One of the biggest criticisms that the NBA 2K franchise faces annually is its stagnation. Whether it be similar gameplay, not enough new animations, or the same experiences in many modes, the series often faces a ton of backlash each year from fans who want something new.
However, with its latest release, NBA 2K23, developer Visual Concepts seems to have heard the fanbase. This game features some brand new ways to play the game, the return of some classic modes, and enhancements to some core modes that have been needing some love.
After going hands-on with the game over the past couple of days, it’s pretty clear that this is one of the best versions of the formula in quite some time, if not ever. However, there is still one big, glaring issue that holds this game back from being the best it can be.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by 2K Games. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
NBA 2K23: What’s good
First things first, it’s important to note that NBA 2K23’s most important job is to emulate the world of professional basketball, and in that regard, it succeeds almost perfectly. Unlike other games that seem to jump forward in design or gameplay standpoints, NBA 2K23 can only change so much without completely going away from the sport.
The first thing you’ll notice when you step onto the court of NBA 2K23 is how incredible it looks. If you’re playing on a current-gen console like the Xbox Series X, there’s little argument in saying that this is the best a basketball game has ever looked.
Lights and cameras bounce off the environment, revealing various nicks and scratches along the court. The crowd reacts to every miss with the intensity you find in a real game, and even something as mundane as the advertisement banners or commentary table looks realistic. While that might not be a big deal to some, it is often the selling point of the game to be as realistic as possible, and NBA 2K23 nails this.
|Players||Single-player, local/online multiplayer|
|Release date||Sept. 9, 2022|
|Platforms||Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC|
|Xbox Game Pass||No|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
However, right on par with how the game looks is how the game plays, and for the past couple of years, a main criticism of the NBA 2K series is that it just doesn’t feel like real basketball. Thankfully, that’s changed this year, as the game’s attention to detail seems to have been raised by a healthy amount.
Overall, gameplay feels much better than it has in past years, with the game having a more weighty feel. While it’s been difficult for Visual Concepts to find the perfect balance between the more heavy, real-life aspects of basketball and the arcade-style play of its past games, NBA 2K23 feels like the closest it’s gotten to a perfect match.
Perhaps one of the biggest new inclusions from a gameplay perspective is the adrenaline boost feature. Simply put, this new system adds three adrenaline bars underneath the player you’re controlling, allowing you three bursts of speed with the ball in your hands on any given possession.
In past years, this speed burst ability was heavily used, and often times abused, in online modes like the Park and Pro-Am. Now, players need to be much smarter about timing and be much more skillful when it comes to dribbling to succeed. While some might not be a fan of the change, it’s been a welcome addition for me and has made online play significantly more fun, especially knowing that somebody won’t be constantly using the same tactics to try and score.
The concept of adrenaline boost is just one of many changes made to the game’s offensive skillsets. After focusing on defensive changes and enhancements in last year’s release, NBA 2K23 turned its attention to the offensive side of the game. The biggest and most obvious upgrade when you first play is the introduction of the enhancements to the game’s Pro Stick.
The Pro Stick (or right analog stick) houses most of NBA 2K’s more complex dribbling moves, and in 2K23, two new skills — double throws and switchbacks — have been added, giving you much more mobility and finesse when you’re moving with the ball. New additions allow the player to hop-step much more smoothly past a defender, or quickly scoop the ball up and into the basket before a defender can adjust to your movement. If you’re playing as a bigger player, you’ll also see a litany of new layup packages added, with the more stronger players getting the benefit of their strength in the form of new contact animations.
Shooting has gotten a slight overhaul in NBA 2K23 as well, with Visual Concepts tweaking things to reward skill over just simply being open. In past years, players who were wide open would oftentimes succeed regardless of their overall skill level in those categories.
However, this year, a more authentic shooting model was created, with four key pieces — Shot Speed, Release Height, Defensive Immunity, and Timing Impact — taking into account what happens with a shot. Now, each signature jump shot (and each jump shot you create) will have stats tied to those four tenets and will take into account other elements like how quickly your shot gets to its ideal release point, how high the shot is released, how much a defender is contesting your shot, and shot window timing.
While it sounds more complicated spelled out like that, the reality is that those who practice their shots and learn the timing of when to release the ball will be rewarded for it, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Outside of gameplay is the biggest charge 2K Games has focused on this year: the return of the iconic Jordan Challenges. Originally appearing in NBA 2K11 and becoming a beloved mode, these challenges do exactly what they sound like. They put you in the shoes of Michael Jordan throughout many of his legendary moments on the court.
To breathe new life into the mode, NBA 2K23 puts a documentary-like spin on it. Each challenge (there are 15 in total, stretching all the way back to Jordan’s days at the University of North Carolina and up to winning his sixth NBA Championship) features pre-game interviews with different players that were parts of the moment, such as Marv Albert, Bill Walton, Dennis Rodman, and Phil Jackson.
Alongside the added moments and interviews, the actual broadcasting style for each moment is different than anything NBA 2K23 offers. For example, the second moment, which focuses on a 1984 Team USA basketball scrimmage, has filters in the game (you can turn them off if you wish) that make it feel like you’re playing on an older television. Commentators are also swapped out, with coach and analyst Mike Fratello appearing in a few.
It’s an incredible addition to the game both in terms of how well it’s been updated, and how fun it is to simply relive or experience for the first time (at least for those too young to have played in 2011) some of the best moments from the greatest player to ever play the sport. Diehard basketball fans such as myself will love getting to not only learn about these pivotal moments, but play them out in a retro style that has been incredibly fun to experience.
The deep dive into the history and legend of basketball don’t stop there. NBA 2K23’s game franchise mode — dubbed MyNBA — has also gotten an interesting tweak. MyNBA allows players to start up a franchise with any team and run them how they like en route to a potential title. However, this year, players can do it in one of four different eras: the early 1980s and beyond known as The Magic vs. Bird Era; the 1990s, called The Jordan Era; the 2000s being The Kobe Era; and, of course, the modern era. Each era puts you right at the forefront, mostly in NBA Drafts that featured legendary players, to help give you a kickstart.
It’s a neat addition to the game and is bound to give players a ton of replay value, especially due to how many “what-ifs” you can accomplish in the process. For example, you can split up the iconic Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal duo before their dynastic run in Los Angeles, or perhaps take Michael Jordan #1 overall in the NBA Draft as the Houston Rockets in 1984. While the bones of the franchise mode remain mostly the same, the introduction of Eras is a welcome change.
MyCareer is also back, but this time around, you’re in the shoes of a player who was drafted to a team over another that the fanbase desperately wanted. This kicks off a budding rivalry between you and the other player (named Shep Owens), and acts as the overarching narrative throughout MyCareer.
Similar to past years, most of MyCareer’s content is housed within NBA 2K’s hub known as The City. Thankfully though, things are scaled down quite a bit. While The City’s map is still relatively big, it’s been compressed to allow for better mobility and to get you to places faster. This includes the new arena that sits squarely in the middle of The City, and is perhaps one of the biggest and most enjoyable changes to the mode.
Unlike past years of NBA 2K that have seen your NBA games and immediately throw you into a media interview, this year things are much different. Prior to the start of your game, you’ll be tossed into the arena itself, and have the ability to move around the facility, including heading into the locker room to change, pick up upgrades, and more before heading onto the court.
After the games, you can come back and change clothes and decide whether or not to talk to the media, depending on any in-game objectives. While it’s a mostly mundane change, it goes a long way towards making it feel like you’re actually an NBA player instead of just being forced to sit through the same dialogue options over and over as in past years.
Elsewhere in NBA 2K23, one of the game’s more popular modes, MyTeam, is back, and is more or less the same as fans remember it. Fans can continue to build up their own custom team by collecting cards, doing so by either completing challenges, competing in events, or buying packs with real-life money.
Unfortunately, while many great changes have been included in both MyCareer and MyTeam, the looming presence of NBA 2K23’s biggest problem overshadows what should be a stellar year.
NBA 2K23: What’s not good
Perhaps the biggest complaint that the NBA 2K franchise as a whole gets every year is that the game is extremely reliant on VC, or virtual currency, which you can earn in the game and that essentially dominates how you play. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed at all in NBA 2K23.
Packs in MyTeam are no different than they’ve been in past entries, with mostly every high-end card locked behind the virtual paywall and the odds tilted way against you in whether you’ll pull them. This often results in people spending a lot to pull packs and get the cards they want.
Of course, MyTeam can be played for free in its entirety with the most basic of cards and you’ll still have a fun time. That cannot be said for MyCareer, though.
From the very start of MyCareer, it’s still very clear that VC is something you’ll need to truly experience the best of what NBA 2K23 has to offer. While you can earn a decent amount of VC from playing MyCareer gaes, the cost of upgrading your player to higher levels is impossible to hit if you play without spending money.
Combined with how your MyCareer player is also how you play in places like the Park and Pro-Am, you’re almost pressured into having to spend more money in order to progress. Compounding the problem is the fact that NBA 2K23 locks so much of its customization options behind VC. Wanting to buy a pair of shoes, new clothes, or even putting tattoos on your players all cost VC, with some items costing well over 10,000 VC, which equates to nearly $5 of real-world money.
It’s a shame, as well, because NBA 2K23 is likely one of the best games of the entire franchise, a history that stretches back more than 20 years. If you want to truly experience all it has to offer, though, you’ll almost certainly have to pay up for it.
NBA 2K23: Should you play it?
The case for whether or not you should play NBA 2K23 ultimately depends on just how much you love basketball. If you’re a diehard fan of the sport, there are tons of great historical nuggets to experience thanks to the revamped Jordan Challenges and new additions to MyNBA. If you’re someone looking to just casually play, this will also quench that thirst, as the new additions to gameplay and full inclusion of things like the WNBA are great.
However, if you’re looking to get the fullest and most rewarding experience out of modes like MyCareer and MyTeam, you should know before going in that you’ll likely be pressured to spend more money due to the game’s heavy reliance on microtransactions.
Outside of that one glaring and very large caveat, however, it’s hard to deny that NBA 2K23 is one of the best entries in the series’ long history, and should be checked out by any and all basketball fans.