It’s safe to say NBA 2K20 landed the series in some hot water. Microtransactions are a reality of the industry now; ever-increasing AAA development costs means more and more developers and publishers are pursuing other avenues of revenue, such as through the implementation of microtransactions. However, the system implemented in last year’s NBA 2K was not the right way to do them. The biggest shame was that last year’s entry was solid in every other aspect, but the microtransactions controversy overshadowed that.
So, does NBA 2K21 do enough to banish the microtransactions demons of its predecessor? Well, yes and no. Microtransactions in NBA 2K21 aren’t as obtrusive as in its predecessor but they’re still prevalent enough to prove irksome. Last year’s casino-like tone was, for lack of a better word, disgusting. Especially in a full-priced AAA game. This time around, it’s easier to earn rewards through gameplay. A new card-exchange system and a battle/season pass both provide rewards with no need to spend real money. But, even with those improvements, the MyTeam mode is still riddled with microtransactions.
It really is a shame the discourse surrounding NBA 2K and even this review, has to focus so much on the microtransactions aspect. Like last year’s entry, NBA 2K21 is again otherwise a very solid experience. Again, NBA 2K21 features multiple fleshed out mode that you will inevitably end up spending hours upon hours in. These include MyCAREER, MyTEAM, Neighborhood, MyGM/MyLeague and Play Now.
In MyCAREER, the player will embark on their own personal, cinematic basketball journey to reach their ultimate destination: the National Basketball Association. Build up your custom MyPLAYER and take him to the heights of their career and stardom, and make a name for yourself in the global basketball universe. The MyCAREER mode was by far my favourite and featured a compelling narrative with stars like Michael K. Williams, Djimon Hounsou, and Jesse Williams.
The story mode sees you following the journey of Junior as he makes the jump from college player to NBA superstar. Told through a mixture of well-acted cutscenes and gameplay, this is a riveting story throughout. There’s also an emotional journey as you see how difficult it is for Junior to make the rise from college player to the NBA.
MyTEAM is the online fantasy mode where you assemble your G.O.A.T. NBA fantasy team of current players and historic legends and compete against the world. Uncover rare and highly-rated player cards by participating in many rewarding game events and daily and weekly challenges, and compare your hard-earned collection with friends and competitors.
Neighborhood mode takes you back to the streets so you can live out your virtual, day-to-day basketball life in a neighborhood that doesn’t sleep and that always offers something to do. Jump in on 3v3 streetball runs with your crew, or play for bigger stakes in 5v5 ProAm games.
MyGM/MyLeague mode takes you right to the top of the game. Here, you’ll sit in the boss’ chair, and make decisions that matter not only to your player or team – but to the entire franchise and league. From drafting impact rookies to trading players to relocating your team, every move, big or small, counts towards the long-term success – or failure – of your basketball franchise. Again, it’s commendable to see the inclusion of the WNBA in this mode.
Lastly, in the Play Now mode you can jump into a no-frills basketball game, where you can get a quick match together against a friend or AI and play 4 quarters of intense NBA 2K basketball. Pick your favorite team – or a Classic or All-Time team – and run the offense with genre-defining controls and customization. Here, we see some minor but welcome improvements to gameplay.
Most significantly, NBA 2K21 introduced the Pro Stick. This new addition freshens up the game on the offensive end. In past games, you could hold the Pro Stick in any direction to take a jump shot. That was limiting the player from utilizing the right stick as a fully featured dribble stick. So this year, the Pro Stick allows you to perform skill moves such as crossovers and stepbacks. Further, you can also shoot using the Pro Stick. When you do, you see a shot-meter that helps you time your shot to perfection.
Elsewhere, there’s minor improvements across the board but mostly it’s more of the same. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Visually, the game is as impressive as ever and easily one of the best-looking sports games on the market. The modes and gameplay seem to have hit somewhat of a ceiling on current gen consoles but as things stand, this is the very best. If it wasn’t for the experience being marred by microtransactions, the review score would be even higher. Overall, this is again a solid package sure to provide hours of enjoyment for Basketball fans.