The problem annual sports games face is how to get players to buy another installment year after year. You don’t want to risk alienating longtime fans by changing too much. But you also have to improve upon the overall experience enough to justify the purchase. The developers of NBA 2K19 have taken the approach of subtly fine-tuning the gameplay.
Visual Concepts has produced the best and most realistic basketball games over the last few years. With NBA 2K19, the developers have balanced the attacking and defensive side of the game almost perfectly.
Defending is no longer as easy as just jockeying an opposing player. You now have to carefully manage your stamina and choose when to strike so that you have the best opportunity to regain the ball. The players all have a weight to them that makes them feel all that more authentic. This ensures that when jostling and stealing, collisions have genuine impact.
One of the new additions is a Takeover meter. This adds a new dynamic to gameplay by changing the morale and form of a player. Those who are playing well and scoring all of their shots will get some extra boosts.
However, if you are blowing cold you might be affected by a Takeover type that lowers your chances of hitting the net or performing that block properly. Get into the flow of a game and big name players can suddenly become far more potent, replicating the real-world moments when players can grab hold of a game and single-handedly change the momentum.
MyCareer is perhaps the mode that people most want to get to grips with when they buy an NBA 2K game. The overarching narrative in these titles can vary wildly. Sometimes they are great and other times they are just plain unrealistic with the kind of writing you wouldn’t expect to see in such a high school play. This one is better than most. It sees a character called Al heading to China after failing to be drafted in the hope that he can find another route to the NBA. The story isn’t exactly high quality, but it does its job of keeping you entertained between games.
The handling of MyCareer feels better than its predecessor. The hub overworld is far more accessible and the user interface cleaner, with the ultimate goal of making it easier to find what you want to do. Overall, this game mode has seen a significant improvement even if it isn’t exactly revolutionary.
Rounding out the rest of the game modes are Franchise, Blacktop, 2KU, and MyGM. All of these have made an appearance before so players will likely be familiar with them, especially considering that nothing has really changed. It’s something of a missed opportunity in the case of MyGM, which still plays very much as if it were an afterthought added at the last minute.
Microtransactions have a terrible reputation in modern gaming and even when done right, their inclusion has the ability to completely divide a fanbase. The NBA 2K series has slowly been introducing microtransactions to the series over the last couple of years and the 2018 installment caused some controversy. In this latest entry in the franchise, the developers have done little to limit these paid extras and they are now as prominent as ever.
These microtransactions are the most pervasive in the MyCareer mode. Using the in-game currency known as VC it is possible to buy upgrades for your player. While the usual excuse has been trotted out, that these paid-for upgrades are only meant to allow impatient players to get access to content sooner, it doesn’t wash here.
NBA 2K19 appears to have been deliberately designed in such a way that you are practically pushed into purchasing more VC to spend on your player. Not doing so will mean playing the game in a state that isn’t enjoyable. At the low level that Al starts at, playing basketball is a chore. Even the most basic of actions end in failure more often than not, something that just wouldn’t happen with an athlete of this level.
Then you get to MyTeam. This is 2K’s answer to EA Ultimate Team and it has taken a similar approach trying to get players to spend their money. It doesn’t quite have the depth of what you will find in FIFA or Madden but is still perfectly playable and it provides a nice way to compete with your friends.
Yet, it too suffers from microtransactions. Earning enough currency to buy new packs and gain access to new players is a painfully slow process, one that many might be tempted to buy their way out of.
NBA 2K19 is arguably the best basketball game to ever be released. The gameplay is absolutely stellar, finely balanced so that neither attack nor defense has the ultimate upper hand.
In terms of visuals, this title also excels. Player animation in particular is outstanding and I didn’t notice any performance issues.
Of course, there are some other issues with the game, like the invasive microtransactions and ragged game modes like MyGM. They don’t take away from the overall package too much, although this would be a far better game if those issues were addressed.