I'll start off our Pure Xbox review of AEW Fight Forever by admitting I'm an absolutely massive All Elite Wrestling fan. I watch all the shows, I buy all the pay-per-views, and I'll be in attendance at the historic Wembley event this August. Therefore, there was a lot of expectation going into this specific review, along with multiple years' worth of anticipation. The good news is that it's mostly lived up to the hype, especially when taking into account that this is the first ever major video game release from the newly-formed wrestling company.
Let's start with what matters most - the gameplay in the ring. Fortunately, this is where AEW Fight Forever excels, delivering an enjoyable brand of wrestling that definitely wears its WWF No Mercy, WWE SmackDown! and even WWE 2K Battlegrounds inspirations on its sleeve. It features a more arcade-style of gameplay than you'd see in WWE 2K23, with quicker bell-to-bell times and a faster pace all around, along with a fairly strong focus on accessibility. The idea here is that new players can jump into the action without being forced to learn too many controls, and that generally rings true, while dedicated fans can dip into advanced techniques that allow them to get the edge against tougher opponents.
There are a couple of things we really like about AEW Fight Forever's gameplay in particular. The first is that all the animations are hand-crafted rather than mo-capped, and that not only means they look fantastic for the most part, but it also means they often stitch together fluidly and allow you to create some awesome "holy s**t!" moments. Finishing moves feel particularly powerful, and they can sometimes be pulled off "out of nowhere", such as a Super Kick from the Young Bucks or Adam Cole's "The Boom". In other words, you don't always have to just press a button and wait for a long canned animation to complete, and it makes these moves so much more satisfying to pull off.
Another thing that's impressive is how developer Yuke's has put a lot of time into making each wrestler feel unique. The likes of Jeff Hardy and Sammy Guevara can fly around the ring with ease, while a heavyweight such as Wardlow benefits from his immense strength and even the ability to withstand certain kicks and punches for a short period of time. From what we can tell, there are around 15-20 unique gameplay styles represented in AEW Fight Forever (such as "Technical Wrestler" and "Brawler"), and the purpose of these is to ensure the AI behaves authentically in the ring. It's a system that works well, adding plenty of gameplay variety to the relatively strong roster.
It's not all perfect by any means — we could grumble about the tables that collapse nearly every time you touch them, or the countering system that works fine but doesn't provide any feedback about how to master the timing of a reversal — but on balance, there's a lot to like about AEW's gameplay. In the future, it'd be great to see Yuke's implement some sliders that allow us to customise the experience even further, such as extending the average length of a match and altering the difficulty of reversals, and we think this is something that'll prove a popular request post-launch.
In terms of the match types, AEW Fight Forever doesn't boast an extensive set of options by any means, but it's not a bad selection either. Aside from the standard matches — 1v1, 2v2, etc — you've got the Lights Out Match, which allows you to wield a ridiculous array of weapons including skateboards, thumbtacks and more (a particular highlight with friends), the Casino Battle Royale, Ladder matches, Falls Count Anywhere matches, and the most absurd and hilarious of them all - the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match. There aren't any stinkers in the bunch, so we're pretty happy overall, although we'd love a cage match in the future.
So, what can you do with this fun gameplay and the wild match types beyond just standard exhibition matches? Well, that's where Road to Elite comes in, which is AEW Fight Forever's version of a career mode. We've been getting plenty of enjoyment out of it, but it's admittedly a bit of a mixed bag - it has some neat ideas and reminds us of the classic WWF SmackDown! career modes on the PS1, but it also feels slightly rough around the edges. Each run of Road to Elite will last you a few hours at most, allowing you take either a real AEW wrestler or a created wrestler and play through a calendar year's worth of AEW shows and pay-per-views.
We'll start with the positives - it's a mode where you'll get involved in storylines, challenge for titles, complete on Dynamite and other shows on a weekly basis, and even partake in training, sightseeing and visiting restaurants to replenish your health. In some of those latter activities, you'll bump into wrestlers who'll challenge you to matches or even ask you to take pictures with them, and these little interactions are always a bit of fun. Something else we really like is that even when you lose in Road to Elite, you get cutscenes that acknowledge your defeat (it sometimes even changes the direction of the story), rather than the game just forcing you to replay the match all over again. There's also live-action footage that provides context to certain situations - for example, you can watch CM Punk's memorable AEW debut if you manage to beat him in an optional match on Rampage, and we'll never get tired of seeing that!
As for the downsides? Well, the storylines are okay, but they're generally very basic - with cutscenes that only last for a few seconds at most. Those aforementioned activities such as training and dining (which you tend to use every in-game week) start to get old after a while as well, as they're simply just cutscenes that you can't interact with. There's not much voiceover work in Road to Elite either, and when there is, it's usually poor old Jim Ross not sounding all that thrilled to be sitting in a sound booth recording lines for yet another video game.
There was a bit of concern that Road to Elite might be too short of a mode prior to release, and we can understand why — one playthrough will only take you a few hours — but it's worth noting that you'll only experience four different stories each time you play it. There's no word on exactly how many you might run into over time, but apparently it depends on a few factors including whether you win or lose certain matches. We've gone through Road to Elite twice now, and on the second playthrough we experienced two out of four stories that were different to the first time around. The women's division also appears to include separate stories to the men's division.
As mentioned, you can create a wrestler for use in Road to Elite, and that's where the creation suite comes into play. It's not a bad suite at all in terms of functionality — it works very similarly to the WWE 2K games — but the problem is that it's just lacking in content at launch. There's no face or body morphing, for example, and only a small number of face presets to use as your base, so you've got little chance of authentically recreating famous WWE wrestlers such as Roman Reigns or Becky Lynch. On the plus side, the ability to customise movesets and entrances is great, and there's at least plenty of choice with both of these. You can even create your own arena, but again it's pretty limited in terms of what you can do. It's a nice feature to have though.
Online play is also possible in AEW: Fight Forever in the form of Ranked, Casual and Private matches. We can't speak too much about this just yet (obviously we were playing pre-release so the servers were unpopulated), but our experience with the Private option went really smoothly with no obvious lag to speak of. If you just want to team up with a friend against the CPU, you can do that as well.
Finally, we should give a mention to the minigames in AEW Fight Forever. Yes, for whatever reason, the team decided to implement a pretty wide variety of short-but-sweet Mario Party style minigames, challenging you to compete in everything from AEW trivia to baseball. Some of them are really fun, some of them are complete duds, and the rest sit somewhere in the middle. The nice thing is that you can play these online with your friends, but the downside is that you only start with three available minigames - with the rest only accessible via Road to Elite until you unlock them.
AEW Fight Forever is an enjoyable and competent wrestling game that we've been having a good time with so far. The Road to Elite career mode is fun, and the wild match types with their huge varieties of weapons are a blast to play with friends. There are definitely some downsides such as the barebones creation suite along with a general lack of game modes, but if you're an AEW fan or you're simply looking for a decent alternative to WWE 2K23, Fight Forever is well worth adding to your wishlist this summer.