The months of September and October will mark the third title on the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 for a number of major sports franchises, including NBA 2K. NBA 2K23 looks to be a star on the platform, and that’s not just because Michael Jordan is on one of the covers. This year’s title was touted to change the game in a number of ways, including the implementation of tweaks to The City and MyTeam, historical teams that can be used in MyNBA, and the return of the Jordan Challenge.
After time with NBA 2K23, we can see that 2K does hit some shots where it needed to for this year. But, this year’s version also comes with its misses, with some not being so small.
Small gameplay changes make a significant difference
If there was one thing that was rampantly apparent in NBA 2K21 and 2K22, it was that the gameplay engine was ripe for abuse. Ranging from an AI that led to cheese in 1v1 action, to builds and animations that became the norm in the meta, the gameplay system needed a shakeup after modest tweaks last year.
Shot meters have been altered a bit for NBA 2K23, thanks in part to a new visual meter that simply needs to be filled up before releasing the button and/or analog stick. A second gameplay addition, one that affects preferred release time, makes a much larger difference. Now, users who tend to release a bit earlier or later by happenstance can now actually get a boost, provided that this option is made use of. Don’t worry, though, as excellent timing still offers the best possible chance of making a basket. However, this added bonus does make shooting slightly more variable and should lead to more shots being made as a whole.
Additionally, AI defenders do seem to do a better job of staying with ballhandlers, as well as those players off the ball, too. An apparent exploit over the past two years was how effectively easy it was to abuse the AI, especially with cheesy plays like a pick and roll. Now, it will be a bit more of a grind, especially if you’re looking to upgrade that MyPlayer.
Takeover MyTeam with new features
MyTeam in NBA 2K23 returns with some familiar traits, like card grading and seasons. But, there’s a bunch that is also new for MyTeam, as well.
Exhibitions are another way to send out cards in MyTeam, but doing so won’t lead to an MT boost. Instead, users can have their cards “sent out” at exhibition events, and when those items return, players can earn in-game items such as card packs. It might sound a bit Pokémon-ish, but another alternative to grind the old-fashioned way is helpful.
Contracts — a big waste of virtual currency — have been removed for 2K23. Other CCG game modes like Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) and Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) have removed the existence of contracts over the past few years, and it’s nice to see 2K take a cue from its competitors. Token rewards, as well as Trophies and collections, also provide a nice way for free-to-play users to flesh out a squad for online play right off the bat, as well as in the future.
MyTeam is still, however, heavily dominated by those pesky microtransactions. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the landscape of CCG modes not just in 2K games, but across the sports game landscape as a whole. Sure, the grind is not as bad as it was in the past. Although, the amount of time needed to collect cards, XP, and wins for new Takeover cards is incredibly time-consuming.
MyCareer takes another dive into The City
Since the release of NBA 2K21 for the Xbox Series X/S and PS5, 2K has gone big and bold with MyCareer. Sure, it’s retained much of the cinematic flavor of cutscenes and storytelling, but it’s also made waves with The City, a re-imagined version of The Neighborhood that looks and feels very much like an open-world environment seen in a non-sports triple-A gaming title.
NBA 2K22’s version of The City certainly came with its critics for a litany of reasons, including the time-consuming process of roaming around the town to do quests. 2K cleaned up some of those things, including adding a fast travel feature, moving the affiliation courts to the corners of the town, and reducing the size of The City by 30 percent. Still, it feels very much like a slog to get around.
Quests are back for NBA 2K23, with some making sense, and others just downright bizarre. Sure, there’s some logic behind going to the Gatorade Center to train and putting in work with an elite trainer like Chris Brickley. From a business standpoint, it also does seem plausible to collaborate with musicians and companies to land endorsements. Others, on the other hand, like making TikTok videos and going on a date with your manager/girlfriend (yes, you read that correctly), and needing to hit A or X five times to move past each can feel exhausting.
This might sound like nitpicking, but it does take time away from playing the game, honing on-the-court skills, and making hay towards obtaining VC. And considering that maxed-out ratings on builds now can cost around $100 if you feel like skipping the grind, that time wasted on dates can add up over time.
Back to the golden era of basketball
2K has hit slam dunks for years, going back to the late 2000s with its various sports games, on franchise modes. That remains true for 2K23, thanks to the addition to MyNBA eras. Rather than playing in the modern-day, users can start either in 2022, 2002, 1992, or 1982, and watch the league evolve, and change the course of history for good.
Sport management games like Out of the Park Baseball and Football Manager have made big gains in recent years, thanks in part to major triple-A sports games neglecting franchise modes at the expense of other features. Seeing 2K and the development team at Visual Concepts add a feature like this is a massive win for those who still love to manage a team of their very own.
And speaking of the past, the Jordan Challenge returning to NBA 2K23 also feels like a big win. Not only does this mode allow for earning cheap MyTeam rewards, but it also works as a de facto training ground for newcomers, and a WWE-like showcase to one of the game’s greats.
Now that we are in the third year of NBA 2K on the current generation of consoles, it was going to be interesting to see how 2K tweaked its franchise after two years of feedback. Having seen NBA 2K23 in its fullness, it’s quite tough to pin down the future of this product.
New features in MyTeam and MyNBA do make these modes much more desirable, and the gameplay is about as smooth and fun as it has been in years. But, the deficiencies in a core game mode like MyCareer, and the microtransaction-heavy environment drags down the title.
6.5 / 10
|+||Weaknesses in gameplay have been tampered down|
|+||New features in MyNBA and MyTeam support the game well|
|–||Core game modes still feel like a chore at times|
|–||MyCareer and The City is a mixed bag|
|–||A wonky story and long-winded cutscenes|