Release date: June 29, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Mode: Multiplayer video game
Genres: Fighting game, Action game, Sports video game, Simulation Game
Publishers: All Elite Wrestling, THQ Nordic
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
"Review Copy Provided By THQ Nordic and AEW Games"
AEW has been around for a few years now and has garned a very dedicated fanbase that were seeking an alternative to the tried and tgrue WWE product that’s been the staple for the last 20 years. It also gave aspiring wrestlers and veteran wrestlers a new place to work if they either couldn’t make it in the WWE or were misused in the WWE. So when they announced that they were making a wrestling game that brought back that WWF No Mercy style, I was excited to dive in and play it because I wanted an alternative to the WWE 2K series. While many mocked the games graphics and how the animations were, I personally found them to be exactly as they were intended to be, a call back to a simpler time in gaming. And thus here we are with the release of AEW’s first game, AEW: Fight Forever! Is it the love letter that we fans of the old AKI/Yukes games were promised, or is it an overhyped indie spotfest seeking attention? Let’s find out!
The gameplay for AEW: Fight Forever is legitimately the same gameplay we experienced in the classic WWF No Mercy with several quality-of-life updates here and there to be brought into the modern era of gaming. It is legit a pickup and play game that hits all the right notes and keeps me coming back to the game over and over in the same vein that I have done for the last 20 years with WWF No Mercy. It gives you that arcade-like simulation wrestling game that we haven’t had done right in decades as the closet game to this would be WWE Battlegrounds which wasn’t that great of a game and didn’t pull off the arcade experience anywhere near as good as AEW: Fight Forever has and after having decades of simulation focused games from WWE, it feels great to have a game from AEW that harkens back to that simpler time in gaming.
Control-wise, you have buttons dedicated to punching, kicking, and grappling as well as a run button, Irish whip button, and dedicated shoulder buttons for both reversals of strikes and grapples, with the right analogue stick is dedicated to taunts and your finisher when your momentum meter is filled. Everything here functions exactly as it does in WWF No Mercy with some improvements here and there such as being able to double tap the left stick in any direction to be able to pull off a dodge maneuver to avoid strikes and grapples. The dodge maneuver operates a bit differently from character to character as heavy-set characters like Powerhouse Hobbs and Wardlow barely move while smaller characters like the Young Bucks and Adam Cole can move substantially around the squared circle easily.
The grapple system has the same level of depth as No Mercy and the previous AKI games did back in the day allowing you to do light and heavy grapples (it even uses the same grapple animation) and once you are in the tie-up (holding your opponent) you can then press the left stick in any direction along with pressing the grapple button or the punch or kick button and perform any of the moves of your favorite wrestlers. Other things you can do from the tie-up position is to be able to perform an Irish whip as well as move your opponent to the ropes or over to the turnbuckle, or if you are outside the ring then you can drag them over to the guard rails, ring apron, or steel steps to perform a high impact move.
There are a ton of game modes for you to dive into from 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-Way Match, 4-Way Match, Casino Battle Royale, Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match, Ladder Match, Minigames, Training, Online modes for ranked and casual, and lastly a career mode in Road to the Elite. There’s really no lack of modes for you to have fun with regardless of if you are playing alone, locally with family and friends, or online with others.
The minigames are fun for a short while with there being a trivia mini game that covers AEW events, a collect the coin mini game, and more. It really appeals to the throwback era of gaming where a game was meant to be fun and not so much an artform and gives you everything and the kitchen sink to keep you coming back and playing the gamer over and over again. I don’t see myself playing that mode for long, but I did enjoy what time I had trying out the minigames.
I didn’t get to try the online mode at the time of this review so I can’t speak on if it is any good or not. Hopefully they invested in it by having Rollback Netcode so as to not have a lot of issues when playing online.
The career mode, Road to the Elite, is really good! It basically takes the No Mercy route of allowing you to decide what you want to do outside of the ring such as workout, go eat, do media scrums, and more which all impact the RPG like aspects of your wrestler. Sometimes when you choose to do a workout, you can end up hurting yourself which will affect your performance in matches. The part that I like the most in the career mode is that it continues onwards regardless of whether or not you win or lose which ultimately changes your career path and the way the story mode unfolds and is something I haven’t seen in a wrestling game in decades, so this freedom is refreshing.
Thew area I see A LOT of people spending time in will be the CAW or Create a Wrestler mode as well as Create an Arena and Create a Team Modes. I say a lot of people will spend time here because that is something that WWF No Mercy continues to get support for till this day from fans who are constantly making wrestlers and arenas for all their favorite promotions and more. While I do feel that the CAW mode in this game is vastly limited compared to No Mercy, I do feel like it could be expanded upon with more options as time goes on after launch. You can pretty much create any and all wrestlers that you can think of from their looks to their movesets to their signature moves and finishers, all the way down to their entrances and more.
If you want to create Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, or even The Tribal Chief Roman Reigns; then you can along with having their moves and finishers. You can set all the usual stuff for your created wrestler’s appearance, to the way their A.I. operates, all the way down to their height and weight and where they are from. You can also set their in and out of ring attire and even set clothes for them for cutscenes with their Street Clothes. You can also modify all of the wrestlers on the roster in the same way that you could in No Mercy which allows you to keep them up to date with how they are on TV.
Create an Entrance is about as detailed as it was in No Mercy with some additions here and there. Don’t expect the level of detail that you have come to find in modern WWE titles; but what you do get here is pretty good given that entrances are mere seconds long. If you open up the advanced tab then you can modify things such as hand gestures, props, champion gestures, filters, effects, and more allowing you to create a very unique yet short entrance for your wrestler. Considering AEW now has a new show called AEW Collision as well as now having Ring of Honor, you can go into Create an Arena and make those as well as make Arenas for WWE RAW and Smackdown and more.
There is the Shop AEW section which is a call back to the Smackdown mall from No Mercy which allows you to purchase new moves, appareal, Arenas, Entrances, and characters. Currently, you can purchase Cody Rhodes and Aubrey Edwards as well as new outfits for The Young Bucks and Britt Baker. I do hope this gets greatly expanded and we get more options as time goes on.
Lastly, there is a Challenges section that will task you with Daily, Weekly, and Normal challenges that serve as both in game challenges as well as adds you to an online leaderboard.
Graphically, AEW: Fight Forever is serviceable. It won’t win any awards for high-end realistic graphics and it does honestly look like this could’ve come out on the PS2/GameCube/OG Xbox era. Nothing in this game looks current or previous generation and has some of the roster looking good like Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and the rest of the Elite, while others like CM Punk, Jade Cargill, and especially Eddie Kingston look really underwhelming. The arenas are fairly empty, and no this isn’t due to the hard cam action Tony Khan, they are only filled with a few fans surrounding the ring and then all you get is a black void. I assume this was done to focus on the roster and keep the games performance even across the various platforms that it will be releasing on, especially the Nintendo Switch, but it gives this game a very “indie” feeling that may not warrant its full retail price.
Performance wise, I’ve played the game on the PS5 and PC as well as the Steam Deck and ASUS ROG Ally. On the PS5, the game runs at 4K 60FPS with no performance dips or hiccups at all and barely any loading times. On my gaming PC, I can run the game at 4K 120FPS and have stellar performance with next to no load times or performance issues. On the Steam Deck, the game runs at 800p at 60FPS on medium settings yet has constant performance dips below 60FPS and even has had crashes happen which made my Deck do a reboot. The game also takes a long time to load on the Deck which could be due to the Anti-Cheat software in the game. I’ve experienced it getting stuck in loading the game and even launching the gamer causing the Deck to crash overall and need to reboot. On the ROG Ally, it runs at 1080p at 60FPS natively on medium settings while also being able to be pushed to 120FPS although I don’t recommend that at all as you will have performance issues and stuttering if you do that. I was able to play the game for a good 2 hours on the Steam Deck without making any changes and on the ROG Ally I can get up to an hour 45 minutes of gameplay on base settings. Given that I tend to fire this up and play it in chunks here and there, I have no issues with the battery life here.
The one area where this game shines the most outside of the gameplay is the soundtrack. This has one of the best soundtracks that plays during matches and in the menus and is fully customizable when you go to the Jukebox in the settings which allows you to change the play order as well as add and remove songs. The majority of the OST is done by Mikey Ruckus who does the bulk of the wrestlers themes in real life as well as some original tracks from Max Caster of The Acclaimed and even Swerve Strickland. There are even 8-bit renditions of all the wrestlers’ themes which are PHENOMAL!
The only downsides I have for this game are the A.I. and the fact that I somehow managed to break the game during a Casino Battle Royale match and showed the source code for the game’s command inputs. The A.I. is just…. dumb. It doesn’t matter if you increase the difficulty as all they will do is increase their aggressiveness and reversal capabilities and not affect the logic of how and why a wrestler acts as they do in the ring. I think this is just a limitation of Yukes trying so hard to keep the game feeling almost exactly like WWF No Mercy that it failed to make the A.I. fun to play against for long stretches.
Ther fact that I broke the game down to the code was something I was not expecting. This only happened to me twice in my time with the game so I’m sure it’ll get patched out down the road.
You could make an argument for the fact that the graphics are not that good and are cartoony but then you have to realize that this game isn’t going for a realistic look and is essentially a throwback game that doesn’t need yearly releases.
So, is AEW: Fight Forever worth it? YES it is! I haven’t had this much fun with a pick and play game in so long and I cherish it for that especially given that I rarely have time to dedicate to memorizing what does what in games these days. This game respects your time by giving you some of the best wrestling arcade style sim action around while delivering some of your favorite wrestlers to play as and is playable on every platform out there. For their first video game outing, AEW has knocked it out of the park with AEW: Fight Forever. It’s a game that is not only a love letter to WWF No Mercy and that era and generation of wrestling games, but it is also an all around excellent wrestling game that anyone can easily pick up and play with something for everyone, especially the AEW hardcore fan. If you’re looking for a wrestling game to play that’s not the simulation heavy WWE2K series or the insanely technical Fire Pro Wrestling series, then AEW: Fight Forever is the game for you!