I’ve played NBA 2K games pretty much every year since NBA 2K7. It was a mixed bag. Not much and everything has changed. Much like iPhones, these kinds of annual sports have improvements in the waves. In the past year the look, engine, and MyCareer have been overhauled, mostly in ways I don’t appreciate. In this year’s NBA 2K23, the developers tightened it up, fixed some gameplay issues and brought back the classic mode.
I’m old enough to remember the first time the Jordan Challenge was introduced in NBA 2K11, so I felt like deja vu. But, as I said before, everything is always recreated in your memories, and the Jordan Challenge plays how I remember it, which is about 5 times better than it actually was. I wish we had faced a different kind of challenge, and entered the career of a different player, because Jordan feels like he’s played a bit. There were other great players. Sure, no one has the brand and legends on the same level as Jordan, but players whose careers and paths are worth exploring.
However, just because I’ve enjoyed playing this game for a bajillion years doesn’t mean everyone has, and with Save The Last Dance being the documentary of 2021, it makes sense to bring back The Jordan Challenge.
The mode takes you back to some of Jordan’s famous career games, with graphics and TV shows to match (but always with the same commentary team, which breaks the illusion somewhat). Your challenge is to make Jordan the same (or better) stats as the actual guy in the real game. He really brings home the skill of a player who was more of a legend than a man, with the obvious focus on how great he was as a solo player, and not properly considering how, by all accounts, he was a terrible teammate.
It’s interesting to go back to these historic basketball moments, even if it’s frustrating to control the entire team, not just the player you need two more times to get the three stars. If you control the wrong player when you get the bouncing ball, you don’t get the point. If I were the one who mastered this, I’d make it so I just played as Jordan, rather than the whole team, which would make more sense. This is probably an argument I made in 2010 as well.
However, interviews with real people in between each challenge provide an interesting insight into a player that most young fans would know best for his boots, not remembering the Bulls’ massive fanfare in the early ’90s.
NBA 2K23 MyCareer
Most years, MyCareer is the main mode I play, sinking into a few hours a week. But with each passing year, 2K’s desire to drain the player with microtransactions after they’ve already dropped $100+ on a premium, the AAA title that has barely changed from last year, makes that a less compelling challenge.
NBA 2K is a premium game, which charges a premium price. You don’t have to decide whether to pay real money or grind sadly for a million years to make the basic career mode fun. Investment capital should be earned at a faster rate, so it is up to people who choose to pay to skip reasonable progress, not pay to skip progress at an icy pace designed to make you spend more money. The game should be premium or free, not both.
On top of that, Career Mode has also become less and more about playing NBA basketball and more about branding opportunities in an unnecessary open world.
To start with the good, I love that you can now choose your team. Somehow, in the years when you can’t pick your team, I always end up joining the 76ers and spending the next 60 games trying to trade the Clippers. This year I can start with the clippers, which have been great.
There are plenty of gameplay improvements across the entire game as well. Animations have more weight, and after last year’s defense improvements, this year has been all about offensive building. Sure, the game is now very much geared towards adults, and it’s almost as easy to take a 3-point shot. But I like having 3 easy pointers and I don’t play multiplayer (mostly because there isn’t anyone available to play with when I go to the theater), so it’s okay.
The story also looks interesting. I love the characters, and competing with Shep (who is a combination of the least attractive traits of a seductive young athlete and the worst influencer I’ve seen) bodes well.
The problem is that I can’t force myself to suffer through The City any time I want to advance. If you haven’t played NBA 2K for two years, The City is basically an answer to the question “What if the roster was an open world in which you had to move slowly?”
Developer Vicarious Visions has included fast-traveling subway stations this year, but it still can’t compete with the ease and speed of the traditional roster. Perhaps you have the city as an option for people who are willing to spend 5-10 minutes going from one thing to another to waste time, so that they can pass more billboards and be tempted to spend capital on haircuts, animation or something else. But let those of us who just want to play basketball and maybe work out in the gym for reinforcements between movie scenes, play the game instead of rambling on a glorified slate.
My free time is limited, and I would like NBA 2K23 to respect that, and let me play the game.
W is improved for NBA 2K23 (slightly)
Of course, when reviewing a sprawling game like NBA 2K23, you have to pick a mode to focus on, and the one I keep coming back to is The W.
W’s career mode isn’t much different than it was last year, meaning it’s not much different than what NBA 2K10’s career mode was, before VC was an issue.
Yes, W still feels more like an afterthought than an actual game mode, there is no real story in the career mode, there are no animated scenes, very few players have distinct playstyles, and there is minimal customization of your MyPlayer stats.
But no city, no investment capital required, and instead of playing some silly Gatorade sponsorship opportunities, you get boosts by playing 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and 3-on-3 games with the sport’s greats. W also benefits from all the gameplay improvements to the men’s game, making basketball feel natural (even if it isn’t) so far Feels like a WNBA game, but instead an NBA game with shorter players).
What I’m saying is that The W is the play mode for people who just love basketball and come to the basketball game to play basketball. It is glorious. The best part of the game. The thing that makes NBA 2K23 worth the price of admission.
In the same way that I fell in love with the Los Angeles Clippers in NBA 2K7, I finally settled on the Seattle Storm as a WNBA team, even if their jersey was hideous. I learn about these players and their perks through commentary. At The W, basketball and NBA 2K are exciting again.
I’m torn between wanting to lure W to get more developer attention to make it less of a later token gesture to remember women exist, and his desire for the greed that consumes the rest of the game to remain unpopular.
I want a full story that takes my player from college as she goes through the experiences of dating a girl on the soccer team and recruiting her into teams based on opposite sides of the country. I want to stir up the night project. I want WNBA players to voice their cinematic scenes to direct this new player. I want to see camaraderie in the locker room. I want all the excitement and the highs and lows and bad writing that the career mode guys get, but without the silly micro-transactions.
Because while I love the pure basketball experience, I miss a little bit of the excitement that surrounds it.
But, with these improvements to offensive play, the beautifully stripped The W’s comeback experience finally made me come back to including NBA 2K in my weekly “Play for Fun” rotation, and I felt happier when I was at home.
So is NBA 2K23 worth it?
This is a big question, and it totally depends on what you want out of your NBA 2K game. For me, I would say absolutely. I really love The W, as well as featuring the classic and coolest teams, because I finally got the Jump City Clippers back in quick play.
If you’re coming to play the men’s MyCareer mode, and you already have Next Generation (now the current generation, but then the next generation) 2K21 or 2K22, and have been frustrated by The City, I’m not sure NBA 2K23 adds much to the experience. However, if you liked The City and just wished there were two more opportunities for fast travel, then all will be well.
This is just a minor iteration of last year’s game, and much like phones, you don’t need the new game every year. But if you choose NBA 2K23, I highly encourage you to invest some time in W mode, even if you’re not already a fan of WNBA. As this week’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup showed, women’s basketball is exciting, and the more time players spend in The W, the more interest it will get from the developers (but hopefully they don’t spoil that too much).