Excellent improvements to gameplay are overshadowed by a microtransactions hell.
NBA 2K is a franchise that celebrates basketball culture beautifully while providing consistent yearly updates to its fundamentals, intuitive controls, and easy-to-grasp mechanics. As a basketball fan, I’m always appreciative of its excellent tutorials that help me relearn things I may have forgotten, and I’m always thrilled to see the enhancements made to the game’s character models. Whether you’re looking to control a franchise, sink your teeth into the games meaty campaign mode, or engage in online battles, 2K always meets those expectations by offering the most ways to play the sport you love.
"New dribbling animations give life to individual players, and changes to core gameplay mechanics have impacted the moment-to-moment gameplay in interesting ways."
This year makes good on a few of these expectations with some small, but lovely updates. New dribbling animations give life to individual players, and changes to core gameplay mechanics have impacted the moment-to-moment gameplay in interesting ways. For instance, the new size-up mechanic allows you to use the right stick to chain standing dribble moves, something that is likely to require veteran players to practice a lot to get a feel for how things have changed.
Relearning proper timing and discovering the best way to chain your animations together is key to success, I found myself fumbling about for quite a while as I tried to adjust to all of the freedom that comes with mixing and matching animations. Once things click, however, these changes feel great, and there’s plenty of room for both newcomers and veterans to make use of these new mechanics in ways that match their skill level.
Meanwhile, sprinting is a more limited resource now, requiring you to make use of it sparingly in order to properly manage your stamina. This makes for a far more engaging experience that asks you to learn to strategize rather than simply hold down a trigger for the entire game. Much like the new dribbling mechanics, it’s really a matter of timing, and knowing the best moment to initiate a burst of speed is a learned skill that takes patience and dedication.
"The usual modes all return, but it’s usually the series’ MyCareer mode that tends to grow the most, and 2K20 aims to take things further than ever with some of the biggest star power we’ve seen yet."
The usual modes all return, but it’s usually the series’ MyCareer mode that tends to grow the most, and 2K20 aims to take things further than ever with some of the biggest star power we’ve seen yet. Idris Elba, Mark Cuban, Thomas Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson all show up here alongside plenty of NBA stars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they’re all excellent additions to the story-focused campaign mode titled “When the Lights Are the Brightest”. This expanded mode feels more cinematic than ever thanks to these celebrity additions and a new focus on less trivial decision-based segments and more core gameplay.
That said, despite the charming narrative surrounding your character’s rise to stardom, this year’s offering somehow manages to feel less exciting that previous versions. Clocking in at only around 5 hours, the credits roll abruptly after reaching first rookie game, and much of the gameplay leading up to it is mundane busywork. Scrimmages can be a good time, but the awful minigames are a nightmare to control and serve as a reminder that sometimes a basketball game should really just focus on what it does best – letting you play basketball. I was invested in seeing things through to the end, but I never really felt like any of it mattered as much as it wanted me to believe.
2K20’s implementation of the WNBA is a weak addition as well, giving very little for the female players to do and making their presence seem more like an obligatory answer to direct competitor NBA Live’s addition of the league last year. Without the game’s full suite of modes available to the WNBA, there’s really not much to do besides a simple season mode that lacks many of the bells and whistles found in the NBA’s modes.
"Far less rewarding is the series’ ever-growing focus on in-game monetization in nearly every mode (including MyCareer, a mode they have no right to be in). 2K20 is so riddled with microtransactions, so bogged down by their presence, that it’s virtually impossible to be competitive in some modes without gambling real money for a chance at something useful."
Online action varies from thrilling to downright infuriating depending on whether or not the game’s servers want to work with you at the time. I crashed out of matches frequently, and even when I didn’t, lag spikes and glitches were constant blemishes on my experience. When things are working, however, 2K20 can be a blast against competitive opponents that learn and adapt to your playstyle as you do the same to theirs’, resulting in victories that feel earned and rewarding.
Far less rewarding is the series’ ever-growing focus on in-game monetization in nearly every mode (including MyCareer, a mode they have no right to be in). 2K20 is so riddled with microtransactions, so bogged down by their presence, that it’s virtually impossible to be competitive in some modes without gambling real money for a chance at something useful. Buying packs is nothing new in sports games’ online fantasy modes, but providing enjoyable gameplay should be paramount, and yet the game seems specifically designed to bore you into spending money. Trying to entice me to spend $10 in MyTeam because the in-game challenges are so monotonous and awful isn’t gratifying – it’s exploitative.
The predatory nature of these microtransactions aren’t exactly thinly veiled either. MyTeam’s UI is quite literally designed like a casino filled with slot machines and roulette wheels. In an age where loot boxes and other forms of microtransactions are so frowned upon, it almost feels as though 2K is taunting and prodding at gamers, knowing good and well that their sales numbers won’t be meaningfully affected by these tone-deaf presentation choices. Sure, opening packs is how you obtain players, so you don’t directly engage with these gambling visuals to unlock content, but their use as a means of delivery is nevertheless insulting. Each spin of the wheel feels like it should come with a laugh track and a sign saying, “Sucker!”
"When you factor in that 2K20 plasters ridiculously excessive advertisements everywhere, the game begins to feel like a free-to-play game that just so happens to have stolen sixty bucks from your wallet. And ultimately, that’s exactly how the game made me feel."
When you factor in that 2K20 plasters ridiculously excessive advertisements everywhere, the game begins to feel like a free-to-play game that just so happens to have stolen sixty bucks from your wallet. And ultimately, that’s exactly how the game made me feel. The wonderful improvements to gameplay are constantly overshadowed by long load times and in-your-face monetization. It’s fun to play basketball in the game, but whether it’s a basketball sim or a virtual casino disguised as one, I really couldn’t tell you.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
New dribbling and sprint mechanics; Core gameplay remains fun; MyCareer’s cinematic presentation.
Predatory, tone-deaf microtransactions; Poor implementation of WNBA; Frustrating minigames in MyCareer.
From a gameplay perspective, there’s no denying that NBA 2K20 reigns supreme as the best basketball game you’ll want to play this year. Sadly, 2K Games seems to be expanding its microtransaction plague throughout the experience to a point that it feels oppressive. Still if you’re able to wade through the muck and deal with the advertisements and pay-to-win modes, you won’t be disappointed by the stellar updates and excellent presentation you’ve come to expect.