NBA 2K18 was a low point for the acclaimed franchise. It marked the introduction of the new, incredibly tedious, neighborhood and the disgusting implementation of microtransactions. Needless to say, fans were outraged, even claiming to defect to Live 19. With the new year, NBA 2K19 had so much to prove, for the sake of its reputation and online community. Did NBA 2K19 rise to the occasion, living up to the daunting expectations fans were hoping for? Mostly, but microtransactions still are tied behind major elements that previously could be earned through gameplay in earlier iterations. Let’s get into it:
The Elephant in the Gym
Look, I understand that microtransactions are here to stay. Developers have bills to pay and we now exist in a world where it’s common for games to have some manifestation of additional spending. The problem I have with 2K Sports methods is that players aren’t just looking at cosmetic changes but actual gameplay advantages that come dangerously close to pay-to-win. For a game that costs $60 for the standard edition and $100 for the 20th-anniversary copy, this is an outrageous move. Over the past several years NBA 2K19 has had a focus on its MyCareer. It’s the most popular mode in the 2K community for its park (Recently rebranded “The Neighborhood”) MMO esque features. Since many of the under-the-hood mechanics in MyCareer are RPG systems there involves grinding for better stats and skills.
This grind is no joke, going from the base player rating of 60-65 to a respectable 75-80 is equivalent to level up from 1-50 in any contemporary MMO. Want to get to the max ranking of 99? Don’t count on it. Only a handful of players ever achieve it, and they mention grinding either for months straight or even 18 hours a day. Is there any way around this? Well, you can pay to at least get from 60-85, literally saving dozens of hours, putting themselves well ahead of the competition. I can go on and on but you get the picture. I’ll leave it with one final note: 2K Sports greedy implementation of microtransactions is unprecedented for an AAA title.
There simply is nothing like NBA 2K19’s buttery smooth gameplay in the realm of sports games. 2K19 kicks this facet of the franchise to another level. Driving to the hoop has never been more effective as slashers who cut to the rim can now find greater success with the layup meter. Control on the defensive end on the perimeter has improved substantially, particularly with stealing the ball. In previous years it was common for players to swipe goofily at the ball, hoping to get a tip. There wasn’t really a rhyme or reason for a steal, now players are rewarded for predicting the ball handling of their opponents.
There are still minor quirks that exist as the bane of players, for instance, the awkward loose ball still occurs from defenders positioning themselves like giant mannequins around the dribble. However, it only happens few and far between each possession. In addition, there is now a shot meter that can be switched to appear by your player's hands and/or your player's feet as they shoot. This gives users more options to improve their timing in-game, or they can forgo the hints entirely and eyeball their jumper. These are just a few things the game does fantastically gameplay wise, but this is the definitive basketball simulation experience.
2K has worked wonders improving the created players face, it was always a major gripe I’ve had with the franchise. Your player stood out like a sore thumb around the high fidelity models of real NBA players. Otherwise, the game mostly looks the same as last year with some texture improvements to add on. To anyone not familiar with the series, a game in NBA 2K19 may look astounding lifelike to them. Trust me, I’ve witnessed it at a local barbershop while patrons came in and out stating they didn’t realize the Bulls played toda0y. 2K19 just looks that good.
This year's soundtrack is legit. While Rap is ingrained in the culture of basketball, there is a welcome surprise of genre diversity here. 2K19 brings a soundtrack that hasn’t been this good since 2K16. Featured artists this year are Lil Uzi Vert and G Herbo, with classics from The Dilated People and Mike Jones. The only real issue here is for some reason Visual Concepts decided to take out the ability to play the soundtrack in an NBA game. Or at least, made it much harder to find this year. Otherwise, the tracks are solid enough to add to my Spotify playlist, huge win for 2K19 in this department.
This year the audio has remained mostly the same as the previous. Indeed, it’s high-quality voicework from the commentators, with little repetition occurring. NBA games replicate its real-life counterparts in not only looks but in-game audio as well. Perhaps the glaring flaw here is how lines from previous 2Ks are implemented lazily into the dialog. My player was literally referred to as DJ, the protagonist in 2k18, at practice. While not game breaking it certainly was an odd moment. Shaq, Kenny, and Ernie as stellar as usual. Their chemistry is simply out of this world.
Don’t get it mistaken, 2K19 is a full-blown sports RPG. Your career will certainly be a grind to make your player better overall so prepare to countless hours into earning your badges. Fans will be happy to hear that the MyCareer story this year is much improved over the previous. Additionally, other featured modes such as MyLeague also make a return but can range from solid improvements to immense frustration. For instance, there the MyGM story is a continuation from last year, and while it has some great moments (Your boss is awesome) you will be reading A LOT. I went nearly an hour between cutscenes before seeing any actions on or off the court. Finally, if you enjoyed MyTeam that also makes a return. You will satiate your desire to collect player cards like Pokemon in this mode.
NBA 2K19 is a phenomenal basketball game weighed down back by sleazy microtransactions and an overemphasis on the neighborhood and the wacky items associated with it. Yet, it’s undeniable that you won’t get a better basketball simulator in a video game elsewhere. For fans of the sport, it’s a definite must, especially if you are interested in PlayNow or MyLeague, as they are all basketball with none of the distractions. While 2K19 leaps forward to become one of the better iterations in recent years its warts can certainly be an ugly distraction from a truly authentic basketball experience.
|+ Amazing gameplay||– Microtransactions are intrusive and nearly reach pay-to-win levels of bad|
|+ Player models and graphics are superb.||– MyCareer is an insane grind|
|+ MyCareer is fun & addicting||– Too many recycled assets from previous games|
|+ Soundtrack is a wonderful compilation of new and classic music||– MyGM's story is a self-indulgent digital novel|
|+ Rich with customization features to create arenas, teams, and player|
|+ New dailies give players lucrative incentives.|