With strong visuals and a base game already in place after a few iterations of the series under its belt, 2K Sports next turns its attention toward refining gameplay and giving fans long-requested features with WWE 2K18.
With Seth Rollins on the cover and a Friday release for those who slapped down a preorder, it won't take long for rumblings about the game's biggest changes to start making the rounds.
The developers and media have done a good job of getting out in front of the tidal wave of hype, though.
One of the first new features detailed? Graphics, of course.
According to executive producer Mark Little, the team at 2K Sports overhauled the graphics system and finally looped around to adding dynamic lighting, as he told GameSpot's Alessandro Fillari: "This is something we've been trying to work on for over three years now, and this is the year we're finally able to get it up to where we can pull the trigger and switch it over."
Better graphics are an expected update upon every release and only go so far if a game doesn't offer fresher elements in other areas.
The veterans at 2K Sports know this, hence the headline act of this year's game: Road to Glory.
The premise is simple enough: create a superstar and compete in daily matches and challenges to earn stars. These stars add up and help a player qualify for an online pay-per-view event matching those in real life on the schedule. Compete in those events to climb the ladder and face stars competing in the real event itself, with the goal being both glory and some noteworthy rewards.
The nice thing about an online mode like Road to Glory is the fact the developers can keep updating it as the year continues, adding new rewards and updating the match cards. For now, though, Little says the schedule itself will stick to basics while it gets refined, according to NDTV's Rishi Alwani.
"That's something we've talked about, it creates a bit of chaos in the schedule which is because the WWE has so many events. They keep announcing more. We spend a lot of time talking with the WWE so we get a bit of a heads up on some of the stuff," Little said.
Basic isn't a bad thing right now. Players likely wouldn't want to get bogged down with the sheer number of events WWE runs during a week, so shoring up the gameplay and letting feedback from players flesh out a new innovative mode as it unfolds should please fans.
It's worth pointing out Road to Glory won't just let players roam around backstage to meet superstars, it'll feature sidequests like a traditional game. The options here combine with other offerings to create something creative director Ramelle Ballesca told GameSpot's Mat Elfring is all about player choice on a whim after creating a superstar in the creation suite.
"I think it's a combination of My Career and Road to Glory now. You're going to create your MyCareer player, and then you're going to have this ecosystem that you can play in where, if you wanna go online and challenge other players with my MyPlayer, I can do that," Ballesca said.
While Road to Glory is the headline act, MyPlayer and others haven't gone untouched. There, players will have access to the same extensive creation suite, which has received plenty of upgrades in its own right. MyPlayer has a more open-ended exploratory feel to it rather than menu-based gameplay and two unique storylines for players to work through.
Basic options have expanded this year as well, with the most notable addition being the eight-man tag matches, a long-requested feature the developers have found a way to make work within the confines of the game's system.
From a gameplay perspective, perhaps the biggest change is the implementation of the new carry system.
Designer Jason Vandiver told Game Informer's Keenan McCall about what the system allows: "You no longer have to lean your opponent against an object before slamming him or her into it," Vandiver says. "You can now lift the opponent into a carry, walk up to any object, and seamlessly transition into an environmental attack."
If all the above sounds like a well-refined package, well, it is now that those in charge of making the experience have started to weave all of the ideas and requests into one offering.
On its head, WWE 2K18 has a lot going on. A graphics update, alongside the usual updates to wrestlers and commentary, gameplay refinements and the all-important customization that leaks across several game modes goes to show this is yet another sporting game riding a huge wave of momentum and support into a critical year.
Fans can get hands on the release starting Friday.