It’s hard to write this AEW Fight Forever review without comparing present-day AEW as a company to how it was in the past. Not just because the game has video vignettes of abridged key moments in AEW’s history but because of my personal consumption of professional wrestling. I’ve been in the audience to see AEW Dynamite in Long Island. I saw the spectacle of Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF) crooning to the audience with a live band to celebrate – checks notes – himself. I’ve had and continue to have fun watching AEW Dynamite and the new Collision show, and at the time of writing, I’m itching to see dream matches in Forbidden Door 2023.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, with news of in-fighting, contract disputes, and founders leaving the company for WWE dominating the past year. Most tragic of all is the sad passing of talented wrestlers taken in their prime: Brodie Lee and Jay Briscoe. It’s clear, then, that AEW Fight Forever is almost a time capsule of a bygone era. It’s not a one-to-one reflection of that time, however, as some more recent acquisitions do comprise part of the playable roster.
In total, there are 47 wrestlers in the default roster, and given the game’s more arcade-like nature, you have the freedom to pit them all against one another. You may initially have a tough time grappling with the heavyweight Luchasaurus as the cruiserweight Yuka Sakasaki, but the game has no qualms about letting you experiment. It’s clear that effort was made to capture each wrestler’s likeness, but in motion, there are times when the characters look almost frog-like in appearance. This was a similar issue when Yuke’s handled the WWE roster, and it’s a shame that AEW Fight Forever struggles to clear that bar.
You can also create a custom wrestler, with plenty of options available from the get-go. You will need to play other modes to buy extra poses and entrance options, but they’re all relatively affordable. Compared to other, more recent fighting games, such as Street Fighter 6, the customization options for character models are limited, though I did appreciate having the option to make custom rings, even if only a small handful of set pieces are available.
Speaking of limitations, there are too few match types on offer here compared to the more recent WWE2K games, but the main ones you’d expect are present. For WWE fans unfamiliar with AEW’s match type names, they should all be self-explanatory except for the Lights Out Match, which is your no-disqualification stipulation, and the Casino Battle Royale, which is AEW’s spin on the Royal Rumble. I would have liked a mode similar to WWE2K’s My GM, where you manage rosters for different shows. All available match types are playable online, though, at the time of review, there was nobody to fight against, so it’s unclear how online multiplayer performs.
If there’s one thing that AEW Fight Forever gets mostly right, it’s the controls. Executing moves and grapples will always take some getting used to, but tutorial messages from the commentary team, announcers, and even William ‘no longer with the company’ Regal do offer helpful guidance. They pop up when something needs explaining, such as kicking out of a pin or using a ladder for the first time. These tutorials are then put in an archive for you to view later. One simple addition I love is the inclusion of an on-screen button prompt for correctly positioning tables and ladders. This removes any ambiguity around where you need to place them, which is a regular annoyance in other wrestling games.
Road to Elite is the game’s ‘arcade mode’ of sorts. Your selected main roster character, or your custom fighter, can participate in a year’s worth of storyline, with each chapter ending in a Pay-per-View appearance. Gameplay involves resource management via training, eating, sightseeing, press conferences, and even playing minigames. Eventually, you can fight in matches in sideshows, such as the now-defunct AEW Dark and the still-active AEW Rampage, for extra resource points. You can also unlock hidden fighters while playing this mode, and if you’re using a custom character, you earn points to spend on permanent upgrades such as perks and new moves.
AEW Fight Forever shines when you’re playing in local multiplayer. It embraces the silliness of wrestling and manages to keep the gameplay simple. Two things do need to improve, though. One is the reliability of grabbing items from under the ring. The input can randomly whiff, causing your wrestler to grab at the air, and when it does work, you don’t get any say in what you pick out. Some items, such as Jon Moxley’s electrified barbed wire bats or Darby Allin’s skateboard, will only appear if certain wrestlers are in the match. Speaking of the skateboard, the discovery that anyone can grab one to kickflip into an opponent’s face was one of the most intentionally laugh-out-loud moments AEW Fight Forever provided.
Sadly, the biggest laughs most often come at the game’s expense. Sightseeing has characters stand in front of JPGs of iconic scenes, making the spectacle of Miro yelling at stationary people about his wife all the more bizarre. There are also unrealistic scenarios, such as Dr. Britt Baker teaming up with her real-life boyfriend, Adam Cole, only for him to betray her for another wrestler at the end of Dynamite, advising her to “Maybe delete my number.” This does take me out of the experience somewhat, which is a shame, but the goofiness of it all is enjoyable in its own way.
However, it’s Road to Elite that highlights the game’s biggest shortcoming – its AI is a mess. If you’re playing a singles match, it’s effortless to exploit the AI and get the win, but even in easy mode, it seems that Four-Way matches and Casino Battle Royales are impossible to beat. The AI will gang up on you and, in Four-Way matches in particular, actively hinder you from breaking up the AI wrestlers pinning each other. They can finish the bout quicker than the Finger Poke of Doom match when WCW was still around.
AEW Fight Forever is, in many ways, rather sloppy. Character models aren’t much better than Yuke’s WWE days, it doesn’t have enough modes to play, and the AI opponents can be a pain to deal with. That said, Road to Elite is an unintentional laugh riot at times, despite its AI issues, and actually playing the game is, for the most part, a decent time. If you can get a group of like-minded fans together, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy AEW Fight Forever for both its schlock and its solid multiplayer action.
AEW Fight Forever review
AEW’s first foray into videogames has much room for improvement across its odd-looking character models, slim game mode offerings, and poor AI balancing. That said, in the right crowd, you might enjoy it for its schlock and solid controls.