AEW Fight Forever came out in late June for Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X/S, and Steam. There was hope that AEW nailed the wrestling formula with the help of THQ Nordic and the creator of WWF: No Mercy. Reviews generally stated that the gameplay was fresh, but the content lacked any replay value.
AEW Fight Forever was trying something new. It wanted to focus more on old-school arcade gameplay and less on the extraneous bells and whistles that come with every WWE 2K game. The claim is that the real audiences wanted that classic N64 gameplay and that would be more than enough to satisfy thirsty gamers.
The main promises from AEW Fight Forever were: regular game and content updates after it was released, a deep career mode, and creative gameplay. As someone who played his version on Nintendo Switch, I can honestly say those promises did not go far enough or come at all. Since the last review, AEW Fight Forever came out with a Stadium Stampede mode, a battle royale mode for multiple players. This is a brand new take on wrestling gameplay, that promised to bring life to the online. Unfortunately, I was never able to find anyone on the Switch servers. Gamers are complaining that AEW's online lobby can take up to 25 minutes to connect on any platform. It's worth noting that the streaming community isn't exactly jumping out of their seat for this.
I keep getting ads for the season one and two passes, which would set me back $10-$20. I think there might be a super fan out there who has to play as Toni Storm or Jeff Hardy, but I would rather keep my money and my SD card space. The most interesting add-on is the Beat the Elite mode, which is a gauntlet of wrestling matches that ends with a face-off against an Elite Member. This would have been a worthy addition at the game's release in June, but it might be too little, too late.
So where does that leave the fans? If the online component dwindles every month, then that leaves single-player and local modes. I have tried to go back to the Switch version to finish the career mode, but my digital copy has a glitch that freezes the game every time I start it up. I wonder if other Switch users are having the issue or if they don't care because the fanbase is dead.
One of the gimmicks that brought curiosity to the title was the mini-games that included baseball, blackjack, spot the missing picture, and dodge the bombs. There are thirty mini-games, but I will never know 80% of them because they are unlocked when you beat the career mode multiple times. The six I have got old very fast. I can't see myself getting jazzed up over a one-minute exercise where you have to put a cursor on Orange Cassidy before the opponent does.
I believe that AEW Fight Forever has all the winning pieces to a good formula, but they were presented in such a jumbled and lacking way that it forced fans not to care. First, there were delays out of the wazoo, which gave WWE time to put out a game that blasted away the competition. The radio silence on the game's development was deafening in the Winter of 2022-2023. Even when it was released, the consensus was that this game had too little.
Second, AEW Fight Forever underestimated the fan's need for content. The wrestler creator was laughably limited (and is still limited). The arena creator is so bare bones it shouldn't even exist. Career mode is fun, but it felt like a browser game. Voice clips were on par with a PS1 game. The wrestler selection was a meager 50 wrestlers. Tony Khan did not take into account that gamers love making their wrestling universes with the creation suite and AEW could not even provide a sliver of that.
Third, the parts of the game that worked very well, did not go nearly far enough to convince gamers this was a triple-A title. When fans demand that a new wrestling game play like N64's No Mercy, are they saying they will pay $60 for a twenty-three-year-old game or are they just appreciating the fact that No Mercy was great for its time? I believe the latter was true. AEW puts too much value in Reddit's opinion. The focus on hybrid sim/arcade wrestling felt good, but without gameplay and match-type variety, there isn't enough meat to enjoy it. All the fun weapons and exploding propane tanks were locked behind beating career mode multiple times. The tables constantly fell over whenever someone touched them. The fighting was smooth, but wrestlers felt like they had limited move sets.
Fourth, It almost seemed like the development team was too afraid to take this game to its absolute extreme, so they split the deck and included WWE 2K23 stuff and arcade stuff, but none of it to its full potential. They should have picked a lane and committed to it. This could have either been a much-welcomed carbon copy of WWE 2K23, with AEW branding, or it could have been the wildest and arcade-like departure from tradition.
Imagine if Kenny Omega and Evil Uno (part of the dev team) got full license to take this game to the limit. It could play like a Japanese wrestling game, but with Street Fighter speed, and sci-fi personality. Instead of taking on any old wrestler creator, you could build a wrestling mech and pilot it with different wrestlers. The arenas could resemble jungles, restaurants, garages, and popular arenas. The story could be about time travel. You know this is how Kenny Omega thinks, but he wasn't given the thumbs-up to make this. You might think is the silliest idea ever, but no one would be able to call it Diet WWE.
AEW's ideas for their first game were not bad or irrational, but their bumpy development track and undercooked product killed them. The good news is that the game dropped $20 in every store to get more players. All the promises to fill in content are moot if the fanbase lost faith in you when it came out.