Battlegrounds is a fun diversion for the WWE 2K series, but ultimately ends up feeling more like a mid-carder than a main event talent.

The story behind WWE 2K Battlegrounds really starts with last year’s WWE 2K20. After mixed reception to every WWE game released under the 2K banner, the ship finally seemed to be headed in the right direction with WWE 2K19 – only for the ship to do a sharp U-turn and hit an iceberg with 2K20. 

WWE 2K20 launched in an unfinished state, filled to the brim with glitches and bugs (including a Y2K style bug that rendered the game unplayable at the beginning of the year) as well as graphical downgrades from the previous year’s game. The quality of 2K20 was so poor that #FixWWE2K20 was one of the top trends on Twitter within 24 hours of the game’s launch, culminating in Sony offering refunds to customers who bought the game on PlayStation platforms. This led to the cancellation of WWE 2K21 in April 2020, and 2K Battlegrounds was announced shortly after.

WWE 2K Battlegrounds is the latest release in the WWE 2K franchise; this time being developed by Saber Interactive, developers of the NBA 2K Playgrounds games. Battlegrounds strays away from the simulation focus of the core WWE 2K series, instead aiming to provide a more arcade-like experience akin to games like WWE All Stars and Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game.

Battlegrounds feels very much like a spiritual successor to WWE All Stars, taking the over-the-top arcade feeling with its exaggerated character models and animations and extending that style to the arenas you fight in. In WWE All Stars – despite its over the top nature – you were mainly confined to standard wrestling rings, with no bells and whistles. In WWE Battlegrounds, the whole concept revolves around the arenas. The titular Battlegrounds – in theory – are arenas with crazy stipulations and hazards to make the game feel more akin to something like Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. or Power Stone than a typical WWE game.

However, they never go far enough with this concept to justify the entire game revolving around it. Each ‘Battleground’ is ultimately a wrestling ring with one gimmick, from a giant gator you can throw your opponent at to a set of bagpipes you can play poorly to damage your opponent. While these are fun, I do wish they had done more with the concept.

Gameplay wise, Battlegrounds feels like a bit of a step back from All Stars. While it wasn’t incredibly deep or anything, All Stars did more to make characters feel unique. Each character fit into one of four fighting styles – which dictates their normal strikes and grapples – as well as having four unique signature moves, unique taunts and a finisher. Battlegrounds once again uses this class system, upping the number to five this time (All Rounder, Powerhouse, Brawler, Technician and High Flyer). However, in Battlegrounds a character’s class doesn’t just decide their normal moves; it decides every move, barring one signature/finisher. Some characters get a unique move or two thrown in there, but this change makes the game almost feel like you have five characters to choose from with some specific wrestler skins to use with each move set.

Battlegrounds offers up a handful of game modes; from your standard singles, tag, triple threat, etc. WWE’s signature gimmick matches also make an appearance, like cage matches, the Royal Rumble and Gauntlet matches. Granted, the game is missing out on some vital matches like TLC, Hell in a Cell or Last Man Standing. These modes are all playable online with friends.

The main single-player mode in Battlegrounds is the campaign mode, which puts you in the shoes of seven ‘Punch Out’ level stereotypes as you try out for WWE’s new ‘Battlegrounds’ brand; hosted by Paul Heyman and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The campaign is presented in a comic book style, and while it’s not exactly engaging, it is pretty enjoyable for how bizarre it is. Weird moments like a new superstar threatening Stone Cold with his search history or The Miz lamenting losing all his money to an email scam are plenty in this story mode and stop it from being a slog, as well as the crudely drawn comic strips being quite funny to look at.

There are also two public matchmaking modes. ‘Tournament’ in which you attempt to win seven matches with a specific rule set in place and King of the Battleground, which is an ongoing royal rumble match where players are cycled in and out as more are eliminated. King of the Battleground, while basic, is a great concept and one I would love to see brought over to the main WWE 2K series upon its return.

One of the first things that sticks out about 2K Battlegrounds is how early access the presentation feels, from the menus, the music, the UI and weirdly enough the fonts. It’s all very minimal and at times feels like placeholders. One of the major ways this sticks out early on is the incredibly barebones tutorial, which boils down to a few menu screens and some on-screen prompts for basic actions. Menus for a tutorial wouldn’t be so bad if they were in-depth. However, they don’t even explain basic things such as how to do a finishing move instead of a signature (both of which are mapped to the same input), overall leaving a lot to the player to figure out by themselves.

The art style chosen for this game works well in some cases (especially for the more cartoony looking wrestlers like The Fiend or John Cena). However, in other cases the models are very poor representations of the wrestlers they are trying to emulate (ones that stick out being Roman Reigns, Baron Corbin and a majority of the women). In general, the art style chosen feels like a downgrade from the style from WWE All Stars.

Presentation issues would be easily ignored if the actual game itself was polished but alas, this is still a WWE 2K game we’re talking about. Offering up the usual slate of glitches that 2K games are known for. With such highlights as ‘clipping out the ring during a royal rumble and losing instantly.’ Not to mention the WWE 2K classic ‘grab animations playing out while the person you grab is at the other side of the ring.’ All this and more can be yours for just £29.99!

That £29.99 price tag may sound appealing – especially for this style of game – but as with any 2K Sports game, 2K Battlegrounds is filled to the brim with microtransactions. While more generous in doling out currency than its NBA2K brethren, Battlegrounds uses this currency for so much that it does not make too much of a difference. Want to unlock characters (more than half of which are locked at the start)? Use your currency. How about unlocking extra costumes for them? Use your Currency. Want to unlock moves or costumes for your created wrestlers? Use your Currency. Want to simply be able to play certain online tourneys? Oh, you better believe that’s using your currency.

Now being keenly aware that this review has been predominantly negative, do I recommend WWE 2K Battlegrounds? Sort of? For as incredibly flawed as the game is it can be really fun to play. The main gimmick is interesting, albeit underutilized, the campaign is some dumb fun, and the online modes are surprisingly solid. While maybe not worth the £30 price tag, it’s worth picking up on the cheap or as a rental. And when it comes down to it, it’s way more fun than any WWE 2K game released in the last 9 years.