So here we are again. After the events of last year, the furore, the conversations, and the overall controversy of last year’s NBA review we’re back. It’d be silly not to acknowledge it all as NBA 2K19 arrives on court. It’s a chance for a fresh start and a chance to highlight any major changes and growth to the NBA 2K series. Is NBA 2K19 a return to something better or has it continued down the same path as 2K18?
Let’s start with the fundamentals of the on court action first, which should be the most crucial aspect of any sports game. Compared to previous entries, the defence has been boosted so that they close gaps up much quicker than before, making it difficult to drive right to the post for layups and dunks. This applies to both the AI and yourself, and it was noticeable that a lot of shots would be taken close to zero of the shot clock. In turn, this has led to games feeling slower paced, but you gain a lot more from tweaking tactics to match up players to defend, and focusing on if the team line up should be built around the tactic of getting inside, or firing threes.
On the offence side, taking into account the tighter defence, I altered my approach to take more shots from mid-range or three-point territory. Shots inside the post would be heavily contested and it’d be a mixture of luck and timing to sink the buckets. As always, shot meters have come under scrutiny and while you can swap them in the settings, the default doesn’t feel useful. Even after hours of playing the game, I’m still not sure how you read it correctly. Shots that are identical and from the same player can either go in or miss, even when the shot meter reading is the same. Instead of changing it every year, 2K should have settled on a design by now and be tweaking it. like other sports games have.
MyGM naturally returns, putting you in control every aspect of a team, from the roster and trades to ticket prices. You need to maintain relationships with your staff and players as well as keep interest in the team high and generate profit. Obviously, to do this you need to perform on the court too. In the story mode of MyGM you create a new team and aim to build it up, so aside from the functions of running a basketball franchise you also need to look out for the long, pointless conversations that take place. If you don’t skip through them you’ll easily spend five minutes reading each one, delaying the point when you actually get games. The story just comes across as lacklustre and given the choice sticking to standard GM mode would be a better option.
The same is true of MyCareer, where you play as a character called AI, which comes across as a lazy in joke. The story compared to last year feels much more mature in a way, but that doesn’t mean your character comes across as being likeable, constantly whining about not being in the NBA or calling people out even when they try to compliment him. I can see the writers were going for a redemption arc and had to write in the frustration AI feels, but it hardly garners much sympathy for him. AI’s base rating is 60 when you start and there’s only one way to upgrade provided you started the career while online: Virtual Currency or VC. By the way, just like the last few NBA 2K games if you do start a career while connected online and then lose connection, you will lose access to that save because of how integrated it is to maintaining the VC balance.
We were never getting through this review without addressing VC. If you have the standard edition of the game where you don’t get the 100,000 VC bonus of the Anniversary Edition and don’t want to spend real money, you’re going to need a lot of time to even think of reaching the 99 rating for your MyCareer player. Like previous entries, the VC balance is used across all game modes, so if you spend 7.500 VC on a couple of attributes, that’s one fewer packs you can buy in the MyTeam mode. In the game, the way VC is used to spend on almost everything is acknowledged. When you go to the barbers he states that all haircuts will be free since there were issues with the previous guy. Sure, haircuts are freem but tattoos and clothing aren’t. They can range from an okay 700 VC to thousands. At least this time around you don’t have to slowly run around a whole street of shops to get to the 3v3 courts, which are instead centred on the new neighbourhood square.
In a way, the costs funnel you into really committing with one mode to get a great experience, or spreading the cost and getting okay experiences across the board. Of course, there are a number of activities to partake in to earn VC from playing matches to getting in game endorsements, but the awards can be quite low depending on how you perform on the court. I will say though that player badges, which help with some boosts, appear to be a bit less grindy than last year’s entry.
MyTeam is the other big mode in NBA 2K19, but as already mentioned requires a lot of VC investment to build teams and collect cards. In this year’s version you can play a domination-like mode where the more wins you rack up without defeat the higher the prize, or you can take part in the 3v3 Triple Threat mode where you select three of your best players to take on AI teams or other online opponents. Some may give extra VC, but again, it will cost an absolute VC fortune to put together a great team or to even collect a majority of cards.
As for NBA 2K19’s presentation, it is flashy and continues to sport some of the best sports commentary in a video game. 2K have nailed down that aspect of the NBA series for a long time now, but at the same time there’s not a major evolution compared to last year or even the year before. In fact at times the atmosphere in games feels a bit muted. Crowds don’t seem as lively and this may be down to the more defensive focused action on the court, which can lead to lower scoring games.
Whatever viewpoint you’re coming from, NBA 2K19 is both slightly better and a bit more competent than its predecessor, but there are still issues that need to be addressed. It is still clearly designed so there is an underlying temptation to invest in some VC just to get to the good bits, instead of spending days, weeks, months slowly building up your player or your team. That said, whatever score it’s given really won’t matter since the NBA 2K series will remain dominant when the competition isn’t as strong as it could be. While NBA 2K19 is competent it has also, for me at least, continued down the road of not feeling as fun or exciting as previous NBA 2K titles. This year, the feeling isn’t so much of outcry as it is fatigue at having seen the gradual changes take place over the last several years.
Version tested: PS4 – Also available on Xbox One, PC & Nintendo Switch
Note: For review we were provided code for both the standard edition of NBA 2K19 and the 20th Anniversary edition, choosing to review from the standard edition.