The Stadium Stampede matches in AEW are some of the dumbest things I've seen in professional wrestling, and the new game mode matches that tone wonderfully.
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
AEW: Fight Forever launched with mixed reviews earlier this summer. Personally, I loved the way the game simplified wrestling mechanics back to what I remember from the Nintendo 64, but was frustrated by the lack of customization options and a fairly shallow pool of gameplay modes.
Right around the time the game launched, rumors started buzzing that a Battle Royale mode would be in the game, and we quickly learned that the team was indeed working on the Stadium Stampede system, which is now available just in time for the third IRL Stadium Stampede Match at this Sunday’s All In from Wembley Stadium.
And y’all, this mode is so stupidly fun.
What’s a Stadium Stampede?
Even after watching AEW for a year, I had no idea what a Stadium Stampede even was when news of that event coming to the game first broke. I ended up digging back through AEW’s PPV history to learn that the Stadium Stampede was a match that only happened twice, once at Double or Nothing ‘20 and again a year later at Double or Nothing ‘21.
AEW was looking for ways to stand out during COVID-19 and used bossman Tony Kahn’s connection to the Jacksonville Jaguars to host a brawl in an empty football stadium. Two factions that had been feuding each sent five wrestlers onto the field with a wrestling ring looking comically small in the middle of it, and set them loose.
The action, of course, was not stuck to the field. When you’ve got a whole arena to play with, you make use of it! Wrestlers fought in the bar, smashed through backroom offices, and Matt Hardy was drowned and resurrected in a pool with a view of the endzone. Meanwhile, Hangman Adam Page road a horse through utility tunnels hunting down Sammy Guevara.
Stadium Stampede is quite possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in wrestling, and I absolutely love it.
The Stadium Stampede mode in Fight Forever is pretty wildly different from the matches AEW has actually hosted. First of all, it’s a 30-man free-for-all instead of a five-on-five match. Secondly, instead of looking for a pin to win, opponents are eliminated by wailing on them until you deplete their health bar (at which point they go into a daze and you can hit them with a finisher). Third, as a Battle Royale there is, naturally, an enclosing circle always pulling the players together to ensure constant conflict.
This is still recognizable as a Stadium Stampede, though. First off, you’re hanging out in a football stadium, including the field, stands, vendor areas, offices, tunnels, and parking garages. And, of course, there are tons of weapons you can grab to battle your foes. Trash cans, golf clubs, barbed wire baseball bats, t-shirt cannons, and plain old footballs can all be picked up from treasure chests and crates through the arena. You can also find food or energy drinks to heal yourself, or a football helmet that acts as armor, protecting your precious HP.
Oh, and there's also a horse. And golf carts. Why the heck not?
While there are some projectiles or thrown weapons, this is still mostly a wrestling game. You can punch, kick, and grapple opponents, and holding the button for any of those commands does a stronger version of that action. The cool twist in this combat is that Stadium Stampede introduces a leveling-up mechanic that changes how your character plays further into the match.
Whenever you land attacks on enemies you’ll see poker chips flying out of them. Picking these up levels you up, with each level granting you a perk that boosts your abilities in one of four categories: strikes, grapples, aerial attacks, or weapons. The really cool thing here is that between matches you choose perks can show up in a skill-tree style menu. If you know you want to lean on weapons in the late game, you can equip a bunch of perks from that tree, sacrificing upgrades to your plain old punches.
On top of that, you can also equip three different abilities that run on cool-downs. These can heal you, give you temporary stat boosts, or enable special abilities. All in all, it’s a really neat way to make the Battle Royale experience feel a little more customized.
All the Jankieness
At this point, you can probably tell that I’m pretty high on the Stadium Stampede mode in AEW: Fight Forever. I am absolutely adoring this mode as an incredibly stupid, incredibly fun Battle Royale. However, it’s also incredibly janky. Translating wrestling gameplay to a brawl this big is rough. Any time you are trying to deal with more than one opponent, it gets hard to aim your attacks.
On top of that, this game has super generous and impossible-to-read invulnerability frames when wrestlers are attacking, when they are recovering from attacks, and (most stupidly) when they are drinking energy drinks. This all leads to lots of characters just sort of flopping around each other as they struggle to figure out the aim and timing of attacks.
But you know what? That sort of stupid feels pretty in line with the stupidity we’ve seen at actual Stadium Stampede matches in the past, and that we should expect to see this weekend.
For all its flaws, Stadium Stampede is just fun.