Remember Survivor Series 1998, Rock Vs Mankind battling it out for the WWF championship? It was the heartbreaking heel turn of a fan favourite, as he sold out to his corporate overlords in order to become the champion. This is exactly what WWE Battlegrounds feel like. A humiliating sellout of the WWE franchise for a quick cash grab, full of microtransaction, and mindless button mashing, a mobile game ported to console, at best. Whatever WWE Battlegrounds does well, is buried a hundred feet deep under the tons of stuff they do wrong.
If You Smellllll…..Microtransactions
This is the underlying problem of WWE Battlegrounds – MICROTRANSACTIONS. Everything is blocked behind a paywall. You could see this creeping in since WWE2K16 where you could buy move-sets and vanity items which you then use for your custom superstars. But they still had a huge library of pre-unlocked moves and items to customize your creation with. WWE Battlegrounds, however, turns that dial to 11. Everything from finishing moves, vanity items, unlocking new characters, taunts, and even leveling up of power-ups is achieved by spending in-game currency. Everything and I mean everything ties up into these WWE V-bucks.
All this after you have paid $40 for the game. Preposterous.
You earn these WWE V-Bucks when you win/lose a match and its the only thing that you earn when you level up your profile. They are also paid out after you complete 3 daily challenges. Among others, this simple mechanism paywalls 2 of the most fun parts of a WWE game:
1) A diverse roster of wrestlers.
2) A variety of moves to arm those wrestlers with.
It would have been okay if those items were better priced, but some WWE Characters take 40,000 units to unlock while you earn roughly 200 units per match. It’s not an economy a regular player can grind through. Especially since the target audience for this game are casual family brawls instead of committed gamers. It’s an economy that will sooner or later push you towards buying those bucks for real money. Gun to my head, if I had to pick one good thing about all of this, is the fact that there is just one currency used for buying everything and anything. That can change with an update though.
Welcome To The Battlegrounds
WWE Battlegrounds is an arcadey take on the WWE formula. 2K wants you to enjoy this game with family and friends, and have tried to streamline the experience as much as possible. So you have a health bar, a Crowd Cheer Bar, a Stamina bar, and a Momentum Bar. You need Stamina to execute any move, a full Momentum meter to execute a signature, and a full Crowd and Momentum meter to execute a finisher. The Momentum meter fills up as you deal and/or receive damage, while the Crowd meter fills up if you do what the crowd wants you to do, which can range from hitting your opponent with a punch combo, to throwing him/her into a Crocodile’s open Jaw. There is a mini-game that involves mashing the L2+R2 button to escape a pin or submission, and there are 3 power-ups at your disposal which you get to pick before the match. Between all of this, you can punch, kick, grapple or throw your opponents, and if push comes to shove, block, or counter their attacks too.
All of these simple to understand mechanics are wrapped inside this retina bursting explosion of colors, caricatured wrestlers, and leaning hard into the over-the-top vibe of WWE. So you have these wacky arenas: in the Subways, in the middle of a swamp, or inside a Scottish castle, all oozing creativity and funk, while Undertaker curses his opponents, and Ricochet double flips in the air and lands on Daniel Bryan. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to look at. But again the idea that this game does not opt for photo-realistic graphics, irks me, and playing it on the PS4 makes me feel as if I am playing a mobile game that has been ported to the consoles.
And I get that they are trying to get the arcadey feel of the game right. And yes, the visual elements are on point. So is the button mashing paradise that ensues in such games. But soon the initial gamut of available moves and rosters in most of the matches start to play and seem the same. Even the novelty of throwing someone into a gaping crocodile, or controlling a Ram, or playing the guitar before actually bashing someone with it, loses its shine. And that’s because WWE Battleground lacks the one thing that an arcade game thrives on, Speed and Momentum.
The game has no pace. It’s not twitchy and responsive enough to be fun. There is a clear delay in what I want my character to do and what actually happens, the running in the game feels sluggish, and I was regularly mistiming my grapples and throws. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I was mashing the X button to get up and suddenly I was asked to counter something, which I promptly missed and landed back on the canvas face first. If I wanted to move away from after slamming someone onto the mat, I would have played WWE 2K18.
And That’s The Bottom Line
I bought WWE Battlegrounds, with the hopes that it will be like WWE All Stars. A no-nonsense stripped out brawler, with a mean streak for fun. Battlegrounds does drop the multiple complex mechanical layers of the 2K series, and it does indeed don the visual look of All Stars; it even dives headlong into the crazy and wacky side of WWE. But before making that dive, it ties its own feet with microtransactions. This means that for me, a fan of the franchise since Here Comes The Pain, the game is Dead On Arrival. Better luck next time 2K. Maybe next time, you can respect my money.