For years, THQ Nordic, Yuke’s, and All-Elite Wrestling have been working to get a game out the door that’s meant to take players back to the good days of Nintendo 64 and arcade wrestling games like WCW vs. NWO: No Mercy and WWF Royal Rumble. Now, AEW Fight Forever is here. Was the wait worth it? Sort of. Fight Forever’s gameplay, modes, and campaign are quite a fun time, if not occasionally cheesy. Unfortunately, rough graphics, strangely limited features beyond the wrestling, and some very phoned-in commentary are just a few of the things that distract from what might otherwise be a solid competitor to WWE and its 2K series.
Grab the brass ring
AEW Fight Forever began development in 2020 and is as much a celebration of how far the promotion has come as it is its own wrestling game. For the most part, that’s a great thing. We got a roster that includes Cody and Dustin Rhodes, Kenny Omega, Nyla Rose, Thunder Rosa, Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, the Death Triangle, the Best Friends, Orange Cassidy, and so much more. We also get Tony Khan, Taz, Jim Ross, and Excalibur on commentary in between the action, for better or worse, but I’ll get to that later.
AEW Fight Forever is also chockfull of the types of matches and modes that have been part of All-Elite’s programming over the years. You got your standard 1v1 and tag team matches, as well as Lights Out Matches, Royal Rumbles, and even the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match, just to name a few. You can also create a wrestler, design their moveset and entrance, and take either your own character or someone on the existing roster through the story mode, Road to Elite. One thing is for sure, AEW is not lacking in the slightest for things to do.
If only it looked as good as it sounds. My main gripe about AEW Fight Forever is the presentation. This game is not pretty or well-presented. Nearly every time you’re up close on a wrestler, their eyes are bulging out of their heads and their bodies look plastic, and not in an endearing, comical way, such as in games like WWE All-Stars. It’s just kind of ugly every time you’re five feet from anyone. More than that, a lot of the voice work sounds phoned in. It’s a shame because I really enjoy Jim Ross, Excalibur, and Taz’s commentary, but they generally introduce a match, do its ending, and provide quips in tutorials and activities throughout the game, all with the same energy of an insurance salesman reading their pitch. I’ve never heard Ross so nonplussed to talk about his BBQ sauce until this game. It would be funny if it didn’t look like the game was really trying and just didn’t get there.
That extends to other elements of the game as well. As I said, there’s no actual commentary during the match, but the entrances are also cut ridiculously short. Instead, the game’s soundtrack just kind of plays lightly over the background of the match in a muted tone, which I found to be an odd decision, but it’s better than silence. Simply put, don’t look or listen too closely to the finer details in AEW Fight Forever. They are in no way the game’s strong points.
Leave it all in the ring
Thankfully, the actual gameplay is where AEW Fight Forever really shines for the most part. Moves in the game are divided into four major categories of high hand strikes, low kicks, weak grapples, and strong grapples, not to mention each wrestler’s unique signature and finisher moves. In any given match, the action in Fight Forever feels fun and fluid. You trade blows with your opponent, trying to weaken them enough to take bigger and bigger moves while attempting to build your momentum up to hit them with all of your best stuff.
Grappling in AEW feels like some of the best I’ve played in a wrestling game in a long time. We got corner moves, rope moves, between-the-ropes dives to the other ring, guardrail moves, weapons under the ring, and so much more, and it’s all satisfying to use. When I got into an Exploding Barbed Wire match and pitched my opponent through a wire-laden table in the corner, causing them to bleed all over the ring, you better believe I got giddy over the sheer brutality of it all. Ladder matches, royal rumbles, and other gimmicked matches also play out in satisfying style. For the most part, these matches feel fun and satisfying to play whether alone or with others.
I think one of the few issues I had with AEW Fight Forever’s gameplay was in tag matches with a computer-controlled partner. The AI sometimes gets stuck when both opponents have to jump off the apron to return to their side of the ring. I’m also not crazy about how calling for a tag and getting into the ring are the same button. If an opponent is pinning your partner, you can jump in to save them, but if you press the button too soon, you’ll be stuck calling for a tag from your pinned partner instead of jumping in to save them from the three-count.Fight Forever also seems to have an issue with getting players back to their sides when their time is up in tag matches. The game forces them to return to the apron on their side and the camera doesn’t help. I lost track of my character and my opponents a little too much for my liking when the game took getting me out of the ring into its own hands. Outside of these few janky tag mechanics, it’s a pretty good time.
Create-A-Wrestler was also a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, AEW Fight Forever gives you a lot of options to make your wrestler play the way you want with a list of grapples that might actually be longer than Chris Jericho’s list of 1,000 holds. I really enjoyed crafting my moveset, my wrestler’s mentality, and even their entrance, despite entrances being a little skimmed. My problem with the AEW Fight Forever’s Create-A-Wrestler lies more in the physical creation of your character. If there’s actual customization beyond presets in Fight Forever, I couldn’t find it, except for height, weight, colors for clothes, and fat-vs.-muscle sliders. Faces, hair, eyebrows, and body types are set to static options that can’t really be modified beyond. I really love spending hours in these things making my ideal character. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of restriction to presets meant I could never really go as deep as I wanted.
Also, AEW Fight Forever has online modes and they work well enough, but if you’re going to play with friends, you’d better coordinate your platform. AEW Fight Forever won’t allow crossplay between Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, and PC at launch. PS4 and PS5 can play, as can Xbox One and Xbox Series X, but if you want to play across platform ecosystems, you’re out of luck here for the time being.
The start of something promising?
I’ll give AEW Fight Forever this: When I was playing actual matches, many of my problems faded into the background. The actual wrestling is a good time and up to four players can throw down in a massive variety of ways with a huge roster or their own created characters. It’s when I came away from the squared circle and had to look at other parts of the game that its flaws were hard to ignore. Even so, I think THQ Nordic, Yuke’s, and AEW have a good start here. They’ve made a game that is at least fun to play and feels good in the ring, which is arguably the most important part. If there’s another AEW game, I’d like to see Create-a-Wrestler, crossplay, and the overall presentation of the game rise to meet the gameplay. For now, I’ll just try not to spend too much time outside the squared circle in Fight Forever.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. AEW Fight Forever comes out on June 29, 2023, on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.