Also On: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch
Publisher: THQ Nordic
I have entered the Forbidden Door. A lifelong WWE fan is reviewing the first video game entry for rival All Elite Wrestling. AEW Fight Forever has been in the works for some time; I feel like almost as long as the company has been in existence (was actually November 2020, but that still feels like a lifetime ago). When it was initially announced, it was pitched to be an homage or modern version of WWE No Mercy. Now, nearly 3 years later, it’s finally coming out and does it live up to the hype of being some sort of successor to No Mercy? Well not really, in my opinion, but that doesn’t make it a bad release. Gameplay doesn’t really come close to the AKI titles of the late 90s/early 2000s, and then there’s the graphics that have been run through the mud on social media for the past few months. Sure, sounds like this review is set to burn down this release, but you might be surprised by my opinion… maybe it’s time for a babyface turn for me.
Let’s start a little different than my typical reviews. THQ provided us with a PS5 code as well as a PC code. So, my initial thoughts were to go right to the Steam Deck and see how it looks as far as compatibility. As a relatively new “PC Gamer” (I know that will upset some people lumping in Steam Deck players as PC Gamers, but I haven’t completed my babyface turn), I find when I see a new title is coming out that interests me, I almost immediately head to Google to see if anything had been announced for Steam Deck compatibility. So, going forward I’m going to try and provide that info if I can rather early in the review. Fight Forever is not officially supported for the Steam Deck (yet), but that didn’t stop me from successfully playing it. After installation I did have to do an update on my Deck before the game actually booted, but once it did it worked very smooth. It does prompt for an Epic login for online play, but that is not required for offline play. While the PS5 version definitely looked visually better, the gameplay did not suffer on the Deck for the extent that I played.
Now on to our regularly scheduled review… well not yet really. I just want to touch on a production/development situation that is obvious as a fan. As all AEW fans are aware, CM Punk had an “incident” last year backstage with some of the EVPs and it looked like he might be out of the company already. As a result of this incident they removed Punk from the cover of the game and he’s wiped from the video package that kicks off the Road to Elite career mode as well, while still being in the game. Now we all know Punk has returned to AEW this month for Saturday Night
Nitro Collision, so it is better off that they didn’t remove him from the release, but it is kinda odd based on the history. He’s nonexistent in that video package I mentioned but later in that very same mode it has a whole video package about his AEW Rampage debut. It’s also worth noting that Cody Rhodes is also in the game despite being in the WWE for nearly a year and a half and being featured in this year’s WWE 2K23.
Ok, moving on to the actual review now… AEW Fight Forever truly surprised me. I had a great time with this first entry for AEW. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it better than WWE 2K23? Also, absolutely not. But it’s a different spin on the wrestling genre of games and more competition is always a good thing. Gameplay, as I mentioned earlier, was announced to be a successor to WWE No Mercy (which it really isn’t in my opinion). It has a great pick up and play feel that leans heavily into arcade style gameplay without going all in, à la WWF In Your House or Wrestlemania from the 90s. It features similar get up animations, lock ups, and analog stick finishers, in homage to those AKI 90s titles, but that’s where it ends for me. The punch and kick animations and combos reminded me more of the old Smackdown releases for the ps1 and ps2. I enjoyed the simplification of controls (while it took me a bit to get used to them being a WWE player for years). But once I had them figured out I felt like this is a great starting point for a first entry and would love to see where they build off of this. Gameplay is fun, fast, and often chaotic, especially when you add in weapons (of which there are a ton).
Speaking of chaos and weapons, Fight Forever introduced a new mode never before featured in a wrestling game and that is the Exploding Barbwire Deathmatch (based on the UNFORGETABLE Exploding Barbwire Deathmatch between Omega and Moxely)! I had to check this mode out immediately… Luckily for everyone, the match in the videogame is executed better than it was in real life. Explosions occur at timed intervals with the participant who is closest to the ropes receiving the most of the damage. But also hitting the ropes and other objects in the ring can trigger explosions. I don’t know how often I will replay the mode, but it’s definitely something to showcase to friends when you’re introducing them to this game. Other modes that included that break from usual wrestling traditions is the Casino Battle Royal. While being mostly a Royal Rumble rip off, I thought it was worth mentioning. I had some problems with my wrestler glitching and staying down indefinitely but I’m sure that will be sorted out with a patch. While a cool concept that each entrant in the match picks a card and that’s how the entrance order is determined, you should be able to pick your entrant number rather than watch the computer duke it out. You also can not currently select which wrestlers are included in the match and there’s a limit of four wrestlers in the ring at the same time, yuck! For generations of titles we’ve been at eight wrestlers, so this was a huge disappointment for me. One item I did like from the match was that when the next entrant was being introduced it pops up a small picture-in-picture of that new entrant posing and coming down to the ring.
Let’s talk about the Create A Wrestler mode next. Sadly, it’s really lackluster and I’m not sure if that’s just due to being spoiled with how great it is and has been in the 2K franchise. It’s super basic when it comes to editing the wrestler’s physical appearance. The moves, taunts, and entrance options are all pretty expansive so I don’t know if it was just due to lack of development time, but also as I mentioned earlier this game has been in development for nearly three years. Additionally, I haven’t mentioned it yet but it was also developed by Yukes who previously worked on the WWE games for over a decade. The saddest thing about how lackluster the creation tool is, is that fact that we have all these great options for moves and taunts for wrestlers from other promotions. We’ve got a Ric Flair strut, a tribal chief ground pound and even a Trish Stratus entrance (Thank You Trish). I immediately bought the Ric Flair strut (more on buying unlockables later) then went to create him. Immediately starting to edit his face, I realized we weren’t configuring anything close to the WWE 2K series.
So, I’m sure at this point you’re saying to yourself, damn it sounded at the start like Paul enjoyed this game but he’s really taking a crap on everything. While partially true, I’m grading with a curve as this is the first entry in a brand new franchise and I also haven’t really mentioned Road to Elite, Fight Forever’s career mode. This mode reminded me a bit more of WWE No Mercy as you have branching storylines so each play through will give you different results. While much of the dialog and actions are corny, it felt more like a throwback to past wrestling games. I’m not crazy about having to watch your wrestler go to restaurants to gain energy each week or other tasks to keep up with energy, momentum, etc. but I did keep coming back to see where the story would go and where the next angle would take me. One last item that was reminiscent of WWE No Mercy to me was the earning of in game currency to buy items from the shop. Playing matches and completing challenges will give you in game currency. Get a Meltzer 5 star spot fest and you’ll get a bunch of credits or complete any of the many challenges including daily and weekly updated ones. The currency will buy you wrestlers, attires, moves, taunts, arena custom options and more. While 2K has a similar in game shop, the challenges that are constantly updating gives AEW the edge in my opinion.
I haven’t even spoke of the odd inclusion of a variety of minigames, but it’s time to go home. AEW Fight Forever is a really chaotic blast.Exciting gameplay and ease of play guarantees continued replayability, especially with any of my friends who aren’t familiar with the more complicated 2K series. Would I like more out of the series going forward? Of course. But on top of my gripes in the review the roster is kinda limited, but DLC could help that. That being said, for the very first entry into the market Fight Forever does a surprisingly good job. Patching and building off the foundation established here will be key in how this game is received by the fans, old and new. I’m along for the ride. If you’re an AEW fan, I think you’ll enjoy this release. It does enough to stand out from the WWE series of games and gives a great alternative that AEW the actual wrestling product was supposed to be (but hasn’t really delivered in my opinion… had to leave one last dig in there after being so complementary).
THQ Nordic provided us with an AEW Fight Forever code for review purposes.