WWE 2K Battlegrounds is an odd duck. As a replacement for the annual WWE2K entries, it’s a fun and refreshingly cartoonish game — but under the surface, it has a lot more in common with 2K’s mobile titles than a fully-fledged console release. The gameplay is genuinely fun and entertaining, but it’s all bogged down by a flagship of 2K’s sports titles: aggressive, heavy-handed microtransactions.
Like other WWE2K games, Battlegrounds features a bunch of frantic gameplay modes, a main story campaign and various online multiplayer options. You’ll want to start in campaign mode purely because it lets you unlock your first batch of wrestlers and game-exclusive characters.
Here, you’ll take the role of a wrestling rookie working their way through WWE one battle at a time. There’s a cheesy comic to guide you through your adventures and a bunch of story-based fights between your rookie and the biggest heels in WWE. (Baron Corbin starts the campaign as the main villain, as is right.)
After you plough through Corbin you’ll work your way through a variety of related scenarios in new chapters. As you defeat each of your opponents, you’ll unlock new power-ups or wrestlers you can then use in the non-story parts of the game.
The major differences between Battlegrounds and mainline WWE2K games are the game’s big-headed art style and its simplified gameplay.
While WWE2K games require an elaborate system of throws, well-timed counters and hits, Battlegrounds features a more streamlined hit/kick/grab combat system. It’s easier to grasp and a lot funner because of it. As you brawl you’ll build up epic, lightning-based attacks and deal more damage based on linking combos.
It’s all aided by the game’s spectacularly over-the-top character models, which somehow look far better than the models found in WWE 2K20. Because Battlegrounds goes for a deformed caricature style, the models look far more like their real-life counterparts than they would otherwise. It also makes in-game combat look totally silly. (This is a good thing.)
On the Switch, the visuals aren’t extremely crisp, but for the most part the cartoonish style pops on screen. (While these screenshots look pixel-heavy, it’s actually fairly smooth and performs great. It’s not as nice as the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or PC versions, but the style still translates well.) The minor visual issues pale in comparison to the title’s other big flaw, though.
As previously mentioned, WWE 2K Battlegrounds is littered with microtransactions.
You’ll start the game off with a selection of core wrestlers, but most of the iconic heroes are locked behind a grind-heavy paywall. There’s several options for unlocking characters, but you won’t like most of them. They include making your way through the game’s corny (yet still fun) story mode or grinding match after match to earn enough tokens to unlock them. If you’re not into grinding (and let’s face it, most people aren’t) you’ll need to pay actual, real money to unlock your favourite characters.
Here’s how those microtransactions look:
And for a bit of context, here’s how many tokens you’ll need to unlock some of your favourite heroes:
In essence, you’d be paying around $4 for the privilege of playing as Brock Lesnar — or you’d be grinding for a long time to earn enough points to unlock him.
It’s unfortunate because WWE 2K Battlegrounds is genuinely good fun. The combat is simple but diverse enough to carry gameplay, there’s a bunch of great modes to conquer (including an excellent cage match bout) and the game’s visuals are endearing (even when they’re a bit ugly). I had a great time with the game until I got curious about unlocking other wrestlers. The microtransactions aren’t overt (I didn’t notice them in story mode until I went looking for upgrades) but they are everywhere. You can even unlock new skill tree abilities using microtransactions.
If WWE 2K Battlegrounds was priced a little bit lower to counter these microtransactions, their inclusion would sting a bit less but at $60 it’s still in the AAA price range. Asking $4 for a single wrestler (who basically serves as a skin with a special finisher) is fairly ludicrous at the game’s price point. The system feels better suited to a mobile title and it’s unfortunate to see it pop up in a fully fledged title.
I like WWE 2K Battlegrounds. It’s big, dumb fun. Sure, it’s cheesy at times — but it’s got a sense of infectious, cartoonish glee. I like seeing 2K try new things — but it really is a shame most of the goodwill the game builds is burned away by its aggressive microtransaction system. So as much as I’m enjoying it, the game is hard to recommend.