AEW: Fight Forever review – Not the Paradigm Shift wrestling games needed
What AEW: Fight Forever excels at is its simplistic game design, allowing just about anyone to pick up and play for bite-sized doses of chaotic wrestling fun. What it doesn’t excel at is everything else, as the promotion’s first full-fledged release feels woefully undercooked, needing at least a few more years in the oven to achieve its vision.
Since All Elite Wrestling kicked into gear with the Khan family behind it in 2019, the pro wrestling landscape has changed indelibly. As a lapsed fan tired of the monotonous product from WWE, promotions like NJPW in the East and eventually AEW in the West scratched that itch for a more authentic, diverse, and downright entertaining display of what the sport is all about. It was largely The Elite’s doing that I became a superfan once again, avidly tuning in every single week.
To say I was over the moon when AEW first announced its partnership with legendary wrestling developer Yuke’s would be an understatement. Finally, some competition for the longstanding and ‘safe’ WWE 2K series. Finally, a game to showcase one of the best rosters ever housed under one promotion. And from our initial look, finally a return to the over-the-top, nonsensical fun factor that made so many classic wrestling games shine.
While some of that has indeed been accomplished with the end product, Fight Forever in its ‘day one’ state feels like an unfinished project. Despite its decent foundation with adequate fundamentals, dazzling animations, and some novel ideas, an overall lack of substance, a mediocre career mode, and a hefty price tag to boot, all make AEW’s first big-budget title a tough sell.
AEW: Fight Forever – Key details
- Price: $59.99 USD | £49.99 | $99.95 AUD
- Developer: Yuke’s
- Release date: June 29, 2023
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch
AEW: Fight Forever trailer
Lighting the fuse
At its core, the basic gameplay loop of Fight Forever can lead to some silly fun if you don’t take it too seriously. As devs have outlined in the past, this debut project for AEW isn’t intending to compete with the more realistic, graphically impressive WWE 2K games. Rather, it’s opting for an approach that mirrors the old school, one with simple controls, basic mechanics, and some truly wild possibilities.
As a result of its more tame approach, it’s incredibly easy to learn the fundamentals, meaning just about anyone can pick up and play without having to get in the weeds with more advanced wrestling maneuvers. This is Fight Forever’s biggest strength. Harkening back to the golden era of local co-op, having multiple players messing around on one screen, seeing what ridiculous feats they can pull off, pitting the most polar opposite AEW stars against one another – that’s the charm in this new release.
The name of the game is building your momentum meter while reducing that of your opponent. Build enough momentum through a string of varied attacks and you’ll soon have access to a signature move. From here, you have one of two options: Either follow through with that signature move or taunt in front of your opponent to gain access to a more powerful finisher.
Typically, matches don’t overstay their welcome. In one on one scenarios, it’s often just a matter of building your momentum first, hitting a finisher, and going for the pin. All of this can be done in under a minute as you get efficient with attack timings and learn how to avoid any interruptive counters.
There’s very little nuance to any given matchup, at least when battling AI. While certain body parts do appear to take specific amounts of damage, it doesn’t seem to have an impact beyond a mere visual pop-up. No matter the strike or grappling attack, they all tend to stagger enemies for the same duration. The only notable difference comes in the form of particular traits and buffs attached to each wrestler.
For the likes of Powerhouse Hobbs or Lance Archer, these giants can catch wrestlers out of the air with well-timed counters. That’s a perk exclusive to their style of wrestling. Meanwhile, more agile wrestlers like Malakai Black or Sammy Guevara can perform springboard attacks, bouncing off the ropes at the touch of a button. Leaning into these unique strengths often provides a temporary damage buff, adding some subtlety to the otherwise fairly mindless combat.
When everything clicks just right and you get into a proper back-and-forth slugfest, something you’ll definitely experience more frequently online as the game’s AI is no doubt lacking, there’s a good time to be had.
There’s a foundation here that can certainly lead to some memorable moments, especially as you start factoring a broad range of wacky weapons into the equation too. As a starting point, it does the job. Perhaps down the line, these core pillars will help Fight Forever realize its potential. However, beyond this initial package, there’s really not a great deal to write home about.
The Road to Elite isn’t quite paved with gold
Outside of simple exhibition matches, the main attraction at launch is Fight Forever’s career mode, referred to here as the ‘Road to Elite.’ Playing as any AEW star on the in-game roster or even jumping in as your own custom character, Road to Elite gives you a full year of action on the road, as the name implies.
Rather than telling one cohesive story across that 12-month stretch, however, it’s divided into four segments, each representing one of AEW’s core PPVs throughout the real calendar year. Each of these segments gives you four weeks of build before a PPV blowoff.
Adding some replayability to the mix, each PPV build gives you one of three scenarios, referred to as ‘Blocks’. Thus, there are 12 bite-sized stories to engage with across the board, giving you a reason to play through a handful of times and see it all. Some are hilariously uninspired, as you build towards a heated grudge match with an opponent that lost your luggage. Though others can be far more engaging, as you battle through monster after monster on your way to a title shot, for instance.
The key downside in this career mode, however, is the lack of connective tissue. Blocks don’t tie together in any meaningful way. You’re effectively starting from scratch at the beginning of each new PPV build, as though nothing you’ve done had any impact on the promotion.
As an example, I jumped into my first playthrough as my favorite spooky cult leader Malakai Black. In the opening Block, I was randomly paired with Matt Jackson, and together, we won the AEW Tag Team titles. That was how the first PPV ended. The very next week, having moved on to the next Block, it was as though it never happened. For the rest of the story mode run, no one ever mentioned the fact Malakai was one-half of the current tag team champs. We were never forced to defend the belts. Not once did Malakai even wear the belt after winning. Better yet, I didn’t even see Matt Jackson again for the entire playthrough.
There’s no continuity whatsoever, and for the most part, it feels as though nothing you do has any real impact on the outcome. Wins and losses don’t change the path of a storyline as you’re then immediately thrown into something else. It’s all rather hollow and makes Road to Elite feel all but worthless after a playthrough or two. Of which, you’ll be able to blitz through in two or so hours.
In the moments you’re not wrestling, there’s very little to engage with in this career mode as well. With four weeks to plan around before each PPV, a few light role-playing elements are introduced as you can head to the gym, go out for dinner, sightsee, or engage in some fun but repetitive mini-games that have nothing to do with anything.
Again, underscoring the half-baked nature of Fight Forever at launch, it all feels totally mindless before long. There’s no incentive to engage with any of these systems in a meaningful way, leaving you rushing forward to the next match in order to advance the story.
Once you’ve seen it all, there’s little reason to see it again, yet looking through the game’s list of Challenges, you wouldn’t think that’s the case. There’s actually a goal to play through Road to Elite 100 times in total. Now, unless future seasons drastically shake things up, I don’t see how devs can possibly expect anyone to complete 100 full career mode runs.
Making matters worse, during the review window, I also encountered a game-breaking bug twice while grinding through Road to Elite. On two separate characters, progress was entirely halted in the very final week. Menus failed to load and I was unable to advance through the final match and conclude that playthrough – leading to total restarts.
Old-school wrestling doesn’t come cheap
At its core, there is a solid wrestling game to be unearthed in Fight Forever. If you can put up with a lack of significant content at launch and a shallow career mode, the pure moment-to-moment wrestling fundamentals can lead to a good time. Animations are excellent, hardcore fans can enjoy plenty of little details in the minutia, and there’s no denying it’s great to have another option in the wrestling game space again. But on day one, it’s worth bearing in mind the price tag attached to AEW’s first full-fledged title.
Fight Forever is a premium, full-priced release. Yet, given the day-one package and the upcoming seasonal content pipeline, it already feels more suited to a free-to-play model. If that were the case, it’d be an instant recommendation. But the high barrier to entry may leave a sour taste for those that opt-in early.
Additional wrestlers, mini-games, and seemingly even new game modes are all expected to arrive as part of seasonal DLC down the line, for a price. In fact, we already spotted plenty of NJPW names in the creative modes, perhaps implying it’s only a matter of time before other promotions join the roster too.
The long-term future seems bright if devs can properly support Fight Forever with a steady stream of updates.
Verdict – 2 / 5
Over time, there’s certainly room to build from this foundation. But with the asking price and the initial lack of substance, it’s hard to see value in AEW’s first game upon release.