NBA 2K20 review: Double dribble

NBA 2K20 has a great story but shuffles its feet on the court

NBA 2K20 review: Double dribble

“NBA 2K20 takes a step forward with its story, but is hindered by its uninspired gameplay.”
  • Great story mode
  • Introduction of WNBA ball
  • Engaging MyTeam progression system
  • MyGM feels more guided
  • More realistic player movements
  • Shooting and stamina are imbalanced
  • Riddled with microtransactions
  • Lengthy MyCareer load times
  • No significant changes to core gameplay

This is “bigger than basketball” — a phrase often associated with LeBron James and other NBA athletes who have made a commitment to activism and the betterment of their communities. James will be remembered as an athlete of course, but as he rightfully has reminded us, he’s far more than an athlete.

That important fact seeps into NBA 2K20, specifically in the MyCareer story produced by James’ SpringHill Entertainment. The central goal may be to get drafted and make a name for yourself in the league, but this year’s story touches on the impact players can make off the court. From Spike Lee’s terrible “joint” in NBA 2K16 to last year’s hollow tale, I usually just wanted the narrative to end and the day-to-day grind of developing my player to begin. And while there’s certainly room for improvement, it far exceeds the corny and ultimately generic stories from previous games in the series.

Sadly that newfound entry doesn’t carry over into on the court action. Don’t get me wrong. NBA 2K20 is a great basketball sim. The addition of WNBA teams and players is welcome and long overdue. But NBA 2K20 feels pretty similar to last year’s iteration. MyTeam, the card-collecting fantasy mode, does have more features and incentives to keep you playing, but overall it’s not a huge advancement. And once the story fades away, MyCareer is a familiar but fun trip to the neighborhood somewhat ruined by obnoxious load times.

Bigger than basketball

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NBA 2K is the only sports sim that has consistently tried to couple engaging storytelling with a robust, role-playing career mode that works as both a solo and multiplayer experience. The problem is that the story has almost always been underwhelming. From the terrible Spike Lee Joint in NBA 2K16 to last year’s hollow tale, I usually just want the narrative to end and the day-to-day grind of developing my player to begin. NBA 2K20 is a different story, though. Dubbed “When the Lights are Brightest,” the MyCareer prologue has heart.

The setup: You’re a college senior who could’ve went to the next level years ago. Controversy ensues in the midst of an NCAA tournament run and you decide to take a stand. There’s a smart balance of gameplay and cutscenes in the roughly two hour story, held together by solid performances from Idris Elba, Thomas Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson. Sprinkle in cameos from a number of NBA stars and a grading system that sees you rocket up the draft board if you play well, and MyCareer gets off to a great start.

MyCareer remains the compelling solo and social experience it has been for years.

It’s awesome to see a story that isn’t just about basketball, but about how those who play the game at the highest level can make a real impact on the world. It doesn’t run with this idea as deeply as it could have. However, it’s still a nice step in a new direction and features far better writing than previous entries.

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After the story wraps and your NBA career begins, MyCareer remains the compelling solo and social experience it has been for years. Unfortunately, the virtual neighborhood is basically the same this year. It includes familiar fixtures like blacktop courts, the practice and workout facilities, the cages, and clothing store.

Badge progression has been modified to let you target the badges you want, but earning badges takes far too long. This is disappointing to see, especially since leveling your player’s stats continues to be a slog without Virtual Currency.

NBA 2K20’s load times for MyCareer are excruciating.

Perhaps this can be attributed to launch weekend traffic, but NBA 2K20‘s load times for MyCareer are excruciating. Getting into the mode took me more than two minutes on PS4. Loading games took more than a minute every time. The same goes for entering shops and different parts of the neighborhood. And confirming player upgrades took at least a couple of minutes.

Another downside of  MyCareer is that player upgrades still hinge on Virtual Currency. While you earn VC from just about everything you do, the modest drip means that those who spend money on currency are far ahead of the curve at the jump.

The long haul

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MyCareer has been the crown jewel of NBA 2K for years, but there’s plenty more here for basketball fans to dive into. Franchise mode still gets the one-two punch thanks to a traditional franchise mode where you worry about wins and losses and MyGM, which puts you in the role of making critical decisions for your organization.

I haven’t been a fan of MyGM up until this point, but the changes in 2K20 have made me more of a believer.

MyGM, in particular, feels more developed. A new action points system lets you have to decide where to spend your time each week, whether that be player development, conversations with players, exploring the trade market, and more. This system gives MyGM more of a separate identity from MyLeague. The dialogue moments are still relatively dry, but MyGM is more of an interesting experience this time around. I haven’t been a fan of MyGM up until this point, but the changes in 2K20 have made me more of a believer.

MyLeague is still a robust and well-thought-out way to guide a team over the course of numerous decades. Franchise modes in sports games have taken a backseat in recent years due to the popularity of card-collecting and role-playing modes. That trend continues with MyLeague. It’s awesome as usual, featuring all the depth you could want in a franchise mode. But if you primarily play for MyLeague, you’re not getting anything new this year.

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The card-collecting fantasy mode MyTeam has a few cool new features. The first is Evolution cards, upgradeable stars and legends cards like Vince Carter whose overall rating can improve by completing a set of in-game objectives. I loved focusing on getting Carter the ball to throw down dunks and work towards leveling his Evolution card up.

My favorite MyTeam mode, 3v3 Triple Threat, also received a change. In between online games, you get to play casino games like Pachinko or slots to earn bonus MyTeam points. It’s troubling that a mode already emphasizing microtransactions has actual casino games.

Though you cannot spend Virtual Currency to play the mini-games, it’s still weird that a mode with literal loot boxes (card packs) is embracing a gambling aesthetic. As a heads up: The solo Triple Threat mode doesn’t currently work, but Visual Concept reworked it for 2K20. I’m anxious to check it out, whenever it’s ready to go.

MyTeam is incredibly deep for both solo and competitive players. Visual Concepts has done a great job creating content for both types of MyTeam players. There are both solo and multiplayer weekly challenges, as well as a new daily rewards system called “The Agenda” with three daily tasks.

Microtransactions

NBA 2K 20 My Team Store

Both MyTeam and MyCareer have microtransactions. It’s not a surprise, but Virtual Currency makes the world go round in NBA 2K20. Pack prices vary considerably. You can spend two bucks on 5,000 VC and grab one base pack and still have 2,000 VC leftover. Meanwhile, high-quality League Premiere Packs cost close to ten bucks in VC. A decent number of packs can also be purchased with MyTeam points, and you do earn VC from playing MyCareer and MyTeam.

For those who don’t care about being competitive, microtransactions can honestly be avoided altogether. But if you do want to play online regularly, you could be at a disadvantage unless you’re grinding every day to earn VC and MyTeam points.

I had a bonus 100,000 VC from the Legend edition NBA 2K20 ($100). I spent all of that VC to upgrade my player in MyCareer. I jumped from a 60 to 83 overall instantly. If I had wanted to perform the same jump without the Legend Edition, I would’ve had to spend 30 bucks.

The microtransactions aren’t shoved in your face as frequently as other years, but I wish 2K would move away from them altogether in MyCareer and MyTeam. The structure rewards those who spend money. In this sense, NBA 2K20 can feel like it’s pay-to-win. I’d be fine with microtransactions for cosmetics like alternate jerseys, shoes, etc. Currently, 2K20 rewards those who throw money at it by improving their created player and MyTeam roster far faster than those who don’t spend money can.

Hooping

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I’ve waited longer than I normally would to discuss the on-the-court gameplay in NBA 2K20. That’s because if you’ve played 2K in recent years, NBA 2K20 will feel right at home. It’s still a visually stunning, realistic basketball experience that benefits from an upgraded player motion engine. There are more dribble animations, finishing animations, and generally more authentic movements on offense and defense.

The shooting and stamina meters in 2K20 seem a bit wonky right now. Shooting feels really inconsistent. In one game, I had excellent timing on the vast majority of my player’s 15 jumpers. When I hit the practice facility after the game, I missed 17 mid-range jumpers in a row. I counted. I’ve never had this much inconsistency shooting in a 2K game. Meanwhile, the stamina meter depletes rapidly, tiring players out before you’d expect. While I understand the desire for realism, this is still a video game, and it’s not fun to control top tier athletes who feel like they have weights attached to their feet.

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One meaningful change did stand out, though. Mismatches can be exploited this year. You cannot cover a speedy guard with a huge power forward or center and expect to stick with them.

The biggest structural change here is that you can finally play as WNBA teams and players. It’s a stellar addition, and Visual Concepts didn’t take any shortcuts. WNBA ball looks and feels like the real thing, including great attention to detail on animations. You can even guide one of the twelve WNBA teams through a full season that includes all the bells and whistles of MyLeague.

Our take

NBA 2K20‘s new MyCareer story is more meaningful and engaging thanks to an emphasis on more than just basketball. But when the story wraps, MyCareer feels way too familiar and is plagued by long load times. MyTeam has a few welcome new progression systems, but its gambling aesthetic is peculiar at best and troublesome at worst. It’s awesome to finally get to play as WNBA teams, and MyGM has an improved feature set that helps separate it from the stagnant MyLeague franchise mode. Improved player movements bring it ever so closer to the real thing, but the shooting and stamina meters feel imbalanced.

Is there a better alternative?

No, NBA 2K is the only basketball sim worth playing, and NBA 2K20 has enough new features to make it better than its predecessor. That said, it’s not a huge step up, so the cheaper NBA 2K19 is still a viable option. If you want an arcade basketball experience, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is the way to go.

How long will it last?

The new MyCareer story lasts about two hours. We spent 20 hours with NBA 2K20 for this review, but it has enough engaging content to keep you busy for the entire upcoming NBA season.

Should you buy it?

Yes, despite its issues, NBA 2K20 is still worth your time, especially if you play for the online social experience.

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