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That time of year has come around once again, where the countdown begins to the annual WWE videogame offering. As with WWE's biggest event WrestleMania, news is brief and based more on rumour than fact at first, before the occasional announcement eventually gives way to the full-on hype suggesting that this one will be the best yet, even if the evidence doesn't suggest such an outcome.
And make no mistake about it, the hype has begun for WWE 2K17. We know that Goldberg will be this year's pre-order exclusive, with both WCW and WWE characters set to be available for 'Da Man (along with two vintage WCW arenas). We know from E3 that John Cena, Sasha Banks and The Ultimate Warrior will definitely be included. And we know that Brock Lesnar will be the cover star for the eighteenth game of the most successful wrestling videogame series ever.
It probably won't be long before the official announcement of WWE 2K17's main features, and the roster is likely to be drip-fed from around SummerSlam time onwards. As things stand, however, WWE and 2K Games are remaining tight-lipped about what 2K17 will provide; or, more to the point, how 2K17 will be superior to 2K16 and its predecessors.
This is my wishlist of what I hope 2K17 will either introduce, revive or simply improve upon if it is indeed to become an all-time great videogame. I have split the wishes into sections as some aspects require a fair amount of work, but if 2K17 can adhere to these suggestions, then it could potentially be viewed in future as one of the best wrestling games to date.
After disappointment concerning the 2K15 roster, 2K16 treated us to a final line-up consisting of a whopping 165 playable characters, by far a series record. And with plenty of new faces on Raw, SmackDown and NXT since spring/summer 2015, along with the likelihood of the Four Horsewomen finally being included in full after inexplicably being omitted from 2K16, there is every chance that this year's roster will be even bigger and better.
That being said, there are no guarantees, as we saw when 2K15 replaced a wealth of legendary names with four Randy Ortons, two Rybacks and three Mark Henrys. Therefore, my roster suggestion comes in three parts: expand the field to around 200; include every current name possible, whether they be main roster or NXT (and whether they're male or female); and just as 2K16 included most of the legends featured in 2K15, 2K17 should look to emulate this formula, thus ensuring that no classic names are dropped.
In terms of which legends could debut/return, the biggest name who has a modicum of a chance of reappearing is Kurt Angle, but it would be a bold move by WWE to allow Angle to be featured. Owen Hart was not included in 2K16, a game where it was clear that he should have been included as part of the Steve Austin Showcase, so without Angle, the chance of a top name making a years-in-the-making comeback or debut in the series seems low. That being said, there are some retro stars that I'd like to see make a cameo in 2K17 who we haven't yet seen in the series, such as Psycho Sid (whose only appearance was as a referee two years ago), Tito Santana, Rick Martel, Marty Jannetty and The Nasty Boys. A return for Demolition and The Legion Of Doom would be cool alongside the already-announced return of Goldberg. But I believe it is too soon for Hulk Hogan to make a surprise return to the series in 2K17, although I do believe he will be back in the fold by 2K18.
The last two games have featured more than 50 arenas. With the surplus of PPV events, Network specials and NXT Takeover events alongside classic venues, there is no reason why 2K17 couldn't feature upwards of 70 arenas after DLC, especially if 2K16 arenas were imported into the game in the same manner that playable characters were from 2K15 to 2K16. Between the hundreds of WWE supershows, dozens of WCW PPV events, ECW shows and cards held by past companies whose trademarks are owned by WWE (AWA, World Class, Mid-South etc), gamers could be treated to 100 arenas in the game and still be left wanting more.
For now, let's hope for 60-65 arenas to ensure a new yet realistic peak for fighting venues. It would also be nice for backstage venues to have a prominent and fun role again, as they did in years gone by, and it would be cool if we had actual venues to select as a host for the likes of Royal Rumble and SummerSlam, such as Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center and the Allstate Arena.
I touched upon this for my 2K16 wishlist last year (which you can read by clicking here), so I'll keep it brief: it's been a long time since we had a chance to properly live the life of a WWE character via storylines and major PPV matches, so it's about time that we got a brand new, and better than ever, Season experience in 2K17. That Paul Heyman has apparently recorded voiceovers for the game could be a sign that this may just happen (or maybe not).
That being said, reliving past matches has been the main crux of the game for years now, primarily through the recent Showcase mode that recaps a particular feud or wrestler. With Brock Lesnar on the cover and as the face of the marketing campaign, the odds are high that we'll get a Lesnar Showcase mode, which would undoubtedly be fun (this could be where Kurt Angle makes that shock return appearance). But I'd also love to see The Undertaker spotlighted in Showcase, since there are literally dozens of memorable matches you could play through, with a whole cast of classic characters spanning 25 years. Taker's 25th anniversary at last year's Survivor Series is good enough reason to go down this path. In many ways, Undertaker is the perfect candidate for a Showcase spotlight. And you could even link the two Showcases with the Lesnar-Taker matches of 2002-3 and 2014-5 (particularly their unforgettable battle, or rather their match with an unforgettable result, at WrestleMania XXX).
Hopefully, as part of the downloadable content, we'll also get another Hall Of Fame Showcase for this year's HOF inductees, after the successful 2015 HOF Showcase we received in 2K16.
5. Create Modes
A big criticism of 2K15 on next-gen consoles concerned the removal and trimming of the creation suite, generally a trademark of the series. This was fortunately corrected for the most part last year, but there are still some missing create modes. Therefore, in 2K17 I'm hoping for the return of Create A Finisher and Create A Story, and for the old Superstar Threads option to return so that we can have, say, three alternate attires for Seth Rollins rather than three created character slots taken up so that we can have Seth in said costumes.
If it were possible, it'd also be cool to see the number of create slots for wrestlers to pass the 100 mark, since this combined with the hoped-for size of the main roster could lead to a gigantic crew of characters when all is said and done. Similarly, having more than 50 arenas would provide a new peak total for the mode, which has remained at the 50-mark since its debut appearance in WWE '12.
Ah, the gameplay. Now, the gameplay was actually very good in 2K16, the best it's been in a long, long time - but it isn't quite flawless yet.
The action needs to be a little faster, a bit more exciting in its execution. The button interface could do with a bit of tweaking to help make the action move along quicker. Having access to more moves from a standing position would help, since we have many options from every other position. And the submission and chain wrestling bars need to be simplified to make it easier for fans to control and to potentially control or win matches from such moves.
Fortunately, as alluded to, the wrestling action was overall strong in 2K16, so with minor tweaks to improve the gameplay experience, basically to make it more fun and easier to handle, then 2K17 could have a wrestling engine to match the greatest wrestling games to date.
7. Other Key Modes
MyCareer and Universe both returned for 2K16. I enjoy MyCareer, but feel that it's lacking something; it feels a bit too uneventful at times, and it feels like a lot of work is required for minor achievements. That being said, the concept is a good one and has proven fairly popular, so I hope to see it return, perhaps in a more streamlined form for its early stages, in 2K17.
Universe has been around since SmackDown vs. Raw 2011, and I am wondering whether the time has come to change things up. It almost tries to do too much, because while you do have the ability to essentially create your own little WWE, erm, Universe, the CPU involvement (such as throwing in unexpected cutscenes during matches) can hinder whatever you're trying to achieve. And while Universe was essential to play through to attain certain unlockables in its early years, now it almost feels like a spare mode, with little significance to one's completion of the game as a whole.
I don't necessarily think that it should be removed, but it could definitely use a refresh. The previous (and previously popular) General Manager mode will have new relevance after the upcoming WWE brand extension, so if WWE and 2K take the strongest elements of both Universe and GM mode and put together a fresh new single-player option, which promises ultimate control yet also allows for occasional twists and turns if that option is selected, then the series could have an exciting new feature on its hands.
8. New (Or Old) Matches
While 2K16 repaired some of the damage left by the decision to remove many match types for next-gen versions of 2K15, the match options remain a lot smaller than they had been in previous years. At a time when WWE has dozens of potential stipulations to use for such events as Extreme Rules, the games haven't offered so few possibilities since the very early days of the series.
Rather than listing all the various match types I'd like to see return, I'll instead point out that there are many matches which have been taken out of the series over the years, so bringing back even a handful of these would be sufficient. Likewise, there are stipulations which we've never seen in a WWE game such as a Stretcher match, a Texas Bull Rope match or even the Asylum match which debuted at the most recent Extreme Rules. And then there's the non-WWE stips which would be incredibly fun to play through, such as War Games.
Simply put, an expanded match set will go a long way towards satisfying fans who purchase 2K17.
The graphics have largely been strong since the shift in focus to PS4/Xbox One for 2K15. But certain characters looked dodgy to say the least in 2K16, especially Renee Young whose teeth looked - well - terrible. (Even she pointed this out on Twitter!) This request is simply for 2K to make sure that everyone at least looks presentable, if not quite lifelike in all cases.
10. Unlockables - More, Please!
One thing which 2K cannot be accused of is providing only a minor number of unlockables. While SvR 11 had around 32 hidden items before DLC, in 2K16 the final total stretched to well over 200, and that was before DLC. Hopefully, this trend will continue for 2K17, since it greatly increases one's playing time, and I'd ideally like to see hidden alternate attires for as many wrestlers as possible, even if it were just importing their costumes from the previous game.
I have to admit, I'm not big into online gameplay, although I do delve into it from time to time. If I were looking for improvements in this area, I would simply ask for better connections from the 2K servers, especially when downloading created content via Community Creations (which in itself had a restriction of so many items per day in 2K16, which I hope is lifted for 2K17). Speaking of online downloads ...
Although some may disagree, I think that downloadable content has greatly benefitted the series since its debut in SvR 2009. Once a game is completed, you still have some new material to look forward to, and 2K16 provided over 30 bonus characters via DLC.
Hopefully, the DLC packs will be just as strong for 2K17, and will hopefully provide some items which we may not normally get on the game, such as an ECW pack or a range of arenas from, say, the 1980s. Ideally, any current-roster additions would be for those who arrived around May-June time, since having established characters as DLC makes the process feel like some wrestlers were set aside to ensure higher payments from gamers, rather than them being presented as a bonus update.
13. Eight On-Screen Characters
I asked last year for there to be eight on-screen characters available during the likes of Royal Rumbles and tag bouts. That option, which we have only received in SmackDown! Just Bring It way back in 2001 (and Royal Rumble on the Dreamcast in 2000), was not provided. I ask for it again in 2K17, and I will ask for it every year until it happens, because let's face it: why can't this be done at a time when computer consoles can provide unimaginable features?
Two quick requests relating to music: bring back the Custom Soundtrack option which allowed users to import any song as a wrestler's theme tune, and ensure that all songs are authentic for main characters (Randy Savage, Ric Flair and The British Bulldog were amongst those with artificial or incorrect themes in 2K16).
15. Better Commentary
Longtime fans of the series may look at this as asking too much, but let's be honest: Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler's interplay, whilst better than it has been in the past, still felt contrived in 2K16, especially when they discussed forgotten PPV encounters rather than true legendary moments, and John Bradshaw Layfield simply sounded bored. Meanwhile, they only vaguely refer to the match in progress, as opposed to providing true play-by-play.
Listen to the commentary on FIFA and compare it to the announcing of an actual football match, and then put that audio experience alongside that for WWE games and WWE television. After all these years, the commentary still remains a weakness of wrestling videogames; surely, this has to change for 2K17.
Here's a minor revelation: each summer, I put together my own League competition for a select number of top characters, complete with specific arenas and matches for each one. Not only is it fun (it actually gets very dramatic during the final weeks; if you ever want to know who has won the League, leave a comment below and I'll tell you since it does have a pretty good lineage at this point!), but it's also original by wrestling standards, it provides another mode of sorts, and it's perfect to play out during the summer months, since by this point the most recent game of the series will have been played out to the max. With the League, the game remains fresh and by the time it comes to an end, the hype has begun for the next game, resulting in just a few months of anticipation rather than close to a year.
So, the request is simple: give us an official League option for 2K17!
I'll finish with a couple of minor wishes. I am hoping for more authentic wrestler weapons (we still can't use a nightstick during matches involving Big Boss Man, for example), some more lifelike options to act out during Royal Rumble and Ladder/TLC matches (the possibilities are endless), a cheaper price for a product whose cost enters the £75 range after DLC (okay, this is a ludicrous wish) and more realistic crowd audio; give us an atmosphere to die for during The Rock vs. John Cena, rather than the same response we get for Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler. The presentation is generally topnotch, but adding show intros before matches (e.g. the Raw intro video before a match at that venue) would also be a nice touch.
Finally, I'd also love to see a return for the old Locker Room option; sure, it was essentially pointless, but it was cool to have a mini-house to hold championships and trophies, and to use the likes of wrestler props and posters (SvR 2007 had a Steve Austin poster which I actually had hanging up on my door!). The computer option within the Locker Room could link to any of the main single-player modes, and it could even provide a link to WWE Network content to accompany, say, Showcase matches (this was another request which didn't transpire in 2K16).
So, that's my wishlist for WWE 2K17. It sounds like a lot to ask for, but all of it is possible. And 2K16 did make big strides over the previous entry in the series, so we could very well receive a totally new experience for 2K17. Unlike last year's game, which had to fix a lot of the damage caused by 2K15, the upcoming game has enough already in place that by making improvements in the right areas and introducing some relevant and fun new content, it has a real chance of being remembered as a truly great WWE videogame.
We'll soon find out whether that is the case and if 2K17 will rank alongside the likes of No Mercy, SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain or SvR 2006, or if it will flat-line and reduce optimism for the games going forward. Let's hope for the best, and let's hope that a few months from now, WWE 2K17 will be entered into conversations about the greatest wrestling games of all-time. And if it is, perhaps some of the ideas listed above will be a big reason why.