NBA 2K21 is the only basketball game for simulation gamers. The usual narrative is when there is no competition, companies get stagnant and produce less innovation in their products due to consumers having no other choice. While I generally agree with this sentiment and believe this with the PS4 entry of NBA 2K21, the next-gen entry gives me hope that not all companies follow that motto.
The New MyNBA mode is one that with please Sim gamers with its customizable options and realism.
Gameplay is where, by far, you notice the most immediate improvement over the last gen game. Once you select what teams you want to play as, the game loads in almost instantaneously. That’s right, there is virtually no load time compared to the last gen consoles. Both the graphics and the controllers responsiveness to the gameplay surprised me. The PS5 controller makes you feel when you hit a hard pick or when you make physical contact with another player.
Gameplay has been improved both in terms of CPU-player-decision making as well as movement off-ball. Your teammates make smarter cuts, generally. Offense feels a little harder this year than it did last year with the change in shooting as well as the players feeling heavier overall.
2K has also added another commentary crew that can have it’s own special guest come and visit during games. These crews are based on the user team’s region, such as the Midwest. The variety it adds is great but, unfortunately you can’t choose which crew you get.
NBA 2K21’s MyCareer has received a revamp for the next-gen consoles. The story is almost the same and follows the same protagonist, Junior, whose dad is a local basketball legend. Before you finished high school on current-gen, you would get recruited and go to the college of your choice. For the next-gen version, you also get the choice to go to the G-League after high school instead, which is a choice high school players do have now under the new G-League development program. This choice adds replayability as well as some realism to the mode. The player also has the choice to skip all story content pre-NBA if they choose to. The story itself is a positive for any longtime NBA2K players. 2K made sure to pay homage to longtime 2K players in the G-League storyline.
The 2K Beach and Neighborhood have been removed and replaced by The City. The City is the new MyCareer online hub for players that is broken down into 5 districts with 4 affiliations in total. The four affiliations are the Northside Knights, South City Vipers, Beasts of the East, and the Western Wildcats. The fifth area of the city is the port which features the start point for all new players before they choose which affliction they want to join. The City is a huge space with stores and recreational activities alike. The system for creating your player for MyCareer has changed slightly as well, and it’s a more-streamlined experience that should make choosing how you want your player to be easier for the casual gamer.
MyNBA is a new mode for the next-gen consoles that is basically MyGM and MyLeague mixed into one. This was a great idea as both modes offer a very similar experience, but with minor differences, in what they aim to achieve. According to 2K, “This is your NBA and WNBA, and this is your franchise mode, with an unprecedented amount of control over every aspect of the game. Expand your custom NBA league to 36 teams or reduce it 12, watch and control player growth through the boom/bust system and share your setups and scenarios with the community.”
In MyNBA you can choose presets that can tailor your experience more to the MyGM or MyLeague setups of old. This year both can be online and played with other players which is a new twist, but the best part of the MyNBA package is the ability to create league setups and scenario that can be shared with the world (overview of Setups and Scenarios from Mike Lowe). Now you can create a league full of 5′ 5″ point guards if you want and share it online where anyone can take your setup and try it themselves at the press of a button.
One of the biggest positives in the next-gen versions of NBA 2K21 is the implementation of a new MyLeague (now known as MyNBA or MyWNBA) for the WNBA. A player can now play multiple seasons roleplaying as the GM of one of the 12 WNBA teams. Everything you can do with regular NBA teams you can do now with the WNBA teams, including scouting prospects, drafting, free agency, and even new league rules which can be voted on. The only option the WNBA league cannot do is add expansion franchises. This feature will be a treat for sim gamers who are looking to build online or offline WNBA leagues. Representation is also a big plus, and the more they can add WNBA features the better the game will be.
The W is the second new feature added to next-gen consoles that is not on the base game. The mode allows you to play games both offline and online the same you would in a traditional MyCareer followed by off days where you can do activities to improve wealth and popularity. Increasing either yields the play cosmetic and mode bonuses that can apply to their player. The commentary team has interesting things to say about the players. they call on previous years of stats and history the same way they do for the NBA which is a plus and makes it feel like a feature they worked on.
While Gameplay has improved, the game still has legacy issues such as CPU players going out of bounds with the ball when the user is off-ball. There is no longer a way to change your offensive set on the fly. The on-the-fly adjustments are rather limiting as a whole compared to previous games. You can only choose templates such as switch everything or shrink the floor.
The W, while a great feature in theory, pales in comparison to the NBA career. There are no cutscenes or anything extra that would give it the look of a mode with any production value. While this is definitely a con, it does offer promise for the future. This can be the building blocks of a mode that does have the production value of the NBA version of MyCareer. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the W’s rise to greatness.
The City, while a great addition, is far too big. All the players on a server are split amongst 4 different sections of the city, and this can lead to long waits for game or loading into almost empty courts. If you can’t find a game in your section of the city, you can either switch servers or go to another section of the city. If you choose to go to another section, I highly recommend getting a bike, skateboard, hoverboard, or vehicle as walking can take a longtime.
MyNBA is overall a better mode than the MyLeagues of the past, but it still has problems. When starting a franchise in the offseason, superstars such as Giannis and Lebron both become free agents a year too early. Stats show some players such as Kahwi Leonard have played for their current teams in years they played in other places. Every player has their 2019 stats duplicated and show players playing in year they were not in the league. In such a highly polished game these are weird oversights that would annoy some gamers.
Overall the game is a blueprint on what to do when adding games to a new generation of consoles. Optimize for the console, add new features that weren’t available before, and make sure there’s something for all your different segments of gamers. The revamped MyNBA along with the addition of more WNBA implementation and faster load times are by far the three best additions to this year’s game. I am happy to say the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 is definitely worth it for the aspiring sim gamers out there and provides further hope for an intriguing future for the NBA 2K series.