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NBA 2K18 Review

The NBA 2K series has long been the best game in town.  From a gameplay standpoint, NBA 2K18 carries this torch onward.  There’s no doubt about it.  After playing a considerable amount of both NBA2K and NBA Live this year, I still prefer 2K’s brand of ball.  However, this is a series that is getting dangerously close to overstepping what is considered ethical in terms of microtransactions for a full priced game.  For the last half decade or so, NBA 2K has been edging closer and closer to these practices with this year feeling like the most egregious in terms of the many gameplay systems, progression, and customization options that are so closely tied to a virtual currency that they sell to fans.

As they’ve been doing for quite some time, Visual Concepts has really just been dialing in the on the court gameplay for the NBA 2K series.  The start of this console generation probably marked the point where the on the court visuals and gameplay came together to form basketball nirvana — a game that looks and plays incredibly realistically.  It wasn’t quite perfect, as to reach that milestone many of the features found in the last-gen game were shed sacrificially.  Though as console generations go, more resources start being shifted away from visuals and gameplay systems and developers start to rebuild the feature sets for the game.  NBA 2K18 is probably the most feature rich game of the generation, with all of the great gameplay and presentation aspects of the last few years.  That said, what features Visual Concepts decided to dedicate most of their time to in this release are somewhat questionable as they almost all include some sort of ties to the virtual currency system of the game…at least the most popular ones do.

The popular MyCareer mode is the one that seems to have gotten downright rotten in its exploitation of players and the attempt to funnel them towards microtransactions by using free-to-play tactics at almost every corner.  With every single thing tied to Virtual Currency,  MyCareer is an incredible grind that starts you out as lowly NBA hopeful.  Your initial player isn’t much fun to play with and the game tempts you to become better through playing in NBA games and doing exercise and practice mini-games.  If it didn’t have such a slow progression for those that don’t pony up extra cash, it would be a pretty incredible experience.  But the sheer number of games you need to play to make just an 85 rated player is so mind-numbingly high that most people can’t even conceive playing 300-400 games at around 30-40 minutes a piece.  So instead you can attempt to do the many mini-games, drills or exercises.  These are poorly constructed tasks that are both frustrating to play and the equivalent of actually working a job.  2K makes the proposition so tempting to skip doing these tasks because they’re so tedious that its a no-brainer for people with expendable income.  Buying your way to a high level player isn’t cheap either, we spent around 150,000 VC ( approximately $100 worth) on our player and we’re still just above a 70.

Like other years, however, 2K is offering everything for sale.  There’s a new world for NBA 2K’s MyCareer mode in The Neighborhood.  Here’s where you’ll find all of the shops to spend virtual currency on cosmetic items, the practice facility, playground, workout gym, and other areas.  There are a bunch of little tweaks that we’ve seen between this year’s game and last year’s, that all seem like they’re tightening the rewards for players and trying to make them pay.  Things like haircuts, for example.  You can’t preview a haircut for your player.  You simply drop 500 Virtual Currency on it and hope for the best.  Same goes for facial hair and hair color.  With no preview ability, I could see our experience, one that we spent around 3000 VC (around $1.20) getting a combination that we liked, being par for the course.  Better yet, if you purchase one and change to another you have to purchase it again if you want to go back.  There is a real life virtual barbershop in NBA 2K18.  Simple quality of life things could be done here to make this not feel so egregious but at every turn there’s a sense that it’s all designed to either make you grind or give in and pay.  In previous years 2K gave players more opportunities to earn this currency that didn’t have you doing time consuming, boring tasks.  Honestly, this whole review could be about how far reaching this mode is when it comes to microtransactions, and how everything feels designed with intention to make people spend more than the $60 entry fee.  Just know that if MyCareer is your mode, this is the absolute worst it’s ever been in terms of microtransactions and the free to play elements have been tightened accordingly to try and force your hand.

That said, there’s still a lot that Visual Concepts does well in NBA 2K18.   There’s a ton of ways to play this excellent basketball game that doesn’t include ever even touching the MyCareer Mode. Some of them are really good, others not so much.  The new “Next Chapter” GM Mode is an interesting first offering for a story-based, RPG-lite experience.  It takes your player from MyCareer and then gives them a career ending injury, pushing them to the front office of your favorite NBA team.  There you’ll be handling all of the GM duties, plus have the ability to play in the games.  You’ll be handling things like conversations with the owner, players, press, and other aspects of the NBA that have different branching options.  It’s quite ambitious in its implementation, but being a text-only affair is a little off-putting.  That said it is as deep as any career mode out there, giving you the chance to handle almost every aspect of running an NBA team.

The Next Chapter narrative driven mode is one option in franchise but it’s not the only one.  You can play an 80-year franchise mode in MyLeague.  MyLeague online also has an online option that allows for a fully customizable league to play with friends.  There’s a single season mode and a playoff mode as well.  When the NBA Season begins, anyone can jump into a season from the current date, which uses all of the current stats, standings and injuries of the real NBA.

One mode that keeps getting deeper year-in and year-out for this game is in MyTeam.  2K’s spin on Ultimate Team allows players to build a team through  a roster of players and earn card packs to continually improve upon it.  This mode has ton of depth to it in NBA 2K18.  There are numerous single player and multiplayer modes to take on.  These include a number of different single player challenges, online tournaments, and an interesting mode that allows you to put together a random team on the fly and play online in playoff mode that requires you to win a certain amount of games against random online opponents to progress and win exclusive rewards.  All the way around MyTeam is a lot of fun to play, even though it does have ties to virtual currency there’s so much to do that you can easily sustain your team’s contracts and it’s a lot of fun to build out the team and try to earn high level cards.

Of course, if you want to avoid all of this virtual currency stuff and just play the game there are numerous “Play Now” modes, which include against the computer or online.  All-Star Team Up returns for 5v5 online play, and there’s a locker room functionality once again that allows you to party up before heading into a private or public match.  There’s definitely no shortage of modes to play in NBA 2K18.

On the court, this game is a lot of fun to play.  It’s definitely got a learning curve, even if you’ve been playing every year.  Shot timers are different for each player and that can be a little jarring for newcomers to the series.  It can be quite difficult to hit the easiest shots because of how punishing the system is for those that can’t quite get the timing down.  Even lay-ups require precision release of either the button or the stick.  It is a system that rewards mastery, so learning the ins and outs of the players on your favorite team is a must for success.  Minor graphical issues aside NBA 2K18 is a great looking game that hits so many of the little details of the NBA.  From player specific shoes to tatoos and haircuts, it’s not just the movements that Visual Concepts has got dialed in, it’s every little nook and cranny on the court.  What does feel like it’s going to need improvement in future releases is everything else outside of that.  As they get more ambitious in their story mode offerings, they’re gonna need to get on par with other single player games.  Right now animations and voice acting are sub-par when compared to purely single player experiences and in many cases can feel a generation old.

Despite it’s shortcomings NBA 2K18 is a game that is very familiar to recent entries in the series in terms of features and overall quality.  The new GM mode is a welcome addition but we’d like to see a little bit more love put into it to really make it shine.  While it’s hard to forgive some of NBA 2K18 flaws the best-in-class gameplay will most certainly keep you coming back for more.

The Verdict

2K Sports is getting absolutely brazen with their community, testing the limits of what they’ll put up with in terms of microtransactions in 2K18.  Thankfully it doesn’t persist into every mode, because there’s a lot of good ones to compliment the excellent gameplay and presentation.

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