Last year was challenging for WWE 2K15, as console generation transitions often are for sports sims. On top of the challenges that come with re-building an established franchise to meet the expectations that come with new hardware, Visual Concepts and Yukes opted to radically change the gameplay direction of the long-running wrestling series. It was a lot to handle, and while our WWE 2K15 review gave it a lot of credit for improving the depth and overall pacing of matches, there was a lot of missing meat in terms of the roster and feature set. After sitting down with 2K and Visual Concepts, it's clear that bridging that content gap while continuing to make matches feel more like the real thing is the gameplan for WWE 2K16.

Probably the biggest piece of news is the roster, which will top out at over 120 unique playable characters. I asked what "unique" meant exactly, and I liked the answer: that in most cases, it means an actually different person, not several different versions of the same character. If the same performer has two completely different gimmicks, those would be counted as separate unique characters, but the same wrestler from different eras wouldn't count towards that 120. So, completely hypothetically, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind would represent three unique characters, but 90s Triple H and current Triple H would actually be just one. Again, no confirmation about any of those names/eras, but hopefully that illustrates just how big this roster is gonna be. And yes, we already know that there will be current NXT members on the roster. Finn Bálor fans rejoice!

What I'm most pleased with personally, is that they aren't turning back with the changes they've made to match pacing and overall gameplay - in fact, they're pushing further in the "simulation" direction. Chain grappling is back, and there are more transitions and moves now to reflect the abilities of the wrestlers involved. Chain grapples are also now impacted more by your wrestler's attribute values, and there can even be ties, resulting in breaks or cheap parting shots. More exciting is the addition of "working" grapples where the initiating wrestler can rest up and get some stamina back while draining his opponent's. It's a neat way of taking an element of in-ring performance and turning it into a useful gameplay mechanic.

Reversals have long been a tough to balance element, either turning matches into a never-ending chain of non-moves, or being so tricky to use that one player ends up watching helplessly as they get beat to a pulp for minutes at a time. This year, two huge changes to how reversals work may actually solve the issue once and for all. You start each match with a limited stock of reversals. Once you use one, it will slowly regenerate over time, meaning that if you try to counter every move thrown your way, you'll be out in no time flat, leaving you completely vulnerable until one regenerates. What's more, you can now pass on your initial chance to reverse a move at its startup, and instead attempt a mosre difficult to time "major" reversal mid-move. It will cost you two reversal stocks, but the effects can be match-changing, debuffing your opponent in a variety of possible ways and giving you time to really turn things around.

That's it for the big gameplay additions, though there's a bunch of small, significant additions that are either all-new, or a much needed return for something 2K15 was missing. Let's round up the rest of what's been revealed about 2K16:

  • MyCareer is back, and this time it goes a lot further, all the way to you gaining admission to the WWE Hall of Fame.
  • Create a Diva, Create a Show, Create an Arena, and Create a Championship are back in!
  • WWE Universe: Wrestlers can now be booked to multiple shows
  • Online has been "overhauled."
  • Three-man commentary team, with John "Bradshaw" Layfield joining King and Cole.
  • Ladder, handicap, and tornado tag match types added back in.
  • No loading screens between entrances, and you can assault opponents during their entrance!
  • Improved ref and manager AI.

So that's all I've found out about WWE 2K16 so far. With any luck, I'll get a chance to actually play it myself in the coming weeks so I can tell you how well all this new stuff translates in practice.