AEW Fight Forever (Part One)
I've been looking forward to playing and then reviewing this game for a long time and first off; yes this is part one of an in-depth two-part review. I've put a lot of hours into this game and feel it deserves a detailed review.
AEW Fight Forever was initially scheduled to be released by THQ Nordic on June 28, 2023. I preordered the "Elite Edition" version of the game because 1) If I'm going to purchase a game then more than likely I'll get the complete edition to not miss out on any content and for the usual preorder bonus most games offer and 2) Preordering got me one-day early access to this game that I had already been waiting a long time to play. The preorder bonus for AEW Fight Forever is Matt Hardy/Broken Matt Hardy being included on the roster which is a decent bonus, I suppose. As far as the one-day early access went; that was a little annoying right off the bat. The Switch and PC versions of AEW Fight Forever got delayed a day for whatever reason. The game was supposed to come out on the 28th so I was supposed to be able to play it on the 27th. The game got pushed back to the 29th but I was able to play it on the 28th so at least they didn't lie about the preorder early access. I just had to wait an extra day to get it.
If you go into this game not knowing what to expect and expecting it to be "AEW 2K23" or whatever then you might get disappointed. Luckily, I knew exactly what I was purchasing. AEW Fight Forever is a spiritual successor to the late 90s/early 2000s AKI-produced wrestling games like WWF No Mercy. That's the way it's going to look and that's the way it's going to play. The wrestler models on AEW Fight Forever don't look quite as dated as the original late-90s games that it represents but they're done in more of a retro style from that era, for sure.
If you include all of the DLC wrestlers; the roster here rounds out at 60 wrestlers. That's not bad at all. All of the big names and some of the mid-card guys are represented. Folks like The Elite, Jericho, Jon Moxley, Powerhouse Hobbs, CM Punk, Orange Cassidy, and Pac are all included. Some wrestlers are locked in the beginning and you have to complete certain challenges to unlock them. Cody Rhodes and referee Aubrey Edwards are easy to unlock.
To unlock Paul Wight and Mr. Brodie Lee, you have to play through the story mode and hope to get a certain story branch to complete in order to unlock them. It's kind of a crapshoot and you may have to go through the story mode several times to be "assigned" to the right story arc to unlock them. Unfortunately, the legend I wanted to unlock the most has still eluded me after hours and hours of playing. I didn't think it would be this hard to unlock Owen Hart because from what I've seen online, you just have to win 50 exhibition matches of any type. When I first saw this I thought, "That seems a little time-consuming but it couldn't take that long". Yes, it can, apparently. I have played at least a couple exhibition matches a day for the last 30 days and although I haven't won them all; I've won a vast majority of them. Every time I play and win an exhibition match at this point I think, "That HAS to be 50 wins now" but it never is. The worst part is, the game doesn't give you an easy way to track how many wins you have so there's no way to know for sure. I would go so far as to say it's impossible to unlock Owen but I have competed in an online match with someone who was using him, once. That means somebody has been able to do it.
There are more than a few match types included in AEW Fight Forever. You can wrestle in a singles or tag match, a three-way or four-way match, a Casino Battle Royal, a ladder match, and even an exploding barbed wire death match. If you choose to do a singles match, you can also choose if you'd like it to be a lights-out match or a falls count anywhere match. Lights Out matches basically mean there are a ton of weapons in the ring and surrounding it and heavy emphasis is put on their use. Seriously, if you're going to play this type of match, you're gonna have to use some weapons to get the job done. The exploding barbed wire match seems to be the only match type that causes any sort of blood in the game. You don't even get juice in lights out or falls count anywhere matches. In this case, I prefer the way blood works in the WWE games where at any point in any match, even with something as small as a punch, there's a chance to get busted open.
One funny Easter Egg about the exploding ring death match is initially the ring explodes with a huge blast that looks really awesome and has an impact but if you play through a certain part of the story mode, you can unlock what they call the "historical explosion option". The "historical explosion" is their nice way of describing the explosion that actually happened when AEW tried to do their exploding ring match. You know, where it looked like there were just a bunch of sparklers going off on each of the ring posts. I love this Easter Egg and I thought it was a pretty amusing inclusion hidden in the game.
As advertised, this game pretty much controls just like the old AKI games such as WWF No Mercy does. There are two strike buttons and if you hold them down extra long then you get strong strikes. It's the same way with grapples. This makes the move-sets for the wrestlers much more limited than WWE games but all of the signature styles and moves of the wrestlers are represented. Again, if you take the game for what it is (an homage to older wrestling games) then it's perfectly acceptable in my opinion. All wrestlers also have one or more (depending on the wrestler) signature moves and finishing moves that you're able to do when your momentum meter fills up.
One thing I prefer about AEW Fight Forever vs WWE 2K games is the way the game handles reversals. In WWE games, you have a set number of reversals based on what superstar you're using and it takes a long time to build the reversal meter back up to earn any more. This means, if you reverse three or four moves and your opponent is good enough to reverse your reversals; then you're gonna get your ass stomped for who knows how long until you're able to get even one more reversal built up. AEW Fight Forever remedies this by not having a set number of reversals but having two reversal buttons, one for strikes and one for grapples. That way you're opponent can't just spam one button to reverse everything you throw at them. They have to push the correct button at the correct time. You can also make it more difficult for them by mixing up your strikes and grapples to catch them off guard and make them push the wrong reversal button. I think this approach to how moves are reversed works really well in the game.
On a final note; one of my favorite nuances of this game is that they programmed in a "pockets mode" of wrestling for Orange Cassidy. This way, by clicking the right analog stick, he'll put his hands in his pockets and you can utilize his "Sloth Style" of wrestling. I personally think Orange Cassidy is one of the most creative and entertaining wrestlers currently competing and I enjoy using him in Fight Forever. The fact that his "Sloth Style mode" is included and you can even do his weak shin kicks while your opponent looks at you in confusion makes it that much better.
Next time, we'll take a look at the Road To Elite and Create modes and even delve into the online mode. Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!