I spent hundreds of hours playing NBA 2K20, right up until I got my hands on Visual Concepts’ latest offering. In doing so, I was able to notice some of the tweaks to gameplay and presentation whilst still noting that much of last year’s game remained relatively unchanged. NBA 2K21 is a marvellous basketball simulation that is filled with modes and ways to play, but so was NBA 2K20. I’m still very much a fan, especially to how the new shooting system works and the refinement of how players move when on the ball.
The majority of the gameplay has been left alone in NBA 2K21, mainly because it was so good. Defending and off-the-ball controls still rely on you marking your man and putting pressure on the ball carriers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? As for the offence, the shooting has caused quite a bit of a stir online, with people suggesting that they don’t understand why it has been changed from the green gauge of last year’s. It may be a big change, but it actually adds a lot to the way games play out. Contested shots can still force you to miss, but the amount of air balls I hit early on dented my confidence pretty hard.
After a while, I started to adapt to the new shot meter. It requires you to let go of the shot stick/button when the line is in the middle of a yellow bar in the shot gauge. Depending on where you are on the court, the location of the yellow bar changes as well, meaning every shot is different. It forces you to know the abilities of your whole team and use their positives to your advantage. I can see how this is annoying whilst playing in MyCareer because of how you start off without any badges or upgrades, but when playing with any NBA team, it feels excellent.
I tend to turn off the shot meter and rely on instincts and releasing before I reach the peak of a jump, and thankfully NBA 2K21 welcomes this style of playing with responsive controls. I also use the shot button instead of the right stick, mainly because I prefer to map all my ball handling to the stick. This year the control whilst dribbling is excellent. I noticed it almost instantly as I was playing a match in MyTeam with Damian Lillard. I used a simple crossover followed by a step back to throw my opponent, allowing me to shoot one sexy jump shot.
MyCareer features a relatively similar kind of story as previous years in The Long Shadow. It took me a while to get into it, but there are some great performances by guys like Jesse Williams that allow you to embrace the narrative and push through the typical career progression. You can either play through the story or sign on to an NBA team straight away. In doing so, you’ll get to jump into the new beach-themed The Neighborhood. Whilst it offers a new setting, the same kind of matches exist.
As mentioned earlier, shooting at a level without any Badge boosts can be a nightmare, and if you don’t spend a healthy amount of Virtual Currency to upgrade your stats, there’s a good chance you’ll struggle in online competition. I managed to get some decent streaks whilst teaming with others, but I always prefer to make opportunities, so I focused on assists whilst my teammates took the majority of shots. As much as I enjoy MyCareer, there’s one mode I love more than any other, and that’s MyTeam.
This year’s MyTeam remains similar to the one from NBA 2K20, including the same kind of modes like Triple Threat, Domination, and Unlimited, but the menus look a lot better. There are two new features that reward you for spending time in the mode, and these changes make a world of difference. There is a Battle Pass-type system that rewards you for playing, and you can also trade a certain amount of cards to get better players. I would often sell off all my lower ranked cards for a few hundred MT, but having the option to trade them in for a Diamond or Emerald this year has really helped me to improve my team in a short amount of time.
MyGM hasn’t changed at all as far as I can see. I know many love playing this mode, but personally I don’t dabble with it in the long run. For those that are fans, it must be frustrating knowing that no real changes have been made and they’ll basically be playing the same mode with a partially updated roster. Due to the pandemic, there hasn’t been an off-season as of yet. The playoffs are still happening, so there haven’t been any trades either. I’m more inclined to jump into MyTeam or MyLeague once these have been updated.
NBA 2K21 has had some nice improvements to the presentation, although the visuals look exactly the same. PLayers look great, but some of the coaches are awful. Why does Brad Stevens look like a caricature of himself? Don’t do him like that, Visual Concepts! If you make a good block, there’re new replays sponsored by Mobil that highlight them, so if you pull of a Kawhi Leonard middle finger stop, you’ll get to watch it all over again. The shot clock is also visual on the court inside the free throw circle like when watching on TV. Outside of that, the same annoying cheerleaders and kids during timeouts and quarter breaks are back, and the tactics screen hasn’t been touched either.
Whilst it feels similar to last year, NBA 2K21 is still a fantastic game, offering tweaks to shooting and ball-handling that help to improve the gameplay significantly. It’s a little disappointing that most of the modes haven’t seen many improvements, but the way MyTeam rewards you for playing will likely help players pend less VC. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s willing to listen, but if you’re a casual player, you’d probably be better off sticking with NBA 2K20.
Tweaks to ball handling are great
Shooting is challenging yet satisfying
Rewards players for spending time playing MyTeam
Most modes remain the same
Seldom changes to gameplay
Some coach models look awful