Just like the star athletes who grace its cover every year, NBA 2K has built a strong legacy and brought it to the forefront of sports games of this generation. The series has kept solid gameplay without forgetting about innovations, and I appreciate the risks Visual Concepts takes, even if they don’t fully pay off. NBA 2K features advanced sports storytelling, character customization, and the level of detail we expect from the overall presentation. However, once you are at the top you will have to struggle to stay there and a bad season or two can haunt you. The current version of NBA 2K21 is not a bad game, but it does not correspond to the old visual concepts.
While this iteration cannot be improved upon in most off-field situations, classic on-field gameplay remains a cornerstone of this entry. I love how players of all skill levels can play the NBA 2K series and dive into the mechanics as deeply as they want and still have success. Every possession is about finding the best route to the basket, knowing the right window to get the perfect pass, or setting that screen to free your point guard to go to the net. It never gets old, especially when you pin down that devastating drunk. Expect some improvements to the AI this year such as: B. Your big man in the suit, who has a bigger impact on the defense. The AI’s response time could be better; Her biggest culprit is some late executions when I applied for a passport and failed to realize when the window had expired. Plus, they still make weird hiccups like back space violations for no good reason.
Outside of AI, Visual Concepts has also made a number of other additions, from new shot types to the inclusion of oversized point guards. The biggest shift, however, is the pro stick for dribbling and shooting. Dribbling offers more functions. Jump shots can now only be triggered by moving the right control stick down. This provides a wider range of motion for more advanced dribbling moves that have allowed me to beat my husband from dribbling more successfully. The change that didn’t impress me was the introduction of “pro stick shot targeting,” which eschews the timepiece fans to which they have become accustomed. Now a target window will be resized based on your player’s skill level and some other factors in shooting. As a longtime player, I’ve had trouble moving the club left or right to hit the target. In the past, the timer would punish you if you didn’t hold the joystick straight while shooting. Now it’s too easy to accidentally move the joystick a little too far and miss a wide open shot. I like that racket aiming is more difficult and it means I can’t take a shot for granted, but I miss the timepiece’s predictable rhythm. I’ve adjusted after a while, but it’s hard to break old habits. You can turn the joystick off in-game and go back to the old timepiece, and I’ll admit I was a lot happier than I did.
That being said, the changes feel limited in all modes. If you’re like me and spend most of your time in MyCareer, then you can indulge yourself in a new cinematic experience to play through as your created character called “The Long Shadow”. This year’s story centers on a young player named Junior who lives in the shadow of his father’s career. It’s not as over the top and produced as what we saw a few years ago with Spike Lee and the Frequency Vibrations storyline, but it’s a more informed story when it comes to meeting the expectations that come with it to be a top talent and find your own place in the game. It’s not the most memorable plot, and takes some predictable twists, especially with a girlfriend storyline, but it does its job of giving you a backstory. As a plus, star acting reinforces his scenes, especially Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as Junior’s father and Michael K. Williams (The cable, Lovecraft Land) as an old family friend who becomes your agent. My favorite part was that Visual Concepts brought the college experience back here, giving you 10 officially licensed colleges to choose from and carefully recreating the chants of the crowd and the appearance of each arena.
NBA 2K21 also has a new beach area where you can use your MyPlayer to do everything from 3v3 streetball or 5v5 ProAM games to buying the latest clothes. The cool cosmetic items are all overpriced so I didn’t even bother to make my player look any cooler. Worse, to have a chance and not embarrass yourself when you compete here, you will likely have to grind into MyCareer to earn or buy VC (2K’s virtual currency) to improve your player’s stats. As for the new neighborhood aesthetic, I like the change of scene, which was inspired by the local beach community in Southern California. It feels inviting and colorful when many of us are stuck inside. That being said, it’s more of a window decoration than a major attraction in NBA 2K21, and it’s the area of the game that I’ve experienced the most crashes in, especially when I’m traveling between areas.
I was most disappointed with MyGM where you run a franchise and make the big decisions when it comes to trading, scouting and managing prices. This mode is practically the same as last year, and that’s not a good thing. The conversation system still pulls the entire experience down with pointless chatter about hand soap and waffles. CFOs keep telling you to raise prices and coaches telling you to do ridiculous deals. You have Action Points every day, but not enough useful things to do with. The mode also doesn’t focus enough on big events and moments in the season. I should be feeling the stress of hitting the playoffs or the trading deadline, and if a big star player wants to test the free agency it should be a big blow – not relegated to a skimpy social media post. The skill tree for unlocking skills like better scouting or more sponsorship feels more compact than last year, but it’s another area where Visual Concepts needs to get more creative and interesting. Unlocking new skills just doesn’t feel effective.
Similar to MyGM, MyLeague still shines in its ability to adapt rules, teams and rosters according to your wishes, but basically remains unchanged. The WNBA is back which I love a lot because Visual Concepts is really committed to making the experience feel like a women’s game with a more technical and team oriented style, but unfortunately you can still only play one season.
MyTeam, where you open packages to build the list of your dreams, has a variety of Events, Challenges, and Rewards that you can use to sign up and make sure your team is in tip top shape. This year seasons have been added that are free and (similar to a Battle Pass) receive rewards only for fulfilling certain game criteria. In addition, the exchange was introduced, with which you can exchange additional or unused cards for more powerful ones. I think it’s good that Exchange allows you to deposit cards that you don’t use for something better. Be warned, however, that you will have to give up a lot to get many of these precious cards. While this mode will still likely have players spending the majority of their VC, these are at least some steps that players can take to earn cards that don’t always require cash to be spent.
As we approach a new generation of consoles, Visual Concepts is building a version of NBA 2K21 from scratch for the new systems. As a result, this current generation NBA 2K21 feels in the dust. It still offers the strong gameplay the series is known for, but doesn’t make a lot of jumps compared to last year. I know I’ll still play it well until I move on to the new generation, but it’s disappointing that loyal fans who play on current generation consoles haven’t received a major upgrade. It still gives you a decent basketball experience, but we keep expecting more and more.