It has been a week since the release of 2K’s NBA 2K20, and it has been a rough launch for this year’s only basketball title. Not only did it have to contend with bad PR brought about by adding gambling mini-games, the state of the game itself was pretty bad at launch to say the least. There were reports of bugs: numerous load-times, ridiculously long load times, and issues with the MyCareer progression, not to mention that 2K’s server could not handle the number of people trying to log in.
Truth be told, I didn’t have much problems at launch because I barely play MyTeam, occasionally play MyCareer, and focus instead on MyLeague. But any game requiring a day one patch with a size of 78 GB has got to be pretty broken, especially since the patch is nearly double the size of the base game data. In view of that, I decided to wait for a week before really delving deep into the game in order to give it some chance to regain some of its credibility. But as late as last weekend, there’s still new patches (around 23 GB this time) coming. So the question remains…..is the game worth it?
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I find myself very conflicted especially since I see that NBA 2K20 has two faces: one of a good basketball simulation that is literally the consumer’s only choice this year; the other of a fiercely monetized game that not only encourages microtransactions, but is actually built around it, with everything else taking a back seat. That level of greed is actually the root of the problem in this game: to truly enjoy MyCareer and MyTeam, you need to have a decently rated player you can use to go against other people. But instead of letting players grind out their stats in games and exercise mini-games, you need to use in-game currency called VC to increase your ratings. These can be earned both through actions and ratings in MyCareer story-line, or even just playing any game.
This progression is made so that people will be looking for a “short-cut”, which means, buying VC with real money. Buying them guarantees the player will have a significant increase in his stats. Buying more of them guarantees that you player will reach a very high rating very quickly. The alternative is grinding it out for VC points that never always seems enough, especially in the early stages.
That is part of the reason why I am personally not crazy for online play and in previous titles, even the MyCareer. I’ve played sports games since the ’90s, and while I enjoyed playing with friends, I always prefer doing it solo. I also prefer to play Franchise Mode to taking the role of a young hot-shot trying to make his way into the NBA. Aside from character progression requiring the use of VC which either needs to be farmed or bought, I always played sports games with “team” in mind.
But if we take away the kind of progression this game has, take away all the VC and microtransaction trash, this is a really good game at its core, supported with a really good MyCareer storyline. Unlike previous years, “When the Lights are Brightest” has a well-written narrative that tells its lessons in a natural way that doesn’t border on preachy. The situations are all believable, the challenges facing the character “Che” are all grounded and it has none of the annoying side-characters of previous years like B-Fresh.
MyCareer feels very forgiving this time around, with the game being easier if you play proper basketball. This means running plays, setting up your team-mates, contributing on both offense and defense. Your performance is still rated, but you don’t get penalized from some actions such as your assignment scoring even after a switch was made on defense (meaning you were no longer defending the player after the switch has been made).
I have seen claims of the game being just NBA 2K19 with new cosmetics and in principle, I agree, but it is really a bit more complicated than that. The series has simply hit a wall in terms of innovation which I assume, is partly caused by their focus on monetizing the game rather than focusing on how better they can actually improve gameplay. But we can also attribute it to 2K simply moving their focus to the next generation of consoles. This game is quite possibly the last installment exclusive to this generation of consoles. It is just natural that any technological or game-play innovation has been shuttered to the next generation coming out next year.
One can argue that instead of focusing on micro-transactions, 2K should have just focused on fixing the gameplay issues that affected 2K19. But let’s call a spade a spade: the gameplay simply wasn’t the priority for the developers. True, there are a lot of new animations and quality-of-life improvements, but anything that requires multiple patches the size of a game file (or even larger) means that someone or some team didn’t do their job right.
Outside of new animations, everything still feels like 2K19 except perhaps the ball physics. The ball now responds properly depending on where it hits during the pass, rebound, and bounce. This results in rather good rebound battles and defensive plays as the ball actually responds to hitting a player’s body. There are also new animations for the crowd, but that’s pretty much it.
There should have been one other new addition that should be mentioned here, except that it has been patched out of the game. When I played the game at launch, the speed is noticeably dialed down. This means that the game feels much more real, as real NBA players don’t really run with the speed of Usain Bolt. But it has since been patched, supposedly due to the demands of You Tube influencers who preferred the game to be as arcade as possible. It has been reportedly re-patched back, but the game still feels too fast.
There are also some subtle changes. Simulating in Association Mode now allows you to determine who wins in that simulated game. This gives you ever more control over the mode for whatever reason you may have for it. I personally welcome the change. What I don’t like, is that they made the 2KTV mandatory. I can’t find the option to toggle them off in the settings, which causes me a lot of grief since I honestly don’t like watching it on the way to a game.
While the inclusion of WNBA was controversial, I actually like the one WNBA mode in MyLeague. Playing as a WNBA team is very refreshing as they have unique animations and the game is different enough to be its own thing. The downside? You can only play one WNBA season. ONE. And you can’t create a WNBA player. Come on, 2K! If you are going to include WNBA in your game, then at least be committed enough to give it a proper treatment.
Nevertheless, I had a good run with that single season despite not knowing about 98% of WNBA players. But I can’t help thinking about what could have been for this title. It has all the ingredients that helped NBA 2K become the dominant basketball video game for two generations, but at the same time, it also feels very bland. Is the series becoming stale, or has 2K simply become lazy? I really do not want to imply that developers who’ve worked long hours to make this title (even a “copy-paste” requires a lot of dev time), but NBA 2K20 seems like the product of people who simply stopped caring. The intention to make a good game can still be felt in certain areas (mostly in the story, and in little things like ball physics), but along the way it seemed as if they just collectively decided to lift everything from 2K19 to finish the process. If that is the case, the huge patches is an accusatory finger reminding them that they’ve failed.
To sum it up, I’ve decided not to make a numbered evaluation of the game, and instead, let the fans decide if this game is worth it. I would say that it is worth it for the MyCareer and MyLeague modes, but everything else seemed like a wasted effort. I love NBA 2K, and I guess I can say that I love 2K20. But unless 2K dials down on aggressive monetization, focusing instead on crafting a progression system that isn’t too exploitative, introduce an equal MyLeague mode for the WNBA or Euro League whichever they will be supporting in the next installment, and focusing on really improving the basketball sim experience, there is a real danger that the fate of NBA Live will befall them.