The upcoming release of AEW: Fight Forever marks the first major professional wrestling video game outside of the WWE 2K series in a long time. But just as the two promotions have major differences, so, too, will the games. The WWE 2K series was in rough shape following the infamous release of 2K20, but after taking a year off, it came back swinging with the solid WWE 2K22.
Still, it’s not perfect, leaving a major opportunity for AEW: Fight Forever to steal the show. This upcoming release is being created by veteran developer Yuke’s (the studio behind genre classics like WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain) meaning the team has plenty of experience making wrestling games. Not only that, but the project is being led by Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita, the director behind Nintendo 64’s iconic WWF No Mercy.
With all that talent in its corner, AEW’s debut console game could potentially clear the ring out once it’s tagged in. Though to do that, it’ll need to set itself apart from its rival. Here are just five ways AEW: Fight Forever could stand out from — or even surpass — the upcoming WWE 2K23.
Embrace the silliness
The overall AEW product is oftentimes looser — and even a little sillier — than WWE. In recent years, WWE has felt a little sterile, especially as it moved away from its TV-14 rating. AEW features absurd match types, with blood, as well as ridiculous segments such as The Acclaimed “cementing their legacy” in Los Angeles.
WWE hasn’t completely ditched its silliness, but considering the real-life products, AEW: Fight Forever has a major opportunity to stand apart by taking itself less seriously. The game already sort of looks the part, with far more cartoonish character models and its wild mini-game types. Plus, it’s targeting pick-up-and-play style arcade gameplay instead of trying to be a realistic simulation. With that approach in mind, Fight Forever could call back to many of the promotion’s more out-there matches (Stadium Stampede, anyone?), along with more off-the-cuff commentary and wild backstage segments that mirror TV program’s unpredictable nature.
The real-life AEW roster is full of interesting characters who are just as good on the mic as they are in the ring. These are wrestlers such as Ricky Starks, Samoa Joe, Christian Cage, FTR (Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler), and Saraya, to name a few. While we know of some talent who will appear in AEW: Fight Forever, much of the roster remains a mystery, but hopefully there are many more wrestlers to be revealed.
In particular, there’s an opportunity here for the game to put its dynamic roster to good use. Younger talent like Dante Martin, Action Andretti, and even the ridiculous Danhausen could bring entirely different gameplay styles to the mix. The WWE 2K23 roster seems to be as robust as you’d expect, with around 200 superstars available, from current talent to Legends. In order for Fight Forever to compete, it needs to have plenty of wrestlers to choose from, offering enough variety to keep players invested. Luckily, there’s no shortage of talent to choose from.
In WWE 2K22, one-on-one matches work well enough, but once you introduce three or more superstars in the ring, things get hectic. Tag-team matches, in particular, are almost impossible to win, as your opponent’s partner will constantly come into the ring to break up the pin. Fatal Four Ways or even the Royal Rumble match type are far too chaotic to even see your character, let alone win.
AEW: Fight Forever could excel if it implements better AI that beats WWE at its own game. While the AI shouldn’t be entirely brainless, it’s important to allow players to stand a chance in matches outside of one-on-one, without having to rely on timing and luck. It would be great to see opponents less on the offensive when participating in Triple Threats or Fatal Four Ways, or computer-controller tag teams who don’t automatically rush to break up every pinfall attempt.
More freedom in story mode
In recent WWE games, the story modes have the illusion of offering freedom, but in reality, they don’t give you many options. This is especially true within the MyRise mode, which features interesting story segments, but with very few meaningful choices to be made.
I miss entries like WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth, an old PS2 game that actually let you walk around backstage to interact with the various superstars around the locker room. You could initiate storylines with various branching paths that would change based on your performance or even the superstar you played as, offering plenty of variety. Since WWE 2K has felt more — dare we say — “scripted” in recent years, AEW: Fight Forever could use this as an opportunity to include more freedom within its currently mysterious story mode, just as Yuke’s has done in the past.
Return to traditional grapple system
WWE 2K22 sort of reinvented the series’ control scheme, but not totally for the better. It utilizes a combo system that feels like a fighting game, which does make it more approachable for players looking to button mash at the expense of consistency. Players need to utilize several button combinations to execute a particular move, but since some maneuvers require so many inputs, they’re oftentimes difficult to pull off.
This combat system will remain in WWE 2K23, leaving the door wide open for AEW: Fight Forever.
Based on our hands-on time with it at Gamescom last year, Fight Forever incorporates a similar grapple system to older WWE games, allowing you to execute moves more consistently. This system simply requires players to press one button to grapple, and then tilt the analog stick while pressing another button to pull off a specific move. With this system, it only takes two inputs to pull off grapples, making it easier to utilize them consistently.
In WWE 2K22, it was common to have to frequently pause the game to look at your character’s combo list, which broke up the flow of a match. Thankfully, this issue is mitigated with the traditional grapple system that will seemingly come to AEW: Fight Forever. That alone could help AEW’s big game come out victorious by the ending bell.