When All Elite Wrestling superkicked its way onto the scene in 2019, it shook up the business by offering wrestling fans the first truly viable competition to WWE, in terms of financial funding and television prominence, since WCW’s closure in 2001. Much like how AEW differentiated itself with its more mature-rated product and increased emphasis on in-ring action, Fight Forever aims to be the alternative to WWE’s simulation-based 2K series by offering old-school arcade-style action. While it mostly delivers on that core bullet point, the overall package is far from elite.
Fight Forever’s big selling point is that it’s patterned after the AKI-developed wrestling games of yesteryear, such as WWF No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge. It’s been over two decades since I last played those titles, so my hands-on memory is too fuzzy to accurately compare, but Fight Forever is indeed a quicker, more pick-up-and-play-friendly experience. After years of navigating WWE 2K’s dense control scheme, it’s nice to hit a move by simply hitting a button plus a cardinal direction, and there’s no mini-game in sight. I enjoyed building to my signature and finishing moves with the momentum-based offense, which rewards you for staying on top and punishes you for getting beat up; nothing feels better than literally beating an opponent down so bad they lose their finisher.
You also gain various attack buffs for actions such as executing strike combos, mixing up your offense, or taunting, but they don’t feel beneficial enough to meaningfully turn the tide. Generally, the action feels smooth and has an enjoyably faster pace than WWE’s offerings, but it’s not without its headaches. Opponent A.I., particularly tag team partners, can range from questionable to dumb. Picking up weapons, a historical pain in this genre, remains such. The default auto-targeting is also a nightmare, so I suggest switching to manual. The game’s lack of a formal tutorial (a training room only lets you spar with a dummy without direction) and sporadic tooltips are less than ideal methods of onboarding. Expect to bumble your way through early matches, trying to learn essentials such as targeting and positioning opponents.
Fight Forever offers some of the expected match types (singles, tags, multi-person, and ladder matches), and AEW staples like the Casino Battle Royale and Exploding Barbwire Deathmatch are adequately recreated. But it’s a relatively shallow package overall. Strange mini-games, such as a Simon Says-style rhythm exercise starring Penta, offer diversions that didn’t inspire me to play them more than once. No matter how you throw down, everything is wrapped in an underwhelming presentation, from the dated graphics, abbreviated entrances, and lack of match commentary or substantial voice-acting. Fight Forever is a mid-card competitor with a main event price tag.
The roster has some cobwebs reflecting the game’s long development, offering a snapshot of AEW circa 2021/early 2022. Kris Statlander is still an alien, Anna Jay is in the Dark Order, and Cody Rhodes gets to appear in two wrestling games this year. The roster consists of 36 men but only 13 women (including referee Aubrey Edwards). Both sexes can compete against each other in any match, and while that’s a cool touch, I suspect that’s to make up for the smaller match diversity on the ladies’ side.
It would be unfair to expect even most of AEW’s massive roster to be included, and while the core stars are here – The Elite, Jericho, Moxley, Baker, Punk – some omissions are nonetheless disappointing. It’s a bummer not to see bigger names like Jamie Hayter, Samoa Joe, Toni Storm, or The Acclaimed, especially since it leaves many factions off the table, like the Blackpool Combat Club, House of Black, and J.A.S. Jeff Hardy is present, but Matt is a head-scratching pre-order exclusive, meaning you don’t get the Hardy Boyz out of the box. For the most part, I like the stylized wrestler designs and proportions, giving them the look of semi-cartoony action figures, though the resemblances to the real versions are hit-and-miss.
Fight Forever’s other big mode, the story-focused Road to Elite, falls flat. As either an AEW star or a custom-made wrestler, you’ll take a pretty bland, occasionally bizarre journey from new signee to world champ. A couple of the small handful of stories offer condensed re-tellings of old angles, like the Inner Circle vs. The Pinnacle and the debut of the FTW championship (one of the few titles you can compete for). Between bouts, you’re encouraged to engage in activities such as hitting the gym to raise stat points, dining at local restaurants to maintain energy, and embarking on social outings like sightseeing. However, you can’t alter AEW stars’ stats, negating the need to exercise. That’s fine; eating is the only truly important stat, and the other stuff feels like tedious fluff. Outside of seeing silly moments like taking selfies with wrestlers, I recommend skipping straight to the matches.
The most frustrating and baffling aspect of Road to Elite is that playing as a female wrestler only offers a women’s division-centric story for the first month before it repeats the male storyline for the rest of the mode. That means instead of feuding with the likes of Hikaru Shida and Jade Cargill, you’ll only wrestle the men, with no explanation, in the exact same path. It’s like Yuke’s started making a separate women’s storyline and then gave up, and it’s a disappointing and, frankly, insulting representation of that division.
The creation suite is perhaps the biggest letdown due to a dearth of options. Create-a-wrestler lacks facial sculpting, offering a few pre-set face assets that severely limit who you can make and how different they’ll look. Tack on a shallow amount of gear and apparel and no clothing designs, and you can expect to parade as largely plain approximations of existing stars or yourself. There’s also no option to share characters online. Building custom arenas is a little better but still underwhelming. Additional creation assets can be unlocked with in-game currency earned by completing daily challenges, but they’re neither good nor plentiful enough to inspire me to spend the same hours I usually would carefully crafting the wrestlers of my dreams.
If nothing else, AEW: Fight Forever has potential. I’m happy to have a more arcade-style wrestling game, especially one based on a major promotion. The gameplay has a strong foundation, and when it’s firing on all cylinders, the action channels the simple fun of the ‘90s and early 2000s. The rest of the package just needs to catch up. Until it does, even the most passionate AEW fans may have a hard time sticking around for this main event.