‘NBA 2K20’ review: The good, the bad and the new from 2K Sports

From the outside looking in, it would appear the “NBA 2K” video game series is all about flash. It heavily incorporates celebrities, has high production values delivering the equivalent of a new movie every year, includes many of the league’s stars of the past, and celebrates as much about the culture surrounding the sport as it does the product being played on it.

Publisher 2K Sports has capitalized on the fandom around the “NBA 2K” series since it really took off back with “2K11.” What started the meteoric rise wasn’t that flash but instead was the realistic gameplay accompanied by the respect shown for the history of the league. Michael Jordan became the centerpiece along with the introduction of classic teams. The series first became popular with true basketball fanatics before it started being tailored for the mainstream where it took on a more online-connected focus and began being monetized through the sale of an in-game currency and plastered with heavy product placement.

Both hardcore fans and the more casual crowd alike should find themselves pleased by “NBA 2K20,” which is the best-playing edition of the franchise ever. There is no shortage of ways to enjoy the game, whether playing with your favorite NBA team, controlling a single character through a career, facing competition online, building a fantasy team, or controlling a franchise over multiple seasons.

‘NBA 2K20’ RATINGS: Full list of top overall players, rookies and more



2K Sports

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Still the king of gameplay

Widely regarded as offering the best gameplay experience in the genre, the “2K” series at some point along the way became overly technical to play. It’s complicated and difficult but over time becomes exceedingly rewarding. Those who stick with it appreciate that about the game.

There is a sense that “2K20” is a little more forgiving. It still isn’t a game that anyone could just pick up, play and instantly find success, but it is trending in the right direction to becoming less intimidating.

It’s impressive simply to watch the AI execute an offense. Each team does so just like their real-life counterparts. It will take some time to learn to do that same thing, but getting comfortable with the pick and roll and running some basic plays is a good start for most.

Among notable improvements, there are now 27 different types of ball handlers, which adds some personality and eliminates the feeling of uniformity. Left stick movements are more effective on their own as well instead of having to combine with other controller inputs to make things happen.

The biggest strategical change, however, has to do with the use of turbo, which is now more limited. Instead of turbo essentially being the default movement, it is instead now necessary to use it more sparingly and selectively. That results in various moves and blow-bys that are far more effective and a better differentiation in players based on size and speed. The only downside is that there are situations where being out of turbo shouldn’t mean the player can’t reach top speed. They should be able to hustle on fast breaks or in recovery situations regardless.

There really hasn’t been anything for “2K” in terms of gameplay that required drastic intervention. Instead, valuable incremental improvements have been delivered that’ll be appreciated by those who dig deep and know how to utilize all the tools available.

Single-player vs. Multiplayer

Most sports gamers have come to accept that the priority from the development end are the online modes that drive engagement year-round and also can generate digital revenue. Single-player offline modes that for decades were the foundation of sports games have seemingly been neglected due to that shift in resources.

“NBA 2K” is the one series that has bucked that trend by continually moving its offline modes forward in substantial ways. Surprisingly, “2K20” may be the edition that is thought of more fondly by the primarily offline player rather than an online one.

The exceptional gameplay is key to that, of course, and it’s more true against the CPU than in online environments and with fantasy type modes where realism starts to fade away. The highly customizable MyLeague Mode is largely unchanged but still very impressive for those seeking that true “franchise” experience.

The WNBA has been added this year and the implementation was handled well. With a full season mode and unique commentary, the league was treated as more than just a marketing bullet point which unfortunately was the case with competitor “NBA Live” when that series brought on the WNBA a few years ago.

Allowing for female-created characters could have been a better use of resources, though, than the WNBA, which has limited appeal. There is no option for female MyPlayers, which would have been utilized more through the various online competitive modes that feature the created characters.

The online MyLeague could be considered broken at this point. Issues range from the inability to invite users to the leagues and server problems that prevent them from advancing. “The Neighboorhood,” an open-world area where created characters can interact but its true intentions are to act as a central area for product placement, did not markedly change despite marketing promises otherwise.

The usual server problems have wreaked havoc in the early days of release and hopefully those will clear up soon. “2K” does not have a great track record in this area, but given that there is money involved, it’s safe to say work will be done to get things right. Many of the modes in the game entirely rely upon the servers being both up and stable.

Frustration from consumers can be seen by the hashtag #fix2k20 becoming the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter during the first weekend of the game’s release.



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MyGM changes so bad it seems intentionally sabotaged

While MyLeague has been the definitive franchise mode in “2K,” the MyGM mode has proven to be a successful complement. Both were essentially franchise modes at their core but MyGM added in some text-based narrative elements, which added some levity and created unique challenges to face in running a team.

In an attempt to further differentiate MyGM from MyTeam, the mode was fundamentally changed in “2K20,” and the byproduct has been near-universally loathed.

At the heart of what’s gone wrong is the introduction of online leaderboards to add a competitive element. Because of this, everything has to remain uniform so that the rankings prove to be relevant.

That means there is no changing any setting, including difficulty or quarter length, and no use of custom rosters or draft classes. Also problematic is that the quarters are locked to 6 minutes but any simulated games run 12-minute quarters and stats are not being normalized between the two.

Taking a page out of mobile games, the idea to force choice in what to focus on as a GM does make some sense going in, but it’s simply not fun or at all realistic to have to pick between completing a basic task and playing an actual game.

The changes appear to have been well-intentioned given that it really did need something new to differentiate it further from MyLeague, but MyGM has essentially been killed off in the process and one has to wonder whether it’ll survive to “2K21.”

New story for MyCareer Mode more grounded but anti-climatic

Seven years ago, the “NBA 2K” series introduced a narrative-driven story mode called MyCareer. Since then, 2K Sports has recruited some of the biggest names in Hollywood for involvement in MyCareer mode, both in front of and behind the camera.

For “2K20,” the narrative-driven MyCareer involves the likes of Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, and Thomas Middleditch. Several NBA stars also cameo.

None of them have a huge presence, though Middleditch seems to get the most screen time and is a pleasant surprise in that he isn’t the typical scumbag who agents have been portrayed as in all past installments. Elba and Dawson provide some motivation for the main character and emotional grounding. They are solid in their roles though they aren’t given much to work with.

What has been most appreciated about the story is that it avoids the usual character cliches. There isn’t even a true villain this time around.

It was startling how anti-climatic the NBA Draft turned out to be after all the buildup to it, however. It comes and goes in an instant and the main character doesn’t even get to walk on stage after waiting in the green room. There’s a call to say he’s been drafted and then it cuts right to a team press conference.

MyCareer remains one of the most anticipated ways annually to play “2K,” not just for the story portion but going beyond that and utilizing the character in other ways online. It’s important to have such a mode that is accessible, unlike much of the rest of the game which requires a higher level of knowledge and skill to find success.

Monetization pressures eased but still present

2K Sports has faced numerous controversies in recent years regarding the manner in which the games have been heavily monetized. Currency can be used to improve the skill of MyCareer characters, purchase things like animations or apparel, and to obtain new players in MyTeam.

It hasn’t simply been that many people feel they’ve already paid $60 and then are being asked for more, but the way in which design decisions have been made in an effort to artificially create the need or desire to pay to get past intentionally placed barriers so that the game becomes more fun.

Legislators are now debating whether to go forward with an attempt to ban all monetization in video games, and 2K putting the spotlight on gambling-like mechanics in one of the trailers was a very bad look and horrendous timing. Outside of the pack openings, which could be argued is a form of gambling, those visual elements don’t involve actual wagering but are used to deliver rewards.

The card-collecting MyTeam mode is built upon a foundation of spending money or earned currency, but in the end it can easily be avoided by those who don’t want to be involved in that. The bigger issue for “2K” has always been the way its virtual currency negatively influenced the game design.

“2K20” offers some relief as the currency is worth more when applied to MyPlayer characters. 100K VC ($25 worth) in “2K19” would take a character from a rating of 65 overall to 75 overall. With “2K20,” it takes that same character from 65 overall to 82 overall. Thankfully, it appears as though the grind isn’t as demanding as it has been, but it’s unlikely to eliminate completely the frustration many have felt about the influence of monetization on the game.

Overall rating



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“NBA 2K20” is good enough that the series should continue to be considered the most well-rounded in the sports gaming genre. The gameplay is superb and the other areas of strength, which include the broadcast presentation, celebration of the history of the NBA, MyLeague franchise mode and MyCareer story mode, remain excellent.

This year, however, it feels as though outside of subtle but effective gameplay improvements, the rest of “2K20” has failed to take significant steps forward and, in the case of one of the primary modes, has even regressed.

“NBA 2K20” is a great game for those who new to the franchise or who have taken some time away from it. The every-year purchaser, however, may not find the same value present as they’ve come to expect from 2K while stumbling upon familiar reasons for frustration. Despite that, it would be difficult not to recommend “2K20” under almost any circumstance given its authenticity and depth in a number of areas.

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“NBA 2K20” is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC. A digital copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review, which was completed using an Xbox One X.

Bryan Wiedey posts sports gaming news and analysis daily at Pastapadre.com, is co-founder of the sports gaming site HitThePass.com, hosts the “Press Row Podcast” and can be reached on Twitter @Pastapadre.

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