NBA 2K21 Review- A Look at the Last Game of a Generation

If you are someone who doesn’t like change, then 2020 probably hasn’t been your year so far. That might have recently changed if you’re a fan of NBA 2K21’s MyLeague or MyGM game modes. Of course, we would like to see new features added to these modes every year, but this is not a normal year. With the global pandemic undoubtedly creating obstacles with development and the release of next-gen consoles just months away, it’s not surprising that MyLeague and MyGM remain mostly identical to NBA 2K20.

The aforementioned circumstances are in addition to the ever-increasing competition for resources that non-monetized game modes face every development cycle. This competition seems to become more ferocious as game modes like MyTeam and MyPlayer become more popular.

Does NBA 2K21 stand a chance of getting a great rating given the current situation? Or will it merely receive a passing grade reflective of the times? I feel that it will once again stand out from other sports titles because of its deep and immersive franchise mode, MyLeague. 

The Good

Features

MyLeague & MyGM

If indeed the 2K executives never really planned on allocating resources to current-gen, then I suppose a positive is that they didn’t remove anything from MyLeague, MyLeague Online, or MyGM. MyLeague has always taken the crown as the best franchise sim of any sport on console. In its final showing on the current-gen, it doesn’t disappoint.

The new Shared MyLeague feature is something that might have a future on next-gen consoles. It wasn’t announced prior to the game’s release, but it has already gained traction on YouTube. It allows the user to upload their progress in MyLeague as challenges for others in the community. For more info, check out the YouTube video from The Goods below.

The new boom-bust progression system is a welcomed addition to MyLeague that allows for dynamic player progression. When simulating a few seasons and comparing that to others, it was clear that every session is unique.

MyCareer

Once again MyCareer struts big-name actors such as The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and PS4 Exclusive Detroit Become Human’s Jesse Williams. Of course, as a sim gamer, I would much rather due without these types of frills. I would rather see those resources put into franchise-based features.

The inclusion of college teams in MyCareer is a welcome addition to the mode this year. Another plus is the removal of some filler aspects – this keeps you in the action more and working towards the ultimate goal. 

WNBA

NBA 2K21 gives the user control of the WNBA rosters for the first time. We are given the ability to edit and apply NBA dunk packages to female athletes. This is just the beginning of what must be done for the sake of the game and for the success of the WNBA. Video games have played a big part in the continued success of many professional sports leagues – and this will be another thanks to 2K.  

Gameplay

Pro Stick

I would argue that the biggest change to the entire game is the addition of the Pro Stick shooting mechanic. It is by far the hardest it’s ever been for me to hit jump shots, but the challenge is a welcomed change in my opinion.

Pro-Stick shooting is about aiming. The release window’s placement on the shooting meter moves depending on the shooter’s position on the court, and how contested the shot is. When attempting a shot, you have to direct the right stick toward the “sweet spot” on the shooting meter. If you miss either to the left or right, your shot goes wide in the corresponding direction.

Luckily, 2K considered we might not accept it, and allowed the use of square and circle with a new slingshot timing meter.  I am most likely in the minority because I am in favor of it – especially after the hotfix. Take a look at Sam Pham’s YouTube channel for great tutorials and especially how to use the new Pro Stick.

Movement and Dribbling

The fluidity by which the players move on the court feels great in 2K21. The most notable difference is in the dribbling system and the newly polished right stick. It allows the user to attempt more dribble sequences as efficiently as possible. It feels more free and natural, therefore, it’s more fun – but still takes skill. No more accidental shots when attempting dribble moves.

AI Movement & Paint Defense

The movement and ball movement of the AI is methodical and specific to different teams around the league – they really work to get the open shot. There is an obvious upgrade in this category this year – perhaps a sneak peek into what is to come on next-gen machines. 

I have noticed that it’s much harder to drive into the paint when going up against the computer defense. Recently I’ve had too many blocked shots to admit and have been completely walled out on countless drives. All of this has led me to enjoy playing more and more against the computer.

The Bad

Features

MyLeague & MyGM

Okay, so 2K didn’t remove anything of consequence from these two modes as I mentioned earlier. But they didn’t add anything of consequence either. Let’s just hope that they have something saved for next-gen that’s going to blow us away – something other than just graphical upgrades.

I feel we might be let down as sim gamers; this probably doesn’t surprise anyone. Historically, I feel that sports games released at or near system launch tend to lack depth and quality. Despite the marketing claims by 2K, this might definitely be the case with 2K21 on next-gen consoles – and exacerbated by the pandemic, as I mentioned in the introduction.  

MyLeague Carry Over Saves – Not in the Game

This is a feature that is on my wish list for every sports game (except MLB The Show, it’s already in the game) every year. I want to be able to carry over my franchise progress to the following release. This would be an especially cool feature to have with MyLeague Online and MyGM.

I argue that it’s such a great feature that it would only increase sales of the game. This is because sim gamers put many hours into their franchise saves and don’t want to lose their progress. But they still want the most recent version of the game. If this feature isn’t available, a sim gamer might decide not to buy the most current game and continue their franchise save – thus, one less copy sold. 

WNBA

We still can’t create a female MyPlayer and the season and playoff modes are lacking depth. I feel there might be a nice surprise in the next-gen game – it is well overdue and the time is now. 

MyGM

Last year some fun, light RPG elements, and a smart action point system were added to the game. I would have enjoyed seeing 2K build on this. This year’s version of the mode is pretty much a copy-and-paste.

Gameplay

On Ball Defense

This aspect of the game has become a little worse in NBA 2K21. Although player movement feels more fluid than ever, there is not quite enough organic control of the defender when covering the ball handler. This results in too much incidental contact or running into your man. This is an unfortunate way of staying with or covering your man and diminishes the one on one matchup. 

Presentation and Sound

Game Commentary and Presentation

Much of the in-game commentary is a copy and paste of the previous installment. The pre-game show, player intros, halftime show, and anthem are identical to 2K20. One of the first issues I noticed with 2K21 was the very basic menus. This isn’t normally something I care about, but when it’s this bad, apparently I take note. Although these are not bad in their own right, the culmination of the various untouched details leaves more to be desired. 

Visuals

Nothing Surprising

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point of the current-gen lifecycle. There is nothing of note to mention regarding graphical quality – at this point, the game has tapped the console for everything it’s worth. Aside from a few new tattoos and some different hairstyles, this game is visually identical to NBA 2K20. Hence, the need and the imminent release of next-gen consoles this holiday season. 

NBA 2K21 Verdict

Since I can only evaluate this from my frame of reference, which is that of someone who only plays simulation-style game modes – I can only evaluate the game on that premise. Because the two sim-style game modes, MyLeague and MyGM, have gone mainly unchanged in 2K21, you might think I would say not to buy it. Well…you would be wrong. It’s hard to improve on a mode that is just so good, not that there isn’t room for improvement – there always is.

I would have thought so myself at first – writing this review has helped me to see that I have more good things to say about it than bad. Two big parts of recommending this game are the Pro Stick and the fact that they didn’t remove any big features from the best in class MyLeague. Coming partially from an EA Madden Football background, I have been used to a series that removes more features than it adds. Therefore, the amazingly deep MyLeague is reason enough for me to recommend NBA 2K21 to my fellow sim-sports gamers. 

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