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‘NBA 2K19’ review

More realistic than ever, 'NBA 2K19' is still the king of basketball sims

NBA 2K19 Hands-on
‘NBA 2K19’
MSRP $59.99
“'NBA 2K19' has impactful gameplay refinements and a much-needed MyCareer makeover.”
  • Takeover meter
  • Better offensive/defensive balance
  • MyCareer story is believable
  • Simplified Neighborhood setup
  • MyCareer progression isn’t as gated
  • MyGM story is awful
  • MyTeam feels like a cash grab

When we previewed NBA 2K19 in August, we saw it as a step forward in realistic gameplay. Both offense and defense were refined to make a more calculated and authentic basketball sim. Now that we’ve had a chance to dive into the final and full version of the game, it’s clear that NBA 2K19 is, once again, the best iteration in the series thus far when it comes to pure on-the-court action.

MyCareer, the create-your-player story mode, has also improved. The progression system is better, the neighborhood layout is more accessible and diversified, and it doesn’t constantly ask you to dole out money for upgrades. Your player’s storyline is more believable this time around, though it’s still a somewhat underwhelming experience.

Beyond the gameplay and MyCareer enhancements, NBA 2K19 does feel familiar to NBA 2K18. However, as we’ve seen in the past, familiarity is a trait that’s good for the series as it continues to be the annual king of basketball sims — a title it surely won’t lose anytime soon if we keep seeing entries as polished and varied as this one.

Got skills?

All of NBA 2K19’s gameplay adjustments work towards making an experience that’s a closer approximation to reality. This leads to a stricter simulation style of play that rewards those with the most skill and discipline.

NBA 2K19
The Takeover meter in action. Image used with permission by copyright holder

When you step onto the hardwood, the first thing you’ll notice is the new Takeover meter. Takeover has the potential to either boost or hurt a player’s key attributes. If you make a couple shots in a row with a sharpshooter, you can activate Takeover to further increase their chance of making the next shot. Conversely, if you fire brick after brick, a snowflake icon appears next to your player indicating they’ve gone cold. There are nine Takeover archetypes in all, each affecting key areas such as passing, defense, finding lanes, and rebounding. Some star players have multiple Takeover abilities as well, and though this new feature isn’t a big game-changer, it does highlight the fact that once NBA players get in rhythm, they can literally take over games.

All of NBA 2K19’s gameplay adjustments work towards making a balanced experience that emphasizes skills over all else.

While Takeover is the biggest addition to the gameplay, it’s by no means the only one. Tweaks to both offense and defense help create a more well-rounded and ultimately fair experience. It’s much harder to get to the hoop against AI defense without setting a screen or running a play. In previous editions, you could easily get a step on a defender in one-on-one situations. Now, you get shut down more often when trying to play hero ball.

The shot meter’s color can be modified and placed in a variety of positions alongside your player. Additionally, there’s more accuracy to the on-the-court action, marking both contested and open shots as they appear. The shot meter stays with you on all shots now, including layups. This improvement is especially welcome since it was easier to miss open layups in 2K18 due to its lack of clarity on when to release a shot. Each layup animation has different timing though, so it’s still possible to miss open layups if you aren’t careful.

NBA 2K19 gamplay footage

On defense, you will have to be more attentive even with AI providing better assistance. It’s not as simple as spamming the trigger buttons to stay on the ball handler. In 2K19, you must manually contest each shot, meaning you have to pay attention to ball fakes and anticipate when they will go up with the shot. If you don’t time it properly, the offense has an open look.

NBA 2K19’s focus on realism is somewhat daunting at first, but it only takes a few games to realize that all of the changes are for the better. With crisper player animations, more lifelike visuals, and more balanced gameplay, NBA 2K19 is an incredibly rewarding basketball sim that slyly compels you to learn all the game’s intricate maneuvers.

The grind to stardom

One of the biggest knocks on MyCareer over the years has been on its downright terrible stories. For instance, last year’s storyline followed a former music DJ that played in a street ball contest and somehow wound up in the NBA. Thankfully, NBA 2K19’s story is much more believable.

NBA 2K19: The Way Back

Dubbed “The Way Back,” after not getting drafted, your created player starts his career in China before making it to the G-League and eventually, the NBA. Along the way, you develop rivalries, forge relationships, and learn to become a team player. For the first few hours of MyCareer, the story is told through wonderfully rendered cutscenes, aided by great performances from Anthony Mackie, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Rapaport, and others. These cutscenes are lengthy and noticeably better than previous entries in terms of production value. The writing is a step up from earlier efforts, and there are some genuinely funny bits of dialogue.

MyCareer is about the grind, though. After a few hours, you arrive in the NBA. The quality writing and cutscenes fade away, and you emerge in the Neighborhood — the social hub we saw for the first time in NBA 2K18. The new layout places the courts in the center of the neighborhood, practice facility, training center, activities, and shops. The centralized courts make sense and eliminate a lot of the cumbersome wandering.

The most meaningful changes in MyCareer pertain to the progression system. Earning Virtual Currency to level up your player isn’t as slow of a process thanks to additional activities, sponsorships, and a generally more liberal dispensing of VC. It also doesn’t always feel like it’s begging you for money, which was by far the most annoying aspect of MyCareer in 2K18. Of course, you can still reach a high rating much faster by spending real money, but it feels like you can get there without doing so this time around. Progression also benefits from an updated badge system that specifically tells you which skill each practice drill goes towards.

Since the Neighborhood setup hinges on consistent participation from the community, it’s hard to say if it will thrive for months to come, but there’s definitely enough here to suggest it will.

Familiar trappings

Sports sims have so much content nowadays that it seems almost impossible to make substantial changes to each mode year after year. NBA 2K19 is no stranger to that model.

Franchise mode is still as deep and customizable as ever, but it doesn’t have the quality-of-life improvements seen in MyCareer. MyGM plays almost exactly the same, all the way down to the awful story. Introduced last year, MyGM can be played with an accompanying narrative if you so choose. Called “The Saga Continues” this year, the story is comprised of lengthy text boxes filled with dry, sleep-inducing dialogue. There’s no voice acting and these text-based scenes last for close to an hour before you get to do anything of substance. Just like last year, the MyGM story mode can be viewed as a bonus, but you shouldn’t continue the saga. However, if you want to create your own expansion franchise, MyGM still has robust tools to modify everything from team logos to your home court.

NBA 2K19 - MyTEAM Trailer | PS4

MyTeam, the card-collecting fantasy mode similar to EA Sports’ Ultimate Team, feels like a lateral move. While MyCareer has partially walked away from asking for money at every turn, MyTeam still craves your hard-earned cash. Earning enough in-game tokens for new packs is a laborious process and even though it’s still a deep game mode for those who like to play competitively, we wish there wasn’t such a crude emphasis on microtransactions.

2K19’s package is rounded out by two neat features, Blacktop and 2KU. Blacktop lets you show off your street ball skills in 1v1 through 5v5 matchups, whereas 2KU teaches you the ins and outs of the game’s controls and features. Neither are new additions to the series, but if you haven’t played 2K in a few years, they are cool and important modes.

Our Take

Once again, NBA2K’s latest installment proves to be an excellent basketball sim, bringing more refined, realistic gameplay, and balances to offense and defense. The MyCareer story is much improved, and the progression system feels more forgiving than previous iterations. While the rest of the package mostly mirrors what we’ve seen before, overall, these marked improvements to the series make it hard to hold it against 2K19.

Is there a better alternative?

No, NBA 2K19 is best entry in the premier basketball simulator.

How long will it last?

With four deep game modes, NBA 2K19 can hold your attention for well over 100 hours.

Should you buy it?

Yes, NBA 2K19 offers the best simulation basketball gameplay around. Even if you already own NBA 2K18, 2K19 is worth the upgrade.

Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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