NBA 2k23 is out and it’s a huge package focused on celebrating the history of basketball. The main focus of that celebration is number 23 himself, with Michael Jordan being a major part of the game’s marketing and modes. The on the court action is the best it has ever been. The live service side is somehow even more predatory feeling but is it enough to hold things back? No, I don’t think it is so let’s get into it.
As this is a yearly sports title release let’s get right into the nitty gritty. The main menu greets you with a few differently sized boxes to emphasize where developer Visual Concepts wants you to go first. The big one is the return of the Jordan Challenge. This is a series of games throughout Michael Jordan’s career with various goals within them. They’re fun, feature some fantastic filters and UI changes to make them feel appropriate for the era and I see myself playing through them all.
Next up are the two live service and microtransaction heavy modes. First is MyPlayer where you’ll great your own “MP”, as you are known within the storyline. I used the face scan app on my phone and got a big-cheeked monstrosity that was perfectly ridiculous looking. The writing and overall storyline are mediocre but the setup for everything works well on the new generation of consoles. The City returns and it is a large player and NPC-filled playground of Basketball. The mode like always pushes hard into the predatory style of pay-to-win microtransactions. If you like the mode, then you know what you’re getting into already.
MyTeam is the card pack team builder that takes a surprisingly long amount of time to let you actually access. There is a series of 10 games that I had to beat before the main mode opened up and I saw no way around it. Once you’re in it’s another very well-made but heavily favoring pay-to-win mechanics live service mode that doesn’t seem too different from previous iterations. These live service modes are the main focus of the various editions of the game. We were given the Deluxe Edition code which gave me many bonuses in MyPlayer and a large assortment of cards and points in the MyTeam modes. The game is extremely aggressive in pushing the modes and if you click on them to see what they are the first time you’re welcomed with an unskippable and long video. It is what it is at this point, but it simply feels bad to see it pushed so hard when the actual on-the-court play and other modes are so good.
The moment-to-moment gameplay and modes on offer in NBA 2K23 are fantastic. The more in-depth inclusion of the WNBA is a delight to see as well. You get full seasons, playoffs, and online play for both the men’s & women’s leagues, and for the NBA there is an enormous assortment of all-time teams available. I got a real sense of the love for the sport from the developers on this side of things. The live service modes feel like the prerequisite for them to pay for everything else.
There are a lot of settings available for the on-the-court action, but I kept things on default to start and it felt well balanced. There was a challenge to be had but once I got the hang of the momentum of the players I was hooked. The ball feels real in the player’s hands. Using the classic 2K camera and seeing when a shot is going to be a bit short and how it bounces off the rim it just felt right. Timing a steal didn’t feel automated based on an invisible quick time event. It has never felt more like a true game of basketball to me than this year. I have loved the series since its inception on the Dreamcast, but at its heart, it was an arcade basketball game in which you could learn what did and didn’t work and easily exploit it. This is the first entry where even at the default difficulty it felt like my knowledge of the sport was necessary to get the most out of things, and I love it.
This is helped in large part by a mixture of improved player AI and improved animations. Neither is quite perfect yet, and never will be, but the computer feels like it’s working to earn points and stops instead of just cheating in the background to ensure a close game. The animations, while not perfect, make things easier to read in the heat of the action, though they still tend to start/stop too quickly at times making things look like the video game they actually are. The faces though, whoo boy, they look incredible. Playing on a Series X this is one of the best-looking games of all time and its whopping 161GB install means it freaking better be. It is shocking just how good-looking and large this game is, and it won’t run on an external HDD so make sure you have the space available before installing it.
That brings us to another issue and that is the price. The base game is $70 on the Series and PS5 consoles. There are microtransaction-bonus heavy versions for $80, $100, and even a $150 Championship Edition that nets you NBA League Pass. That last option is actually a steal if you were already buying League Pass as it turns the $100 version of the game into an extra $20 on top of things. As this is a review of the game at launch these various versions will drop in price throughout the season so it won’t matter much, but for now, it’s a big ask for most consumers during our current economic struggles. Still, the package on offer is gigantic between the NBA, WNBA, and classic modes/teams available.
Bug-wise the game has been flawless for me so far. The only issues I’ve had were server related while skateboarding around The City. The menu itself feels more detached from the online servers than EA’s sports offerings and while the UI itself isn’t always the easiest to navigate it is good enough for what it needs to be. One feature I sunk a lot of time into is the create a sneaker mode. I’m not a sneaker-head, I own one pair of work boots, one pair of shoes, and one pair of sneakers, but I spent a few hours going through and crafting multiple pairs of sneakers before realizing just how long I had spent in there. It’s oddly satisfying. Another area I have to commend is the play-by-play. There is a lot of it for each mode and it is a commendable effort given just how many of modes there are.
$70 at launch is a big ask, but this is a very big game. The gameplay is the best it has ever been, and the live service is the most predatory feeling, but there is enough other content on offer that I’d still recommend this year’s title. It’s stunning to look at, thanks in part to its jaw-droppingly large install size, features tons of classic teams, and far better WNBA integration. If you haven’t played an NBA 2K game in a while this might finally be the year for you to jump back in.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 5 (this version)|
|Release Date||September 8th, 2022|
|Rated||E for Everyone|