack, but you don’t get prompts for this. It can feel like a guessing game most of the time, and this isn’t the way I’d choose to discourage button spam, especially if there’s a stamina system involved. There should be a single block/counter input, especially considering that by the time you see one on standard difficulty, it already feels too late.

Visually, the game looks the best the series ever has, and not just in the photorealistic presentations of familiar stars (pretty much everyone got the latest-and-greatest head scan) or what they wear. Animations feel a lot cleaner, a lot more connected to each other, and freer from janky interactions, although there is some of that in the corner and outside the ring, depending on the move. Moreover, the zillion-plus objects that every Superstar seems to have on their person are crisply rendered, free of poor texture loading or clipping that could ruin an outfit you spent hours on before putting into action.

The game’s other major modes might offer game experiences comparatively more bite-size than MyRise. Their enhancements range from more modest (MyFaction, the Ultimate Team-style suite, has online multiplayer now) to mostly cosmetic (MyGM, the management game, has more playable characters and ways to construct your events). MyUniverse didn’t get much of an upgrade, but that sandbox is the granddaddy of modes where players spend dozens of hours tinkering with the existing toolkit before they see what might be different.

My preferred mode of play is still MyRise; Visual Concepts does the best job of any sports developer at understanding what its fans find entertaining about their heroes’ stories, and what they find cliche or rote. WWE 2K23 is no different, expository dialogue notwithstanding. Some folks just want to get in there and slug it out with real-life stars and established rivalries, and WWE 2K23 will still serve them. But the deepest experience is in MyRise, which means players should be prepared for at least a FOMO-induced rabbit hole that lasts several days.

WWE 2K23 was released on March 17 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was played on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by 2K Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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