Rare Has Plotted Out the Next Five Years of Sea of Thieves

Rare and Microsoft are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Sea of Thieves, but the developers are also looking out toward the horizon for the next five years of the live service pirate adventure.

In an article on Xbox Wire, Xbox revealed that the Sea of Thieves team at Rare recently sat down to plot out the next five years of the game.

“I think 10 years of Sea of Thieves will feel like a long time – but also, we’ll blink and be there,” creative director Mike Chapman said. “And I still think we’ll have unfinished business when we get to that point.”

The Sea of Thieves team is apparently discussing ideas for smuggling mechanics, rewards for protecting other players from griefers, and a mechanic for “painting” screenshots. The development team’s mantra is “Players Creating Stories Together”, and this wide vision has the team feeling like they’ll never run out of ideas, as long as players are there to experience them.

There are some other interesting stories in Xbox Wire’s celebration of Sea of Thieves. The developers revealed that the original pitch for Sea of Thieves starred secret agents instead of pirates, and that they “ripped up our roadmap” after launch and changed the approach to the game’s content updates.

Sea of Thieves has seen tons of content updates since its initial launch in 2018. From collaborations with franchises like Pirates of the Carribean and Borderlands, to last year’s randomized three-part quest, there have been plenty of seafaring adventures for players to sink their teeth into.

We re-reviewed Sea of Thieves in 2020, calling it “a pirate fantasy sandbox with an enormous amount of things to do, made unpredictable and exciting by the addition of other players.” The game also made our list of the ten best co-op games.

Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN covering video game and entertainment news. He has over six years of experience in the gaming industry with bylines at IGN, Nintendo Wire, Switch Player Magazine, and Lifewire. Find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.

The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game Review

The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is the third title in a series from publisher Ravensburger, the previous two entries featuring The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride. These are all unique tabletop games where unfolding storybooks are used as the foundation to retell iconic narratives from film and literature. While the previous two releases have been entertaining and effective, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book pushes the format strongly forward with a sense of maturity and accomplishment.

This is a wonderful combination of charm and lightweight gameplay that finds its groove when played across a diverse age range. It’s perfect for a family as both adults and children can sink into the story and fully grasp the structure and mechanisms. The main attraction is the book itself. Each set of pages is a new chapter in the familiar J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy. It’s a hard and sturdy manual, reminiscent of children’s board books in material. The illustrations are vibrant and the graphic design is excellent, easily accomplishing a sense of immersion through the synthesis of presentation and systems.

All of the expected beats are here. From the hobbits departure from the Shire to the forming of the Fellowship, through Moria and the gates of Helm’s Deep, and finally at the mouth of Mount Doom. Each of the eight chapters utilizes a small number of special rules and objectives that sit atop a very concise core ruleset. All of the action takes place on the pages of the book, which form a unique board tailored to the current story chapter.

The flow of play feels somewhat similar to cooperative mainstream strategy games such as Pandemic and Horrified. All of the players share control of the protagonists, moving characters such as Frodo or Gandalf about the map while managing a small hand of cards. You spend various sets of cards to accomplish goals and progress the narrative. For instance, in the very first chapter you must move all four hobbits to Bree and then discard a card with an eye of Sauron symbol, and two with feet symbols.

It’s very simple overall, requiring a bit of player discussion and cooperation to organize the sequence of actions across each of your turns. The challenge arises through the plot deck. This functions as a timer and provides an injection of chapter-specific random events. In the Shire example, many of the plot effects trigger black rider patrols. This jams up your pathways, blocking movement across the board and possibly capturing hobbits that were left exposed.

This is a wonderful combination of charm and lightweight gameplay that finds its groove when played across a diverse age range.

Across all of the narrative chapters there’s a very basic tradeoff between conservative progress while building up the perfect hand of cards, versus aggressive maneuvering to push towards the objectives immediately. The best strategic approach is somewhere in between, picking the right moments to risk loss without being reckless.

One of the best elements of tension is a track that represents the ring bearer’s growing corruption. This comes into play when you play special ring cards as wild options or for a chapter-specific effect — but each such use progresses a token down the corruption track. This track remains for all eight chapters, sitting sinisterly above the book and providing a watchful eye and ever present temptation. If the ring token ever arrives at the end of the track, the players lose the whole campaign and the journey ends in despair. Using the ring cards is the most interesting decision in the game, and it nicely captures the themes of the trilogy.

The strongest moments are present in the creative interactive storytelling. Those familiar with Tolkien’s books or Peter Jackson’s films will recognize each vignette immediately. This captures the joy in reliving the property and interacting with the most powerful scenes. You will fight the cave troll, ride atop Ents, and hopefully cast the ring into the Crack of Doom. And each challenge is an interesting puzzle of sorts as you work out the best approach to fulfilling your destiny.

You will fight the cave troll, ride atop Ents, and hopefully cast the ring into the Crack of Doom.

There’s nothing outright innovative about this as a board game design, but it’s a clever distillation of the many narrative heavy campaign games currently dominating the board game market. It captures some of the spark of huge crowdfunding titles like Gloomhaven or Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood, utilizing narrative and story to drive a linked session of games. But it accomplishes this with an approachable ruleset that nearly anyone can immediately understand.

It is important to realize that this is aimed at families as well as a younger audience. I felt the most joy working through the game with my nine-year-old, the adventure book facilitating a few evenings of shared storytelling and bonding. The strategic demands are not overly complex and it will not provide the rich gameplay hobbyists tend to seek out in adult game groups, but it accomplishes everything it intends and is worthy.

It’s also evident that this is the current peak of this adventure book format. The scenarios are unique page to page, featuring a stronger sense of variety and creativity than both previous iterations on the system. The unexpected mechanical twists instill a sense of mystery as you want to keep going and experience the next chapter to see what’s in store. During play, I’d often be wondering how the future story beats would play out, curious how they’d capture the death of Boromir or the danger of Shelob’s Lair. Without fail, those iconic moments would manifest with a solid sense of thrill.

Above all, this product really understands its audience. The whole book can be played in only a few hours, each chapter lasting about 20 minutes. You can stop playing between chapters and pack it up or leave the game setup awaiting your next session. The variety and pull of content is real, keeping participants engaged for the entirety of the adventure and begging for attentive minds. It’s a clever and well designed game that captures a wide scope with little fuss. It’s simply a success.

Where to Buy

The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is available exclusively at Target.

Switchback VR Developer Is Investigating Technical Issues ‘As a Matter of Urgency’

Developer Supermassive Games has released a statement acknowledging “graphical issues” that players have experienced following the launch of The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR on PlayStation VR2 earlier this month.

“Since the launch of Switchback VR Yesterday, we have seen and heard the feedback that some players are experiencing graphical issues in the game,” read a tweet from Supermassive Games.

“The Switchback VR Team have been investigating the issues raised as a matter of urgency. So far, a potential cause of the reported blurring has been identified, along with other issues still undergoing testing and reproduction.”

The developers are encouraging players to report any bugs that they experience through its Zendesk Portal.

Switchback VR is an on-rails shooter set in the horror infused universe of Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology, which features villains from titles including The Devil in Me and The Man of Medan.

The developers sought to harness the updated hardware of the PlayStation VR2 by making use of its haptic feedback system, 3D audio, and eye-tracking capabilities. One such feature made enemies more likely to strike and move when the headset detected that the player had blinked, or looked away.

In our review IGN gave The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR a 6/10, summarizing that the virtual reality game was “a fun arcade shooter”, but that it’s “short length, a weak story, and lack of scares hold it back”.

Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video gaming news for IGN. He has over eight years experience of covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer

Where to Pre-Order Legend of Zelda Amiibo

With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s release on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to start building out your collectible collection of Link amiibos. Not only can you jump on pre-orders for Link’s new amiibo for the upcoming game, but there are reprints of previously released Link amiibos that you can pre-order for the game as well.

Below, you can see some of the Link amiibos that are available to pre-order at Best Buy and GameStop. This selection includes a pre-order link for the brand new Link amiibo from Tears of the Kingdom, along with pre-orders for reprints of the Majora’s Mask Link amiibo and the Twilight Princess Link amiibo. All of these will release alongside the game on May 12.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Amiibo Pre-Order

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Amiibo Pre-Orders – Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess

Not only do these amiibos have great designs, but once scanned on your Nintendo Switch, they can also provide you with some fun in-game items and bonuses. Each will offer a variety of materials and weaponry for you to get your hands on, but the main Tears of the Kingdom amiibo will provide you with a special fabric for Link’s paraglider, along with new materials and weapons!

If you want to see even more collectibles and toys that are worth picking up, make sure to visit our Toys and Collectibles Gift Guide. In here, you can find some more amiibos to buy, including one of Zelda and Loftwing, along with LEGO sets and plush toys from some of your favorite franchises. And, if you’re looking to pre-order The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom game alongside the amiibo, head to our pre-order guide here.

Hannah Hoolihan is a freelance writer who works with the Guides and Commerce teams here at IGN.

Sonic Frontiers Sights, Sounds, and Speed Update Adds Challenge Modes and More This Week

Sega has announced that the Sights, Sounds, and Speed update will come to Sonic Frontiers on PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch on March 22.

The first of three content updates for the game will add new Challenge modes, a photo mode, and a Jukebox for players to listen to their favourite Sonic tracks.

The new Challenge modes include the Cyber Space Challenge and Battle Rush and can be accessed after completing the main story. The former is a time trial mode where players race through multiple Cyber Space stages in a row, while the latter is a timed battle mode where players fight several enemies and bosses in a row.

A photo mode is also being added to the game, letting players capture and edit screenshots of their Sonic adventures, while the Jukebox lets players listen to 53 songs released through new Sound Memories collectibles spread across the islands.

Sonic Frontiers launched in November last year and had sold 2.5 million copies as of December 13. Sega revealed its 2023 content roadmap around the same time, confirming that Update 2 will celebrate Sonic’s birthday by adding an Open Zone Challenge and new Koco. The final update of 2023 will even add a new character and story content.

In our 7/10 review, IGN said: “Sonic Frontiers is an ambitious open-world adventure that mostly succeeds at mixing up the Sonic formula, even when some of its ideas fall flat.”

Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelancer and acting UK news editor. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.

Here’s What Netflix’s Big Video Game Push Looks Like One Year Later

In its sophomore year of video game development, Netflix has pulled back the curtain on the future of its gaming service.

During a recent press event, Netflix spoke about some of its plans for video games in the rest of 2023 and beyond. The company said it has 70 games in development with external partners, in addition to the 16 games Netflix’s in-house studios are developing. Netflix said it will release around 40 games throughout the remainder of 2023, with new games hitting the service at least every month. Currently, Netflix’s gaming platform houses 55 games.

However, when it came to actually showing some of the games in development for Netflix, the company didn’t have as much to say. Netflix announced that Monument Valley 1 and 2 — the isometric mobile puzzle games from 2014 and 2017, respectively — are coming to Netflix sometime in 2024.

In addition, Netflix revealed that a new Too Hot to Handle game is coming later this year alongside a new season of the reality dating show. Plus, Netflix teased the next game in its previously-announced three-game deal with Ubisoft. It’s called Mighty Quest: Rogue Palace, and it’s a rogue-lite follow-up to The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Ubisoft’s PC and mobile game that combined castle building and dungeon crawling. Rogue Palace is coming to Netflix on April 18.

Finally, the studio revealed that Vainglory and Catalyst Black developer Super Evil Megacorp is working on an exclusive game based on an unannounced Netflix IP. The studio plans to share more on this release sometime later this year.

Netflix ‘very happy with progress so far’

Netflix also declined to provide any concrete numbers about how its games service is performing among Netflix subscribers. When asked for specifics, Netflix’s vice president of external games Leanne Loombe said the company was “very happy with the progress so far” on user growth, adding that games like Too Hot to Handle are seeing more players over time.

Netflix’s game initiative hasn’t caught on with the vast majority of Netflix users. Last August, less than 1% of Netflix subscribers were interacting with the service’s games regularly. But the company said it’s hoping to entice its users to play games on their mobile devices by providing games with no microtransactions, recognizable franchises, and games that tie in to Netflix shows. Netflix has previously announced tie-in games for The Queen’s Gambit, Shadow and Bone, and more.

In 2022, Netflix said it was aiming to have “the absolute best” gaming service for its customers. The streaming giant began rolling out games in November 2021, where Netflix subscribers can access the catalog of available games for no additional cost.

Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN covering video game and entertainment news. He has over six years of experience in the gaming industry with bylines at IGN, Nintendo Wire, Switch Player Magazine, and Lifewire. Find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.

YouTuber Spends $22,000 to Buy Every Wii U and 3DS Game Ahead of Nintendo eShop Shutdown

A YouTuber has spent more than $22,000 digitally purchasing every Wii U and 3DS game ahead of their Nintendo eShop shutdowns next week.

As reported by VGC, The Completionist uploaded a video sharing the endeavour which took 328 days to complete. Including DSi Ware, the Virtual Console, and DLC, the project saw 866 Wii U and 1,547 3DS games purchased in total.

The completed project, totalling a Wii U with three external hard drives and a 3DS with four micro SD cards, will be donated to the Video Game History Foundation to preserve the digital offerings that will otherwise cease to exist when the stores shut down on March 27.

The Completionist spent $22,791 spread across 464 eShop cards, which amassed to 1.2 terabytes of Wii U games and 267 gigabytes of 3DS, translated to 2,136,689 blocks (Nintendo’s own data measurement system).

These incredible numbers were just half the battle for The Completionist, however, as the Nintendo eShops of old don’t run as smoothly as the Switch’s version. The software is clunkier, slower, has limited search functionality, and even adding funds can get complicated.

Limits to purchasing eShop gift cards exist to prevent scams and such, meaning The Competionist’s team had to visit a ton of different stores to acquire the amount needed. The eShop also has $250 cap, meaning only so much could be added at a time before they had to start buying games.

Additionally, only around ten games could be purchased at a time before the 3DS forces users to download them, and it also restricts the total spend per day. Purchasing DLC on the 3DS must also be done in-game, with some games requiring partial or total completion before any additional content can be purchased.

The Competionist explains every hiccup in the video, but needless to say the process wasn’t plain sailing.

For those who do still have their Wii U or 3DS, be sure to purchase anything left on the wishlist ahead of March 27. IGN has compiled lists of the best Wii U games, which includes Super Mario Maker and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, and the best 3DS games, which includes Fire Emblem Awakening and Bravely Default.

Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelancer and acting UK news editor. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.

Destiny 2 Players Are Gathering In the Tower to Honor Lance Reddick

Destiny 2 players have been gathering en masse at the Tower to honor the late Lance Reddick, who passed away yesterday at the age of 60.

After the news broke yesterday, Guardians began flocking to Commander Zavala, who Reddick famously voiced, to pay their respects. News traveled quickly in the Destiny community as Reddick was not only an avid fan of Destiny, but would occasionally engage with players on social media as Commander Zavala.

Although it’s a bit quieter in the Tower today, just about every instance had Guardians standing stoically in a circle around Zavala yesterday using the “Humanity’s Sheild” emote to signify his character’s larger-than-life presence, or sitting amongst their fellow Guardians while attending a impromptu candlelight vigil.

Over on the /r/DestinyTheGame subreddit, the post honoring Reddick quickly rose to become the 2nd most popular post across all of Reddit, with plenty of community members and former Bungie developers sharing their favorite memories of Zavala, or Reddick himself.

Reddick’s passing hit especially close to home for Guardians, as they’ve spent the past nine years alongside his character in-game. As I popped into various livestreams on Twitch yesterday, it seemed like it was all people were talking about. Likewise on Twitter, where just about everyone in the Destiny community was sharing screenshots of the Tower, or posting videos showcasing all the Guardians that had gathered to pay tribute to Zavala.

Bungie also put out an official statement following the news stating that “Lance Reddick was an iconic presence on screen, in Destiny, and most importantly, in person. His love for our community shined through in Commander Zavala, in his uncompromising dedication to his craft, and out of the radiating kindness that touched those around him. To say he will be missed is a profound understatement, yet no less true. Rest in peace, Lance.”

In the words of Commander Zavala, “Eyes up, Guardian.”

Matthew Adler is a Commerce, Features, Guides, News, Previews, and Reviews writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @MatthewAdler and watch him stream on Twitch.

Diablo 4 Beta Players Are Experiencing Long Wait Times and Server Issues

Those hoping to get an early start on slaying the queen of Succubi have had to wait longer than anticipated, as many players logged on to the Diablo 4 beta servers today to discover long queue times and error codes preventing them from jumping into the ARPG.

Today marks the start of the early access beta available to those who preordered the full game or got a code by eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, while next weekend will host anyone looking to start their adventures early in the open beta.

But many players were greeted by long wait times to log into the server, error codes, and other issues.

Taking to Twitter while facing wait times of upwards of an hour, players took the opportunity to warn their fellow demon slayers and make light of the situation.

The overloaded servers and long wait times have persisted into the afternoon. The official Diablo Twitter account recently commented on the issues, saying, “We are aware of the issues impacting Open Beta Early Access, leading to long queue times and server disconnections. The team is managing the rate of players entering the game until we have a full fix for the connection issues.”

Players can monitor the known issues and fixes on Blizzard’s website.

Previously, Blizzard had warned players to anticipate wait times and warned that players should not leave the queue even if they remain stuck on a waiting screen after the queue timer has elapsed:

“Users may experience a queue while logging into Diablo IV during Early Access Beta Weekend. Please note that the countdown may finish and go beyond the duration listed on the queue timer. Do NOT leave the queue as this will restart the queue. We will have more accurate timers in place for Open Beta Weekend.”

Meanwhile, Blizzard forums have been overflowing with users posting their issues and frustrations, including a thread of console players who have been repeatedly booted after waiting the duration of the queue’s wait time.

Wait times and server issues are not new for betas, which are particially intended as stress tests before a full launch, especially for games as hotly anticipated as the next entry in Blizzard’s longrunning ARPG franchise.

Still, wait times never feel good. Here’s hoping the issues clear up soon so I can begin recruiting my undead necromancer army. For more, check out the first 17 minutes of Diablo IV’s beta.

Travis Northup is a writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @TieGuyTravis and read his games coverage here.

WWE 2K23 Review

“Even Stronger” is the perfect tagline for WWE 2K23. Last year’s reinvention laid a solid foundation, and every aspect of it has been refined for the better this year. Combat is flexible without becoming burdensome, and the MyRise campaign mode focuses on telling more focused stories without compromising its open-ended gameplay. MyGM is more user friendly and lets you invite a larger number friends to get in on the action, too. Even the 2K Showcase, which has maybe the most glaring inconsistencies of all the modes, subverts expectations in creative ways. The pickings are slim for full sim-style pro-grappling alternatives, but WWE’s flagship game has never been more deserving of its spot at the head of the wrestling game table.

2K wrestling games have been largely hit or miss when it comes to how they look and sound, but 2K23 has to be the best “hit” this series has had in years. There are still several characters who’ve adopted newer looks and attitudes than the ones captured here, but with only a handful of exceptions everyone at least looks good. Cover boy John Cena and the son of a son of a plumber, Cody Rhodes, are standouts on the high end, which ironically makes some of the low-end models like poor Dana Brooke feel like that much more of a missed opportunity. New lighting effects and reflections give an overall boost that make stages shine and title belts sparkle. Menus are clean and colorful, a step up from last year’s bland layouts, all without sacrificing legibility. Visually, 2K23 is a grand slam.

Literally no one should be surprised that combat in the squared circle of 2K23 is much like it was in 2K22. This is an annual sports game, after all, and the wheel has not been reinvented, especially when last year’s big overhaul was widely considered a huge success. The simplified grappling layouts and a combo-based striking system add a bit of depth to each of the close to 200 wrestlers that are either available to play at launch or unlocked with in-game currency. There are a few noticeable changes, though: the pin minigame now has an optional stick-flick mechanic instead of simple button-mashing, which is one of my favorite improvements. 2K22 had a timing-based button press alternative, but flicking a stick up at the right time mimics the dramatic kick out in a very satisfying way, which stylishly solves the problem of fatiguing yourself in real life by bashing a button manically. It would have been nice if the philosophy of removing button-mashing were consistent, though. You still need to mash to recover back to your feet after getting dropped, and when fighting your way out of submissions.

Stamina – and specifically the lack there off – is a way bigger deal.

Stamina – and specifically the lack there off – is a way bigger deal as matches go on. Without it, it’s tough to run faster than a crawl, and you become way easier to counter and beat down. Spamming offense relentlessly risks tiring you out early, and the only way to regain your energy is to hang back and idle for a few seconds. Knowing when to slow your roll and when to hit the gas can give matches between evenly skilled opponents a fun rhythm.

The payback system, a set of special abilities individual characters have that can have massive consequences on matches, has been expanded as well. Each wrestler can have up to two abilities, giving them more flexible options in a pinch compared to last year. They’re still only one use per match, but now you have a secondary scenario in which you can turn the tables. Using your Resiliency to instantly win a pin or submission minigame doesn’t have to be the only trick up your sleeve anymore.

Some old payback options that were missing last year are back as general defensive options that you can spend a portion of your special bar to use. Being able to instantly recover from attacks or play possum for a quick hit or surprise roll-up pin helps keep you in the match even when you’re on the wrong end of a mud-hole stomping. The risk-reward relationship of the special bar makes you think as well: these defenses can be used to great effect to stop taking damage during vital moments, but if you fill that bar completely, either by dealing or receiving damage, the Signature move you unleash could do more to turn the tide in your favor. This is the kind of resource management usually only seen in traditional fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, but it fits like the perfect pair of boots in 2K23.

Being able to instantly recover from attacks or play possum helps keep you in the match.

This year’s 2K Showcase focuses on John Cena’s biggest losses, which is an interesting take on the marquee game mode. Cena’s spent so much of his 20-plus-year career winning that it’s refreshing to see him run down the monumental Ls he’s occasionally taken from greats like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Triple H. I enjoyed the winding trip down memory lane, though there were a few notable bumps in the road. A few omissions are understandable, as some of the major names involved are currently contracted outside of the WWE and not willing or able to play ball, but it was strange not to see folks like JBL and The Miz. Cena himself also provides some moments of reflection on the ones that made it in, but they are oddly sterile and surface level considering he is known for being a deep thinker when it comes to pro wrestling. His monologues between matches offer no real insight beyond largely juvenile “I went in there and tried my best” mantras, which is a shame because it doesn’t do some of his best character work any justice.

The structure of the Showcase is similar to past ones, but there’s a great twist: since this is all about Cena losing, you get to play the gauntlet of matches as his opponents. This keeps the action fresh from match to match, but it will mean you’ll need to relearn character movesets every time, which could be a little jarring – especially when different versions of the same character (The Undertaker circa 2003 versus 2014, for instance) may have similar moves but mapped to different buttons. Thankfully, the objectives you’re given do a good job of laying out exactly what’s being asked of you, down to the exact button combinations needed to execute a particular maneuver.

Since this is all about Cena losing, you get to play the gauntlet of matches as his opponents.

At the same time, the interlacing of old WWE footage into gameplay doesn’t feel as clever as it used to, especially when the live-action video has awkward music playing over it with no commentary, fake crowd reactions, and censored referee and commentator faces. Also, the objectives are a bit inconsistent with how it attempts to get you to reenact some of the old classic matches. Sometimes you’ll need to hit a specific move, and when you do it will trigger an old clip to fill in what happens next. Other times you just have to stand someone up and attack, and the match will play out a whole sequence of moves like AJ Styles hitting his signature Pele kick and crushing Cena with his patented Styles Clash that would have probably have been more fun to do yourself than they are to watch. On more than one occasion a simple attempt to attack or grapple started a clip that led directly into the end of a match, with no further input required.

The tail end of the showcase throws a few fun curveballs that you won’t see coming, but the overall package remains an earnest but rough attempt to do the impossible. It would seem that you can’t truly recreate specific wrestling moments and capture the drama and magic in a playable way.

The other major single-player mode, MyRise, is split into two separate stories. Of the two, I preferred The Lock, which has you jump into the boots of a global sensation whose talents have finally elevated him to the WWE. Its tale about the conflict between attempting to be yourself versus trying to be what the machine of the WWE wants you to be clicked with me more. The Legacy, a story about debuting in the shadow of your Hall of Fame aunt, is also a solid tale about living up to expectations, and the various ways that old rivalries and bad decisions in and out of your control can make that challenging.

The conflict between attempting to be yourself vs what the WWE wants you to be clicked with me more.

Both modes give your progression to the top of the card some real focus. Where last year’s MyRise often felt like I was just running around doing quests simply because they were there, this year the main thread wrangles you into very clear-cut chapters. Instead of running between different locations to find the proper NPC or scrolling through the in-game social media feed to start beef with people, your main and side objectives are laid out clearly in the story progress menu, and all of the appropriate people to talk to in order to initiate these quests are all in one area. The story is also separated by acts, and the progress menu will show you all the distractions you could get into before moving on to the next one.

The open-endedness of last year’s MyRise still exists, though. Between matches during the main storyline you can interact with accessory characters and make choices that can determine how story arcs end, or what kind of side quests you end up on. Some of them are simply one-off matches that net you some points for customizing your character, while others can be whole multi-match feuds. I wish that the back and forth you have to do to start many of the side feuds were more than text blocks on a fake social media platform, but the parts that are voice acted feel more consistent across the board than last year. I’m not sure any of this will make you a MyRise fan if you weren’t already, but a strong story mode is a wrestling game staple, and I’m glad it finally feels worth the time again.

For folks looking for more of a sandbox approach to superstardom, Universe is back and, with the exception of some slight tweaks in the story building tools, it’s practically identical to 2K22’s version. For Classic Mode fans, this means you can have a field day tweaking every single detail of your own version of the WWE, from the shows you produce, the stars and feuds between them, and even the belts they can win and defend. Its top-down approach is a little too big for my tastes, with too many knobs to twist and not enough reward outside of the satisfaction of simply doing the thing. I preferred Superstar Mode during the relative time I spent with Universe, so I could put my created grappler through an endless career of rivalries and title shots.

GM Mode is my preferred management sim mode, and this year’s version is even bigger and more robust than ever. Besides giving us more brands to control, managers to work with, and power cards to choose from, now up to four players can try to out-promote each other across multiple season games. New surprises like the Shake Up – big, game-altering passive abilities that you can select after big shows – helps keep your opponents on their toes. Bonuses like lowering the stamina cost it takes for wrestlers involved in certain kinds of matches may seem like a small buff, until you realize that it means you can pull more risky matches off more often, pulling in better match ratings and more fans with fewer injuries.

Finally, little quality-of-life changes help make it easier to see the benefits of certain actions over others. Something like popularity bonuses you’ll receive for booking a certain arena were in the previous game, but it’s much clearer here. Specific match types can also accelerate the ferociousness of a rivalry better than others, and now that’s clearly identified as well. But figuring out how to make popular, highly rated matches over long periods of time is still a steep learning curve.