STAFF REVIEW of NBA 2K21 (Xbox One)

Friday, October 30, 2020.
by Brent Roberts

NBA 2K21 Box art One of the absolute hardest genres of any game to keep fresh are sports. While shooters can rely on an entertaining (albeit short) campaign and thousands of multiplayer games going on to keep things fresh, sports games have a greater challenge because most of the time they seem like minimal improvements for full retail price which can come across as a cash grab, and that really upsets the gaming base which is something you never want to do. With that being established, NBA 2K21 from 2K is trying to do multiple things with this latest release. Improve upon the incredibly rocky release that was 2K20 through gameplay improvement, pay homage to a legend that was lost and deliver an incredible amount of content that will allow the gamer to spend countless hours enjoying their NBA experience. Has that happened? Lace up because we're going to find out.

As we kick off this review it's got to be said that the 2K NBA games have become the definitive bar that is set for all others to follow for NBA sports games. Over the years the series has taken the globe by storm with incredible graphic presentations, gameplay mechanics that become almost second nature after playing and delivering what could easily be regarded as the premier NBA gaming experience. A lot of familiar modes will make their return from the previous installments. Modes like MyTeam and MyCareer return, and already you will see that this is a basketball simulator, not an arcade style basketball game. What do I mean by that?

Well, in MyCareer you will take on the role of "The Long Shadow". Basically, you're going to start from the beginning of High School on your quest to become an NBA legend. Throughout this adventure you'll realize that your character isn't going to be some incredibly dominating player. You're going to have to grind it out and work your way through High School to one of the 10 officially licensed college programs: West Virginia, Florida, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Texas Tech, Michigan State, UConn, UCLA, Oklahoma and Villanova. Just like in life, when you start something you want to excel in you'll quickly realize that you're not that good and you need to put in the work to get out the results you want. In MyCareer that is through earning Virtual Currency to spend on upgrading your player. Microtransactions DO exist and sadly you get the feeling that unless you spend your real money to gain virtual money, your character will not amount to much of anything. This makes the initial grind of the game very tedious, and you'll rapidly see that the importance of that virtual currency (VC) is a heavy focus on making sure your character actually is somewhat talented. If you wondered why some of the pre-order bonuses were 100,000VC, now you know why.

Me personally I'm not a fan of this at all. I think using microtransactions to improve a character that you control is not the best way to move forward. I can understand a company uses microtransactions as a revenue stream to fund updates and future content, etc. however, to have your character development basically hindered unless you spend a ton of VC on it seems like a bad way to go about it. I understand the grind of life and what it takes to accomplish a lofty goal such as making it to professional sports, however, I feel that 2K missed the mark on this and I hope that moving forward they focus more on actually giving you the ability to make the same rapid progress without having to spend money on VC for your character. In the future I hope that there is greater incentive to actually grind out the character rather than pay to boost your stats and be done with it.

MyTeam also makes a return but there's a new twist with this that involves the next generation consoles. If you're making the switch to the Xbox Series X, then you'll be happy to know that your MyTeam collection and progress will carry over from one platform to another. Other things that will carry over are your VC (thank heavens for that), your pulled cards, Tokens and your MyTeam Points, so when you get that next gen console you can pick up where you left off with your MyTeam. MyTeam also tends to follow a similar feel to MyCareer in that you are trying to upgrade your team of players rather than your individual athlete. To do this you'll need some player cards and thankfully, unlike MyCareer, there are multiple ways for you to earn and unlock new cards, but there are times when it's still a gamble. Let me explain.

Think of this like a trip to Vegas; you sit down at a progressive slot machine and the more you play the greater your chances of winning are. That is the principal behind MyTeam and its cards. There are different tier cards that you can earn and once you hit that "jackpot" you're going to be hooked. To earn these cards, you can play online in full games or even 3v3 style games, plus you have the single player challenges. If you think you have what it takes to dominate you can enter for a chance to play in a real money tournament, and on the weekends 2K will be featuring a MyTeam Limited mode where you can earn a championship ring. If you earn all the championship rings during a season you'll then unlock the best rewards. The Unlimited MyTeam mode also returns with 9 leagues that you will need to triumph over in order to reach the premier rewards of the top tier. Also like life, there will be times when you will get cards that you don't want, no worries because now you can trade cards away, and since every card has a value attached to it you will be able to get the cards you do want.

One final note about MyTeam is that now the hunt will be on for the IDOL Series Collection. These cards consist of the NBA's legends from the past to the present and contain valuable cards such as a Pink Diamond card. These cards will ONLY be collectable through 15 special releases so make sure, if you want the best, to keep your eyes out and grind for those limited-edition cards!

All of these new modes though mean very little if the gameplay of NBA 2K21 isn't up to par. This release sees a shift in the shooting mechanics and has been known to be the feature that is the most critical of anything in NBA2K21 and it makes perfect sense as to why. What good is dribbling the ball when you can't hit water if you fall out of a boat? Basically, what good is the rest of the gameplay controls if you can't shoot and make baskets? This new shooting mechanic is called "Shot Stick Aiming" and fundamentally changes how your shots are going to be made. While this will understandably frustrate gamers, it will make the gameplay more realistic. If your character is covered, your target window will be smaller. If your character has poor shooting percentages then the window will be smaller still. There are many factors that contribute to the shot's difficulty and that is the same that would happen in reality. So, while this statement may offend some gamers out there, this is setup to make your game better so quit crying and devote some more time to actually getting better and you'll be happier.

The Pro Stick has also been revamped and now offers a wealth of dribbling options that make the play mechanics feel more natural. Crossovers, break down dribbles, various steps and fakes and so much more are at your disposal, and going through the 2KU (NBA 2K21's tutorial) teaches you all about this, shooting, defending and more. I strongly recommend that you check this out so you can get a feel for the game first and then adapt your play control to match the new features found on the court. Defense though still feels a bit weak with the primary focus involving you almost running into your opponent’s ala Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball style. Hopefully in future editions there will be more of a way to break this down into a way that allows defenders the same type of play control that we have when we are dribbling the ball.

Graphically speaking, NBA 2K21 is once again in a league of its own. Visuals in regard to the players themselves look stunning, including the WNBA players. Even though the announcers and whatnot seem like a rehash from a previous release and the soundtrack isn't anything that is going to be standout or memorable, the visuals are absolutely incredible. Over the years the NBA 2K series of games have worked hard to provide an incredible realistic experience, and as the technology improved, so have the standards by which the graphics are delivered. What personally blows my mind is that the graphics now on the Xbox One X look incredible but what will the upgraded version look like on the Xbox Series X? With such tremendous potential at their fingertips I can see NBA experiences that will defy anything we ever thought possible and I can't wait for that day to arrive.

While 2K has done a fantastic job in delivering the standard in the basketball simulation game, that's not to say that the game is flawless. Actually, it's far from flawless if I'm honest. One thing for example is the difficulty set in MyTeam. It's uncanny how it seems like everyone controlled by the CPU seems to make impossible shots on anything higher than the lowest difficulty setting. So you could be leading a close match in Superstar difficulty and then it's like the AI could do a bounce pass that gets tipped like a volley ball, hits the backboard, and then the AI grabs it in the air, throws it back to mid court where the water boy steps in, grabs the basketball, turns around with his eyes closed and throws it over his shoulder backwards and makes it in. Also remember how I said you can earn cards and whatnot through single player challenges? Well if the challenges are online based and your opponent quits, your work toward the challenges don't count.

Yes, even in today's world you still can become the victim of rage quitting. Also remember I mentioned about the pink diamond card in Unlimited mode. Well apparently, you can only get rewards once. So, once you get 12 winds and unlock the pink diamond card, that's it. You literally can't earn more rewards in Unlimited mode. So... Explain to me again the reason I would keep doing this after I gain all the rewards? These are a few of the numerous bugs/glitches that plague the game, but thankfully 2K will go to any lengths to update the game and get things dialed in perfectly. Out of all gaming companies, I do have faith that 2K will keep updating NBA 2K21 until it's near perfect. The sad reality is that it takes quite a long time to update everything. As we know, NBA 2K20 was being updated for MONTHS after the release to make things perfect. You would think that after making such improvements that some of that quality would transfer over, at least in the main structure of the game. One of the fixes in 2K's patches involve a problem with apparently clothing that was causing glitches. Yes clothing. So apparently you could not have "Tall Scrunch Socks" while wearing "Compression Pants". Of all the things to have a problem with, no one from QA ever thought that this would be something important?

NBA 2K21 from 2K is the bar setting standard for NBA simulation games. It delivers the closest thing some of us couch warriors will ever experience when it comes to playing in an actual NBA game. It has faults and flaws for miles, but it also has a company that cares about its customers and wants to keep supporting the gamers with massive updates that improve every facet and function of the game while listening to the feedback from you the gamer. Not many companies do that in today's world and would rather consider you to be just a dollar figure to them. 2K on the other hand values your input and honest feedback, which is why I feel comfortable knowing that moving forward with NBA 2K21 you're going to get a fantastic basketball experience. Rather though than buying it new at launch you may want to wait until the updates have improved the gameplay and functionality. Please though 2K, GET AWAY FROM THE MICROTRANSACTIONS and work on a better, more entertaining way to get player upgrades and improvements. That is one of the things that will forever stain something this good. NBA 2K21 is a good, but severely flawed game. Once those flaws get fixed though, there won't be a better basketball game on the market.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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