Perhaps largely thanks to coronavirus, NBA 2K21 is the least essential entry in the long-running sports series yet.
With the 2020 NBA season delayed, there’s no point in buying NBA 2K21 for an updated roster, at least not yet anyway. And across the board, its game modes aren’t dramatically different from last year’s NBA 2K20. In fact, most of them are pretty much exactly the same. There is one change that’s pretty major though: a new skill-based shot system. Though whether it makes the game any better is questionable.
No longer is taking a shot simply an act of timing. Now, you also need to aim when you shoot. After pulling down on the right stick to ready up your shot, you then need to aim left or right before releasing when a mark is in the centre of a target area. Be just a slightly off either way, and unless your shooting stats are high, chances are that ball is not going to go in the hoop. And compounding your possible shooting woes is the fast that the shot gauge is really small and so isn’t always clearly visible.
As you can probably imagine, the new shooting system is at its worst in the beginning of MyCareer, where your low stats will often make it feel like it’s impossible to score unless your aiming is absolutely perfect. It really puts a dampener on things. Still, it’s not a bad system on paper and, once you’ve got used to it, it does make play feel more skilful. If you really don’t gel with it you can shoot with a face button like always, holding then releasing the button when it’s in the target area, but it’s generally even more tricky to score that way.
Outside of the new shot system, the right analogue stick can also now be used to pull off some fancy moves when dribbling the ball. Aside from that though, NBA 2K21 plays pretty much the same as NBA 2K20, which is to say that it provides a good game of basketball. Sometimes playing defence can still feel a bit sloppy, but on the whole there’s not much to complain about. It’s easy to pick up, but offers considerable depth for those looking to master its systems.
You could probably say that the on-court action has become a bit stale, but a revolution was never going to happen in a year, and even more so this year, all things considered. It will be exciting to see how the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 pans out though. If you’re planning on getting either a Xbox Series S|X or PS5 later this year, you might want to hold on, or purchase the Mamba Forever Edition that nets you both current and next-gen versions.
Now, modes. MyTeam is back, and now it has seasons. Other than that, and an improved presentation, it’s pretty business as usual. Some will love it, as it offers a lengthy challenge and has a nice range of single-player and online modes. Those who aren’t into collecting cards, however, will probably loathe it, and if you do play online you might find yourself drawn to buying VC to give you an increased chance of success. Apparently you’ll be able to carry your cards, etc. to the next-gen version of the game, which is nice.
Then you have MyCareer. Creating your own player is enjoyable as ever, but the story they’re inserted into is getting a bit tiresome. Once again you’re a promising player and must realise your potential, but numerous obstacles challenge you, including building a career in the shadow of your father’s success. It’s beginning to feel a little trite, giving you little motivation to trudge your way through it. The slow rate at which you accumulate VC to improve your player doesn’t help, either. You can skip straight to The Neighbourhood if you wish though, which remains pretty much the same functionally but has a nice new look.
And finally, aside from the usual options found in Play Now, there’s MyLeague. Once again it encompasses MyGM 2.0 for those who want to get more involved behind-the-scenes, as well as the option to play a full Women’s NBA season. Truth be told, as it’s devoid of any VC-related shenanigans, MyLeague is probably where you’ll have the most fun playing NBA 2K21. If you’ve explored it in NBA 2K20 though, you’ll struggle to find anything new of note.
It wouldn’t be a NBA 2K-whatever review without mentioning bugs, would it? During my time playing, I’ve had a player on the opposing team constantly making fouls, which I didn’t mind so much because of all the free throws. I’ve also had the camera linger on audience members or players for far too long during stops in play, and moments where the CPU just stood motionless, dribbling the ball like they were having some kind of existential crisis. Perhaps the most amusing bug, however, is the occasional swooshing of players’ clothes when pressing buttons to leave menus.
Needless to say, NBA 2K21 isn’t free of technical issues. One in particular may be truly worrisome if you buy the Mamba Forever Edition though. Many players, including myself, haven’t received the bonus digital items, including 100,000 VC. You can raise a ticket with 2K to hopefully resolve the issue if you’re affected, but you really shouldn’t have to jump through such hoops after spending such a considerable amount of money.
So, to wrap things up, NBA 2K21 provides a good game of basketball, though its new skill shot system will thrill some players while frustrating others. MyTeam has had a bit of a refresh, which is nice, but MyCareer is really beginning to feel stale. Also, they both still rely too much on VC. Outside of that, there’s little to note that’s different to NBA 2K20, so owners of that might want to think twice before picking it up. Hopefully the next-gen version will offer up more incentives to stump up the cash.