THQ Nordic and developer Yukes aim to release AEW: Fight Forever in 2023. For a preview of what to expect, we can look back at WWE Day of Reckoning 2 and its grappling engine, published by THQ Nordic 20 years ago. Secondly, I contend AEW’s decision to deliver wrestling in an accessible format for everyone is everything we could have hoped for.
The THQ Nordic and Yuke’s duo delivered a timeless grappling fight engine in WWE Day of Reckoning 2 in 2005. And it is being revitalized for AEW: Fight Forever. Therefore, it is useful for us to walk through the core components to the old grappling engine to understand how AEW: Fight Forever will play. While WWF No Mercy by THQ and Aki is also a great example for comparison, DOR2 on Nintendo Gamecube is a similar engine developed by Yuke’s. Moreover, the Yuke’s engine introduced sports science elements that distinguishes itself. Thus, it is an ideal engine to emulate in 2023.
DOR2’s Yukes engine walks players through various “states,” or positions in the ring, effectively slow-building complex button combinations. Many of you are familiar with these states. They can be broken down into many categories, but in summary, the engine is premised on three core fight elements: grappling, striking, and submissions. THQ then layers on high-flying acrobats and layered on special moves.
Comparatively, AEW: Fight Forever will feature the same states and add at least one new state, the sitting up position, and add up to five finishers and five signature move(s) for each wrestler’s loadout. As matches play-out, players will naturally move through these various positions or states. Each state avails various options for attack or counter, starting with the trio of grapples, strikes, or submissions. Counters to grapples and strikes can also be launched with a well-time button press in Fight Forever – a point confirmed by industry writers who were able to demo AEW: Fight Forever. The fact that each wrestler can have up to ten signature and special moves combined supports the notion that this animation library will be deep – a point I will hit on in the next section.
As players vie for position in the timeless grappling engine, unique combinations can be launched. Furthermore, we will be able design movesets to target opponent weaknesses in Fight Forever, adding to the fight strategy. For example, Chris Jericho’s moves might be oriented to attacking the legs and back of his opponents. These attacks compliment his special submission move, the Walls of Jericho, a back-bending ground submission that looks as painful today as it did 20 years ago. Fight Forever’s damage HUD will provide real-time damage data, confirmed by the Gamescom demo.
“…the engine is premised on three core fight elements: grappling, striking, and submissions.”
Now, let’s revisit what made Day of Reckoning 2 special.
Whereas martial arts are considered codified systems of combat, I contend that DOR2’s animations library is a codified ledger of the best wrestling moves. This anthology of wrestling moves adapts to all wrestling styles. Players can mold their create-a-wrestler (CAW) almost without limitations. In this sense, players can drop countless combinations into their builds to achieve their ends. THQ Nordic and Yuke’s featured hundreds of moves in WWE Day of Reckoning 2, and that was in 2005. Since, THQ has published dozens of wrestling and mixed martial art games. The amount of digital assets THQ has on file might be enough to fill a Bond villain’s island full of dedicated servers. (Insert your favorite Bond villain, as appropriate.)
Thus, we can anticipate AEW: Fight Forever’s animation library will feature a move list in the hundreds, if not thousands. According to developer Markus Nitter at THQ Nordic, the animations will be hand drawn as opposed to motion-capturing, just like they were in the past. This design choice may allow THQ Nordic to tap into its famous animation databases that were created for its old games. At the very least, DOR2‘s animation library will provide guidance for AEW: Fight Forever’s dev team today. With more memory and processing prowess, AEW: Fight Forever’s movesets will certainly compete with DOR2. Fight Forever’s animations will only be confined by the imaginations of the animators at THQ and Yukes.
Fight philosopher Bruce Lee once emphasize(d) “formlessness” as a way to deploy all styles and techniques available in combat that suit the situation. Similarly, DOR2’s animation library was limitless and bound by no singular way. Consequently, I expect this theme will continue in AEW: Fight Forever.
Stealthy Simulation Design
The DOR2 animations weave in threads of realistic physics. WWE DOR2 deploys a simulation-bodyweight system that creates character distinction. Lighter-build wrestlers are unable perform suplexes on heavyweights. But lightweights are faster in-and-out of their strike animations. The bodyweight system is a simulation element in an “arcade” fighter. Thus, DOR2 features sneaky-realistic sport science mechanics that make it a more interesting play.
Similarly, AEW: Fight Forever has implemented a body weight and physics system to give each fighter different velocity and mass. Lightweights will strike and animate much quicker – point confirmed in a recent demo preview for Fight Forever by Leah Williams for GamesPub. Evidence suggests that physics will impact wrestler matchups and moves across Fight Forever.
“THQ and Yuke’s animation library in DOR2 is a codified ledger of the best wrestling moves.”
Continuing with our comparison, the spirit meter measures the morale and stamina of your wrestler in DOR2. It incorporates how much damage a wrestler absorbs, momentum, and other factors. DOR2 then drops in a momentum-shift mechanic that can be deployed with well-timed reversals against a special move.
Fight Forever is re-deploying the spirit meter in 2023, called the momentum meter. The meter will differ from its predecessors in that it will contain both a signature move state and a special move state. Sources also confirmed momentum shifts would also be present in AEW: Fight Forever, although they may be tied to countering only special moves.
For good measure, players that spam in Fight Forever will be penalized with a decrease in momentum, a point confirmed by AEW: Fight Forever’s gameplay demo. So the game will steer players towards creativity on the canvas. Precision strikes, corner attacks, taunts, and various moves will increase or “buff” the meter in AEW: Fight Forever.
I anticipate AEW: Fight Forever to feature a strong submission and ground game. This hypothesis is based on THQ’s experience in mixed martial arts, and DOR2’s ground game. The UFC games featured submission systems that entered players into mini-games, impacting the outcome of the submission holds. DOR2, ahead of its time, also featured a submission mini-game that incorporated the player damage and stamina at that moment in a match. A targeted submission is much more likely to be inescapable if the opponent is fatigued and battered. Resultingly, THQ’s grappling engine is far from “arcade.”
Overall, WWE DOR2 nails the sports science elements to wrestling. It has the best animation library you can ask for, a strong-physics system and EQ meters rife with taunts and personality. All of these layers stack to build dynamic and exciting matches. THQ Nordic and Yuke’s get this point. AEW: Fight Forever will have this strong foundation to start with.
Is this AEW’s Moment in Gaming?
AEW’s decision to partner with THQ and Yuke’s might change the gaming trajectory of all three entities. THQ and Yuke’s direction with the game puts the publisher and developer in their comfort zone. The DOR2 foundation is timeless because DOR2 is pure competition. No commentary. Limited overlays. DOR2 is raw wrestling competition – a sport boiled down to its essence, because it can. The gameplay engine alone is strong enough to carry the game. And DOR2’s engine is Fight Forever’s thermal baselayer for a winter ’23 debut.
THQ Nordic is taking the DOR2 foundation and code stacking game features with stronger processing power. The AI will be more intelligent than we saw 15-20 years ago on the Nintendo consoles. And advanced AI can be applied to all phases of the game. It can improve damage systems, career mode outcomes, graphics processing, and even add snappier response time in button presses.
The art direction also means that the game is less likely to suffer from frame-rate issues. The style can cross-play across various platforms: Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X, and Windows (maybe even Steamdeck).
It follows that Fight Forever is positioned perfectly for this moment, neatly in the sim-cade sweet spot. The DOR2 grappling engine will immediately establish AEW: Fight Forever (and THQ) in a niche largely vacant in sports-gaming. The gameplay will be accessible and fun. And fun games can ignite the imaginations of all gamers alike. The classic grappling-engine characters will allow us to channel our inner wrestler – center stage – with pyro, taunts, and momentum-shifting moves.
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