There is now under a month until the 2018/19 NBA season begins. NBA 2K19 has been out for over two weeks and the response has been nothing but high praise for the annual franchise release. Did 2K Sports produce another slam dunk of a basketball game or will fans of the series still find themselves overwhelmed by micro-transactions? We take a look at the different game modes, gameplay, presentation, and overall feel of this new addition in the NBA 2K franchise.
MyCAREER – “The Way Back”
There was probably nothing more advertised about this year’s instalment of the franchise than the new MyCAREER storyline, “The Way Back”. After playing through the entirety of the story, it without a doubt did not disappoint. “The Way Back” takes you on a ride through the nontraditional stages of a professional basketball player’s journey to the NBA that most fans don’t hear about too often. The dream of getting drafted by an NBA team and playing next to the biggest stars of the game comes true for only a select few each year. “The Way Back” shows you the life of an undrafted player that has a passion for the game and a dream of playing in the NBA.
NBA 2K19 did an excellent job and pulled out all the stops for this year’s MyCAREER story. The star power is most evident when you see and hear some well-known actors such as Rob Hubel (Coach Keller), Anthony Mackie (NBA scout), Michael Rapaport (Coach Stackhouse), Haley Joel Osment (Zach Coleman), and many more. The acting (yes, acting in a video game) and script executed by these stars and other cast members in the game are on point, with only a few occurrences where lines of dialogue come off as unnatural given the ongoing conversation. The overall presentation of “The Way Back” is exceptional and is just another example of where video games and cinema are coming closer together. I won’t spoil any of the events that unfold throughout the story, but I’ll say that at times I almost forgot that I was playing a video game.
The excellence of this game mode is not solely contained within the cutscenes and storyline. As expected, you’ll start out by creating your character. 2K Sports does a great job of throwing you right into the story and immersing you in this process. Instead of just flipping through menus you will create your player step-by-step during a media day for your new Chinese team. Setting your vitals, position, skill sets, height, weight, and wingspan will all have an impact on how your player will perform on the court.
The gameplay is quite immersive as the commentators have specific dialogue during each game to make it a unique experience – so unique that you might have some trouble understanding them during a few of your games (translator, anyone?) The new takeover meter is something to keep an eye on during your gameplay, but more on that in the gameplay section below. “The Way Back” gameplay will take you on your player’s journey to the NBA, but I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to ruin the details of the storyline as each player should experience it on their own.
There is an option to skip “The Way Back” storyline and jump straight to the NBA. This might be a useful feature when creating a second or third MyCAREER player, however, for your first go around, I highly recommend playing through the complete story. It just might be the first cinematic experience in a sports video game that you enjoy. Additionally, if the cinema doesn’t do it for you, remember that it is an opportunity to earn some virtual currency (VC) and improve your player’s skill set. (Anything for some free VC, right?)
MyCAREER – Neighborhood
Following “The Way Back” within MyCAREER, NBA 2K19 brings the player back into the world that most of us will be familiar with: the neighborhood. This is full of other players, pick-up basketball games, places to spend all that hard-earned VC and… a basketball court with trampolines!
Navigating to all these locations has a much more user-friendly feel to it compared to NBA 2K18. Moving between your player’s apartment, the shops and other locations within the neighborhood is less frustrating as everything is in clear sight. Also, the court view that the game provides is extremely helpful in determining where all the action is occurring for your session.
MyCAREER has so many sub-game modes within it that everyone will be able to choose what interests them the most. Players can continue with their player’s NBA career, play pick-up games of 1v1/2v2/3v3, enter daily contests and tournaments, and so much more. All of these activities will help you improve your player’s skills. Not only will earning VC through gameplay allow you to upgrade your player, but earning badges will also improve your player’s game. There are badges for just about everything. Completing certain tasks for each badge will earn you new abilities or skills that cannot just be purchased with VC.
One of the exciting additions to MyCAREER mode is Under Armour cages. If you recall the days of Slamball from the early 2000’s then you can already picture this game mode, traditional pick-up style basketball being played within metal “cages”, but there are trampolines installed on the court. There are no referees to call goaltending so the games can definitely get out of hand at times and makes one reminisce about NBA Street. I spent some time in the Under Armour cages and found them to be extremely entertaining, but I think it is more a ‘drop-by’ facility rather than a permanent fixture on my agenda.
After several hours of gameplay through “The Way Back” and several NBA games, I still found myself as a sub-70 overall rated player. This does not go unnoticed online as it is apparent that stronger players were not fighting to be on my pick-up team. After stepping in to try and play some hoops I even found that players will step away from the court when they see weaker players showing up to play. I’d definitely recommend spending some time earning (or buying) VC and improving your player’s skill set before trying to play with the superstars that are already flooding the neighborhoods near you. This might become a bigger issue the longer the game has been out. It could become difficult for those players who do not enjoy spending money for VC to just pick up the game and play when the competition is already so stacked.
The MyCAREER mode in NBA 2K19 is a force to be reckoned with and it is only getting stronger. Although the presence of micro-transactions cannot be ignored, the online community and gameplay that the mode offers in unparalleled. It should not be a surprise that players can find themselves logging into the neighborhood to hang out with their friends and play basketball the same way we did when kids still played outside. It sure beats having to decide whose house to meet at before carpooling over to the community courts. For any basketball fan, there are endless hours of fun to be had within MyCAREER and enough flexibility to make the experience unique to your desires.
MyGM – The Saga Continues
In the NBA 2K19 MyGM storyline you find yourself fishing on a boat with Tex Towers. Don’t worry, there are no mini-games that involve casting or reeling in any fish. Instead, you are about to play through what might be one of the longest flashbacks in video game history.
The NBA is looking to add multiple expansion teams during the 2017 off-season. As an up and coming GM, you are tapped to run the front office for one of these new teams. The storyline is set in stone for the most part, but you will be able to make some key decisions for this new franchise. Areas where the player can impact the storyline include developing the relationship with the new owner, maintaining a relationship with the GM who replaced you and making key roster management decisions with the support of your new staff.
Unlike the MyCAREER game mode, the dialogue in MyGM does not have any audio. There are no high-profile actors, or any actors in that regard, reading the dialogue for you within this storyline. This means that you will find yourself spending a lot of time reading through text boxes in each cutscene if you so choose. The dialogue can be pretty dry and delivers little value other than the game trying to pad out the characters a bit.
Some cutscenes call for a response or action from the user, but others do not. When you do need to provide a response to the dialogue, the question or statement that was posed to you is not presented on the screen. Only a couple of available responses are presented to you, and they lack context. This can become a problem if you are skipping through the dialogue boxes and all of sudden have to respond to something you didn’t read. Kind of like when the math or history teacher would call on you in school, right? Don’t fret too much though, these responses will have minimal impact on your overall gaming experience but might alter the storyline just a bit.
One of the high points of this game mode is the opportunity for creativity. You will be tasked with selecting the city for the new expansion team, coming up with a team name, and designing jerseys and the arena for the team. The available cities that can be selected are vast and have different strengths and weaknesses (is it time to put an NBA franchise in Hawaii?) The customization options for jerseys and the arena are quite expansive, enabling any player to create the team they desire most. Also, the ability to share and download logos from the community means that you don’t have to be an artist to get some of the best logos.
NBA 2K19 – MyGM
The most interesting aspect of this game mode is the timeline. As mentioned, you are thrown into the 2017 off-season, meaning that you will be able to complete the 2018 NBA draft to your liking. You might have a shot at signing key free agents like Lebron James and Kevin Durant (or both!) You’ll also be competing against other expansion teams during this off-season, which could get interesting. All of this will set you up to have a unique 2018/19 NBA season.
Overall, the MyGM game mode offers the player an opportunity to create a new expansion team with limited opportunities to create a unique storyline. Following the first season as GM, a lot of the unique dialogue will fade away. Heading into season two, the game mode will start to feel a lot more like the traditional MyGM game mode. The backstories for the expansion teams will be thrown in from time to time, but are not very impactful. If the thought of creating an NBA expansion team and building it from the ground up excites you, then this game mode might be right for you. NBA 2K19 still includes the traditional MyGM mode if you prefer to jump right into the front office of your favorite NBA team.
The MyLEAGUE mode in the NBA 2K series has for years been the gold standard for sports game franchise modes. This game mode offers an unbelievable amount of customization and detail. Compared to NBA 2K18, no major feature changes have been made, however, online MyLEAGUE users will be happy to hear that almost all of the amazing offline features can now be enjoyed online.
In a blog entry made by Senior Producer Erick Boenisch, he outlined all of the changes made to MyLEAGUE Online. Here is a link to that blog so you can appreciate every ounce of detail. Migrating these features to MyLEAGUE Online is a huge step for 2K and for online franchise players. This update alone is encouragement enough for someone to purchase the game.
The amount of content that is included in MyLEAGUE is hard to articulate in just a few short paragraphs, as you will be able to tell if you visit the blog referred to above. However, for those franchise or sim players out there, I want to be sure to hit on something for everyone, so here goes… does the idea of an expansion team peak your interest? Well, how about six of them? MyLEAGUE gives you the option of starting up a league with up to six expansion teams. This means that players can bring back classics like the Sonics or Bullets, or they can create brand new franchises set out to create a history of their own.
Rule changes are discussed during the off-season of every major sport. These rule changes are typically voted upon and if approved are implemented the following year. 2K Sports has adopted this level of realism to their game. Each off-season the player will get a chance to vote on a series of rule changes to be implemented the following season. These can include the removal of the one-and-done rule for college athletes, the elimination of the shot clock, or maybe a modification to the foul out and team bonus rules. These types of things make the MyLEAGUE game mode incredibly immersive.
Another area of MyLEAGUE that addresses the main concerns of most sim players is coaching gameplans. This allows the user to set the exact number of minutes each player will play in an upcoming game. Furthermore, the user can determine what parts of the game those minutes will be played in. Then, to top it off, gameplans can be preset for each individual opponent or the entire NBA. Want your star player to get some rest against some of the league’s easier opponents? Make it happen. This level of detail truly empowers the player to determine how each game will be played or simulated.
This brings us to the many options that users have to play MyLEAGUE. Along with the traditional full play style, users can also ‘simulate’, ‘simulate live’ or ‘simulate with sim cast’. Each method has different benefits and drawbacks. I’d recommend that you try each one and determine what approach works best for you. A combination of the different methods is most commonly used to help navigate a long 82-game season.
There is too much within MyLEAGUE to cover in this review, but here are a few more things that peaked my interest while playing the game: custom draft classes; three-team trades; relocation and arena designs; player training; and G League players. These are not necessarily new features to this year’s instalment of the game, but are still worth mentioning as they attest to the level of detail 2K has put into MyLEAGUE.
All in all, it would be difficult to find a more in-depth franchise mode in the sports gaming market. The greatest strength of MyLEAGUE, the volume of detail and features within the game mode, might also be its only weakness. It can be extremely overwhelming to new players or to an average basketball fan. It is important to note that most decision making and functions within the mode can be set to automatic. This allows the CPU to own that particular process for you, while you focus on the parts that you care about. If you are a franchise mode fan, an avid sim gamer, or just like basketball, then MyLEAGUE is a must play mode for you.
Presentation and Gameplay
If you have made it this far into the review and not ordered the game already, I’m impressed. That being said, the presentation and gameplay of a sports title are the real nuts and bolts of it all. All of the fancy game modes and the unlimited number of settings and options are useless if they are layered on top of below average presentation and gameplay.
The presentation of NBA 2K19 is arguably the best in any sports game currently on the market. It starts with the game’s menus and continues through to the in-game commentary and presentation.
The menus within the game are user-friendly considering the volume of modes and settings that exist. Navigating through the main menu to locate your game mode of choice is done with ease. Each mode has a detailed description included to let the user know what they are selecting. Once within a game mode, the actions and options available to the user are laid out in logical categories and sections. If you are looking for a particular menu or setting it shouldn’t be too hard to find. This is a plus for users as some games have a clunky feel to them and that diminishes the overall experience.
The in-game presentation in NBA 2K19 does an excellent job of creating a real NBA atmosphere. 2K includes everything you would want, from pre-game shows to end of game highlights and everything in between. The in-game info graphs and commentary make your game feel unique and not just another cookie cutter experience. This is represented the most within the MyLEAGUE game mode where the presentation will be detailed according to what is happening in your season. Aside from a few mistimed statements or monologues, the presentation does not begin to frustrate nearly as fast as other sports titles.
While the overall gameplay experience of NBA 2K19 still delivers an enjoyable experience, it can still be frustrating at times. In this day and age, we are spoiled by phenomenal gaming experiences so it is hard to understand why any issues persist. However, when I think about my time playing basketball and all of the intricate moves and contact that is made, it hard to believe any of that can be programmed with precision into a video game.
NBA 2K19 shows flashes of how these intricacies can be difficult to implement. The mechanics of basketball moves such as crossovers, post play and box outs are difficult to capture. Players will notice this during their gameplay and must be understanding enough to not let it ruin a solid game for them.
If you expect to play a full 48-minute game without any moments of confusion as to why a player or the ball reacted in a certain way then you might need to lower your expectations. This can be seen the most when players try to string multiple crossover moves together and expect a certain outcome; this is going to be hard to predict as it all depends on the player’s positioning and skill set.
Other than these slightly frustrating instances, the core mechanics of the game are rock solid. New users to the franchise will need time to practice and learn all the in-game controls. I’d suggest working on the basics of passing, shooting and play-calling before moving on to the more advanced controls. There is a high level of control that a player can achieve where they truly can take over a game (queue transition to the new ‘takeover meter’, which is one of the newest additions to gameplay). The takeover meter was designed with the intent to reward users for solid gameplay, allowing them to have a temporary in-game boost that improves their ability to dominate a specific aspect of the game.
The boost that the player receives is dependent upon their archetype. A passing and ball handling player will gain boosts to those respective ratings and will see improved gameplay performance. A three-point shooting player will get a boost to their shooting ratings, but this does not mean that they will nail every attempted shot. The takeover meter should not be confused with the ‘on fire’ days of NBA Jam. Additionally, a team takeover is possible as well. This will boost the respective ratings of all your team members and could support a key run late in the game. The takeover meter is a fun, flashy addition to the gameplay experience of NBA 2K19 that is very enjoyable.
All things considered, the gameplay of NBA 2K19 is incredible and the minor changes year-to-year should not be overlooked. For newcomers to the NBA 2K franchise, the gameplay mechanics and options are breathtaking as it truly emulates an NBA game experience. As someone who played and loved the sport of basketball, I thoroughly enjoy the gameplay experience. Whether it be within MyCAREER mode as a single player or in MyLEAGUE mode controlling a full team, it is hard to find areas of the game that make me want to put the controller down. After a solid victory or hard-fought defeat, I still find myself wanting to get the next game started and continue to improve my skill set.
It is apparent that 2K has not taken their foot off the gas pedal this year. NBA 2K19 is a solid product and has a game mode for every basketball fan out there. The drawbacks of the micro-transaction driven environments, the minor mechanical issues seen in gameplay, and the potential waiting times in online play are buried beneath a behemoth of quality gaming experiences. It should also be noted that this same experience can be had in even more locations as NBA 2K19 is also available of the Nintendo Switch, making it an interesting choice for players who prefer mobile gaming options.
After considering each of the aspects of the game outlined above and those aspects that did not make the cut for the review, I rank NBA 2K19 as not only the best title in the series but possibly one of the best sports titles, period. Everyone will find enjoyment in this game. From casual gamers just looking for a solid basketball experience to hardcore gamers looking to compete in Pro-Am tournaments. This is a must buy sports game for 2018.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10.0