NBA 2K20 Review — Double Dribble
NBA 2K20 feels like the smallest leap that the series has made in years, even if the core gameplay still remains enjoyable.
I’ll be honest: after NBA 2K19 last year, I half-expected to not have much anticipation for the series moving forward. It wasn’t that 2K19 was an atrocious game, but I didn’t like the direction that things were headed in, especially when it came to microtransactions and some of the game’s modes. But as this summer started to end, I found myself once again with an itch to play some video game basketball. And, I mean, how could I not with the offseason that the NBA just had?
So as I dove headfirst into NBA 2K20, I was actually excited to see how 2K and Visual Concepts looked to improve this year’s edition once again. What I found though is perhaps the franchise’s most derivative entry in quite some time. While the team at Visual Concepts usually implements new ideas and features in each NBA 2K game more than other sports titles, NBA 2K20 fails in this pursuit and instead feels far too similar to last year’s game in all of its major areas.
MyCareer is still the mode that many will likely pour most of their time into with NBA 2K20 and in some important aspects, things have improved in this area. The biggest upgrade that MyCareer has received this year comes in the way of the story. Typically, the narrative that comes in this mode is decent at best, with writing and performances that are often just bearable. Thanks to a collaboration with Springhill Entertainment, the production company owned by LeBron James, NBA 2K20 has received a much-needed upgrade when it comes to storytelling.
Rather than just focusing on the glitz and glamour of professional basketball in MyCareer this year, the game decided to try and tell a somewhat meaningful story that hones in on the responsibility that comes with being a superstar player. The mode’s main character, known as Che, is also just a generally likable protagonist that you want to root for. It’s not a story arc that’ll keep you thinking long after you finish its 2-3 hour runtime, but it does try to show a different side of the NBA this year and the journey that comes with joining the league.
The writing and performances have also stepped up quite drastically. No matter how you feel about past NBA 2K games, the voice acting and writing has often felt lackluster at best and cringe-inducing at worst. In NBA 2K20, the script feels much more natural and conversational. Guest stars like Rosario Dawson and Idris Elba also help break the streak of bad performances that the franchise has had when it comes to guest roles. We’ve come a long way from the days of Spike Lee shouting, “Shazam!”
The character creator in MyCareer has also received a slight overhaul in NBA 2K20 if you’re someone who really likes to get in the weeds with customization. The options you’ve had when it comes to designing your player in recent years has become increasingly stale, so this was one change I was happy to see Visual Concepts implement. It’s not a major boost to the larger NBA 2K20 package, but I enjoyed being able to create my own player that looked like he was straight out of the 1970s ABA rather than just another generic character.
Other than these tweaks though, MyCareer has, for the most part, remained pretty similar to last year. The Neighborhood is once again back, but the game doesn’t force you into this area in between every game, causing longer load times. The Neighborhood itself, in terms of layout, is also relatively the same as in 2K19, which I’m fine with.
Of course, I can’t go without talking about microtransactions when it comes to MyCareer, because you’re still going to be met with the option to spend money frequently. Character progression has remained the exact same in NBA 2K20, meaning that VC, the game’s virtual currency that you can buy with real money, is still your go-to source for everything you may desire. Want to upgrade your player’s three-point shooting? That’ll cost VC. Want to snag a new pair of Jordan’s? Yup, that too will cost you VC.
NBA 2K20 gives you VC constantly, so you’re never going to be totally broke, but when it comes to buying what you want, well, that’s another issue entirely. The cost of certain things in the game, whether they be cosmetic or stats-based, is often far higher than the amounts you’ll earn through natural means. For example, after every MyCareer game that I played this year, I would say on average I was earning right around 1,000+ VC. To merely upgrade my character to a point where I’d say he is average (in my estimation I would consider this to be an 80 overall) I needed to spend roughly 40,000+ VC just to increase his skills. That’s a whole lot of hours of grinding just to get to a point where you feel decently competent with your player on the court.
This is also just assuming you pour all of your VC directly into your MyCareer character, too. If you opt to buy some new swag to wear around The Neighborhood, you could be paying as much as 25,000 VC for a single item. Not every single piece of gear will cost this much, but for some of the more “exclusive” items, values skyrocket quickly.
The prices are just as outrageous in NBA 2K20 as they’ve pretty much always been. The only semi-positive thing I can say is that I do feel like the rate at which you earn VC this year, whether it be through playing games or other means, seems to have increased by just a bit. That’s just conjecture on my own part though and I can’t really directly verify as much.
In the pursuit of full transparency, I also feel it is important to mention that the version of NBA 2K20 that I was sent by 2K was that of the Legend Edition. This means that out of the gate, I had 100,000 VC at my disposal in-game. I could have opted not to receive this version and instead could have reviewed the standard edition, but I do feel it is vital to see how far your VC actually goes in these games, especially from a review standpoint.
NBA 2K20 is still way too reliant on VC across almost all of its modes and something has to change about this. Will it? Probably not, but it definitely impacts my enjoyment of the product, which is a shame because NBA 2K20 is still really fun to play.
While NBA 2K20 from a gameplay perspective still feels fantastic, I do have to say that this is probably the least that the franchise has been iterated upon in quite some time when it comes to improving the core mechanics. Is that a bad thing? Well, yes and no. There comes a point where it’s hard to shake things up too much without also potentially screwing up what it is that has made the gameplay so good. Visual Concepts has still made a handful of updates to the gameplay of NBA 2K20 this year, but they’re all incredibly minor and probably won’t be noticed by many.
As for what else is new this year in NBA 2K20, the WNBA has finally been added to the series for the first time. This is something that NBA Live brought in a few years back and 2K is now following suit. While it’s nice to see that the women’s professional league has been added to the game, there’s not much you can do with the league outside of the Play Now and Season modes. Still, it’s a step in the right direction for those who have been wanting an experience like this in an NBA 2K game.
Other than MyCareer, NBA 2K20’s usual slate of other supporting modes are back around this time and don’t offer much that would be considered new or different. MyLeague and MyGM are likely the two big season modes that most will gravitate to if they’re looking for a season-by-season game mode and each is still fun in its own way even if it does just feel like updated rosters are the biggest change.
MyTeam is likely the biggest mode other than MyCareer that most will play and there have actually been a fair amount of changes in this realm for 2K20. New additions such as Card Evolution give you goals to strive for while you play games with certain players. Timed events have also been added and Triple Threat, the mode’s 3v3 offering, has seen some changes, but not all of them are for the better.
My biggest problem with MyTeam though is that it’s just still so dang grindy. I understand why it is this way, but I can never get invested enough in MyTeam to dedicate large amounts of time to it, especially knowing that I’ll just have to hit the reset button 12-months from now. Plus, MyTeam is filled with potentially more money-making practices and randomized elements this year than any other NBA 2K game before. The entire mode just seems to be one major grind solely for the purpose of making you invest money, not because it wants to actually offer a compelling experience.
And once again this year, I also continue to struggle with input lag when playing online against others via MyTeam, too. This has been a common issue I’ve had over the years (I know for a fact it isn’t because of my own Internet connection) and to see it still being a problem here with NBA 2K20 is upsetting. Maybe the game is just too fast-paced to get eliminate lag entirely, but when I feel like there’s a 1-2 second gap between when I release the shoot button myself compared to when my player lets go of the ball in-game, that’s a problem. Assuming others who play NBA 2K annually have these issues, I truly have no idea how they get past it.
I also think it’s important to mention glitches, performance issues, and other bugs that I failed to come across this year. Even though the community surrounding NBA 2K20 has said loudly since launch that the game has been filled with a variety of problems this year, I really had none whatsoever in my own time with the game. I can only report on my own personal experience with NBA 2K20, and for the most part, the game has run well and has been devoid of any clear problems.
NBA 2K20 feels like a transition game for 2K. The full package still offers hours upon hours of basketball enjoyment to be had, but it doesn’t feel like any worthwhile improvements were made compared to 2K19. Plus, microtransactions are still present around nearly every corner, constantly beckoning you to just drop a few dollars into the game. I wish this would change, but I know it’s pretty much never going to at this point.
This is the least impressed I’ve been with an NBA 2K title out of the gate this whole console generation, which says a lot. With both Xbox Scarlett and PS5 arriving next year, I hope the team at Visual Concepts is gearing up big time to bring this series into next-gen. Until then though, NBA 2K20 just feels like more of the same game I’ve already been dabbling with for the past year.