The NBA2K Game You Have Been Waiting For
The NBA2K series has been in a holding pattern the last few years. Incremental improvements to the on-court action have routinely been paired with a predatory microtransaction system. Moving the series to the Xbox Series and PS5 consoles has finally shown us what they were working on in the background. Stellar gameplay and graphics make controlling the stars of the NBA a constant joy. An improved front-end and fully integrated WNBA experience also stand out. Unfortunately, even though there are more ways to earn the VC Coin currency the MyPlayer mode is still brought down severely by how pay-to-win it truly is.
A True Generational Leap
2K Sports has made it clear that the iterative titles over the past few years happened for a reason. The next-generation version of NBA 2K21 is a massive improvement in nearly every way over its previous-gen brethren. The graphics are a technical marvel, and it is hard to overstate just how darned pretty everything is. From the emotions shown on player’s faces to the reflections on the court, everything just feels “more” in a way that the old consoles just could not do. The sidelines feel alive as coaches and players react to the action in a more noticeable manner than in the past. There are slight hiccups with animations or a lack thereof sometimes that break the immersion, but I found these few and far between.
Load times are nearly non-existent. I cannot remember waiting more than 2 seconds for any part of the game to load in my dozens of hours. Performance across the board was a solid 60 fps with one major exception. Any cutaway during gameplay drops to 30fps to show off higher fidelity player models. It is jarring and something I wish they would reconsider as it occurs often.
On the court action feels more responsive and smoother. Animation hitches that plagued past games are gone for the most part. I felt far more in control on both sides of the court, though I did not really enjoy the new flick shooting system. Here instead of either hold X/Square for a set period of time or going down and up on the right analog stick you instead go left to right. I did not feel the tightness to the control using this method and wound up sticking with the normal two. Ball handling also feels more under control. Instead of every move of the stick leading to a large crossover or spin, a quick move is more about changing your position through fast movements in that direction.
Not the Smartest of AI
The AI was decent but broke the immersion of playing an NBA caliber team often. I had repeated instances of players just standing still dribbling the ball until the clock was about to run out and being forced to heave a 30-foot three-pointer. Another frequent occurrence was dribbling out of bounds or backcourt without me having to play stellar defense to cause it. Bumping up the difficulty did not remove these mistakes and instead just led to them shooting at a higher percentage and playing tighter on defense.
There is also a new commentary team. Gone is the Kevin Harland led one (a good thing in my opinion) and in their place are Brian Anderson, Grant Hill, and sideline reporter Allie LaForce. The commentary has always been excellent in the series but I found it nice to get a break from the regular crew this go-round. There is a solid variety to both their play-by-play and their anecdotes. I rarely heard the same thing twice while playing through the My Team season mode.
Now for the Bad Part
The career mode has been a contentious part of the NBA 2K21 package for a while now. It has routinely featured a highly predatory microtransaction system. While there are more ways to earn coins in the MyPlayer mode and its new MyCity area it still routinely feels like a pay two-win system stuck into a full-priced game. The story is mostly the same as the previous generation except now you can choose to go to the G-League out of High School instead of just a handful of universities. I found the high school and G-League games to be tough to push through and was glad that they offered the ability to skip straight to the NBA.
New to the MyPlayer mode is “The City”. It is a much more ambitious take on the old multiplayer server and can hold up to 100 people at a time. On my Xbox Series X and S, it ran at a floaty 30 frames per second, and player connections rarely seemed stable. Getting into a game on the outdoor court transitioned to things feeling and running better, but I was still disconnected multiple times from the pickup games. Honestly, there was not enough to do to keep me in the mode long, and the server issues were so numerous that even if there was I doubt it would work well.
As it is mostly a new mode 2K is not allowing for player transfers which is bound to disappoint many. This is especially egregious as the mode is still so microtransaction-heavy. Players who spent the last few months working up their character in the previous-gen version are forced to start from scratch in a move that feels aimed at earning as much as possible in virtual currency. The fact that you can purchase the currency that allows you to level your character has always killed the mode for me, and that is still the case here. Buying the $100 Mamba edition allows you to quickly get your rating up to the mid 70’s. Purchasing more currency lets you max out quickly if you have deep enough pockets. It is broken and ruins things for those who want to actually play the game to level their players.
Back to Something Good!
Integration of the WNBA is far improved from previous games. While you cannot use a female player to explore the city they have nearly every other mode available to them. There is also no story mode for female athletes. Exclusive to the WNBA players is a fun 3v3 outdoor mode. Other modes available to both associations are the new hybrid of League and GM modes called MyNBA. This mode works well, combining my favorite parts of each into something I ended up playing the most by far. The menu system for it felt easier to navigate and was quicker to navigate thanks in large part to the new horsepower these consoles have.
NBA 2K21 shows us what Visual Concepts had been working on these past few years as the previous-gen versions stagnated. Stellar on the court gameplay is complemented well by an improved UI and mostly excellent modes. If you are not interested in the MyPlayer mode then the game is fantastic. Unfortunately, the overall package is dragged down by how grind heavy and microtransaction fueled it is. If on the court NBA and WNBA action is your main draw then NBA 2K21 Is easy to recommend. It has the best gameplay of any sports game I have ever played and is a true graphical showcase for the new generation of consoles.
code provided by Take-Two Interactive