It can be tough to write about the latest yearly sports releases. Year to year differences are often minuscule, and the specter of micro-transactions has been a drag on the genre. 2K Sports’ NBA 2K franchise is no different in either regard. It’s been near the top of the genre for quite some time now, largely due to the excellent gameplay. In recent years, however, the rampant micro-transactions featured in the franchise have garnered much controversy. As you may expect, NBA 2K20 continues straddling the line between perfection and pain.
Unlike last year’s edition, which added the Takeover system, NBA 2K20 is pretty static this year. Definitely not a bad thing, as the series’ gameplay remains as enjoyable and fluid as ever. No other basketball franchise has ever made the sport feel as good as it does as Visual Concepts has. There are improvements to be found, though, specifically in under-appreciated facets such as foot-placement and ball-handling. These modifications give players more ways to cross-over, post-up and drive through defenders. If you get overwhelmed, or just need a refresher, a revamped training system is on-hand to guide you through the many ways you can get a basket.
Not everything is perfect once you step onto the court, though. The computer AI, both for teammates and opponents, seems slightly off. Teammates are inconsistent on defense, often letting opponents drive right past them for an easy bucket. In their defense, it’s not as if their opponents are always so adept either. Sloppy defensively and way too callous with staying in-bounds, you sometimes scratch your head at what they’re up to. The usual litany of glitches and bugs are also present in the title’s current state. My experience has just been limited to on-court wonkiness, but you can look online and see that plenty of others are suffering from far worse. 2K Games has been getting updates out, but poor launch performance is almost a guarantee with the series at this point.
The biggest addition to NBA 2K20 arguably comes in the form of the WNBA finally being added to the series. It’s been a long-requested feature, and it’s nice to see the league finally get added. Even better is the fact that it’s not just a lazy reskin of the base game. Playing in this mode feels noticeably different from the NBA, specifically in the flow of a game. It moves at a pace that feels unique for the style of play the league has come to be known for. This is definitely a step in the right direction, though, even if you can’t create your own players quite yet.
Speaking of MyPlayer, the popular single-player mode returns once again. Similar to last year’s effort, the story this go-around carries a more grounded, but interesting mood. Your budding star, nicknamed Che, is a stud in college, is projected to be a lottery pick in the draft. However, a controversial decision made before his final collegiate game tanks throws a wrench in those plans. The shockwave from his choice causes ripples across his personal and professional life. Now, with the spotlight brighter than ever, he’ll need to show scouts that his talent is worth taking a chance on.
Considering the pedigree behind the career mode, specifically LeBron James, it’s not surprising that the story is focused on actual player issues. More so than any other league, NBA stars are willing to voice their opinions on anything and everything, and these personalities help fans connect with them. I know there were fans of the more absurd campaigns from years past, but the shift to actually telling an important story pays off.
MyGM has seen some tweaks for the better, with the biggest change coming with the addition of action points. Every day you are given a new set of action points that can be used to complete specific tasks. Whether it’s interviewing new front office personnel or speaking with your players, you’ll need action points to do so. It can feel a little restrictive, but it feels more realistic. A normal general manager doesn’t complete dozens of tasks a day. By limiting what you can do, it also makes you take a greater hands-on approach with your team. It was pretty easy to cheese your way through the mode in years past, but those strategies won’t fly now.
For better or worse, MyTeam will continue to garner the most press. You are most likely familiar with what Visual Concepts is looking to achieve with the mode by now — creating the team of your dreams using cards purchased in randomized packs. Currency for packs can be acquired through completing certain challenges, daily goals, and online play. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s never been a huge favorite of mine, but I understand the appeal.
Grind is still an issue in NBA 2K20, but one that has been mitigated slightly. When it comes to MyPlayer, it’s definitely quicker to level up without spending extra money. Just by putting in a few hours, you’ll be able to get your player up to a respectable overall level. In order to reach the true greats of the league, it seems like you’ll need to put extra effort in, but that’s not surprising. That being said, the process does feel more egregious in MyTeam. The framework of the mode is one that is pretty much designed to extract extra cash. It’s a good grift, and one that 2K Sports is clearly intent on continuing to run. In an ideal world, that wouldn’t be the case. We don’t live in an ideal world, though, so the best we can hope for is more improvements like this year.
NBA 2K20 reminds me of the 2018 Golden State Warriors. A top-level talent that mops the floor with the competition, but is not without flaws. The presentation and gameplay of the franchise has never been better, and continually pushes the quality of the genre to new levels. There’s an overwhelming amount of content here that will keep fans of the series glued to the couch until next year’s release. However, it’s still plagued with technical issues, and the predatory microtransactions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. It feels bad to say it, but the continued quality of the on-court action is more than enough to overlook these issues.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by 2K Sports.
NBA 2K20 continues to deliver excellent on-court action with unmatched presentation and mode variety. However, the series' continued reliance on microtransactions is still a glaring issue.