After a mediocre response to the past couple NBA Live entries, EA has taken two years to work on NBA Live 18 and bring it up to par with what people expect from a basketball game. Recently, I had the chance to go to an EA Sports event and try NBA Live 18‘s demo before it fully launches today, and was pleased with what I saw so far.
The controls took a bit to get used to as I had not touched a basketball game in while, but the game’s graphics and the slice of its single player mode, “The One,” left a good impression. Some deep RPG elements have also been spliced into the experience, which definitely helps NBA Live 18 stand out from other sports titles, and makes me want to try out the demo once again to create and make progress again with my own character.
When I first booted the game up, I was brought into the Drew League, which consisted of many famous basketball players, in order to get a feeling for the controls. Passing and shooting are pretty simple, with shooting relying on a timed button press on a shot meter in order to increase one’s chance of getting the ball in the hoop. There are also other variations that use the left trigger and control stick, though these are better suited for players who are used to playing basketball games, not newcomers.
By the end of the match, I had a chance to take in the game’s really good-looking graphics and get used to the controls, which I was a little rusty on beforehand. Cover star James Harden introduced the demo in a short cutscene afterwards, and I was brought to the main menu and urged to create a character for the biggest part of the demo: The One.
The character customization options were serviceable for a sports game, allowing me to choose my height, weight, facial look/structure, and birthplace. After creating my own characters, I was tasked with choosing one of three player types: Guard, Wing, or Big, which was the first sign of the RPG-style depth that NBA Live 18 adds to the game.
Guards are small but fast players that are usually the ball handlers, while Wings are more moderate in nature and are a “jack of all trades” on the court. Finally, Bigs are large but slow players who can use their size to protect the rim and overpower other players. Each type’s offensive and defensive advantages are made clear to the player, and it really felt like I was choosing a class in an RPG.
After choosing Big, I could then pick my playstyle. Stretch Big allows one to be better at shooting baskets and at Defensive rebounding, and The Rim Protector is best at defense and protecting the basket. The Post Anchor playstyle makes players the best at dunking; since that’s usually how I try to score most of my points in basketball games, I went with Post Anchor, and entered The One.
The Rise starts with with the player’s character suffering a major knee injury in his sophomore year. Seven months later, after the player is mentioned on a talk show, their friend Nick Howard sends a message seeing if you want to get back in the game. These conversations have multiple options, which can result in characters that will treat you differently and get you XP, Hype, or Reward Points (RP). Outside of games, The One features a very in-depth and unique RPG-like system.
Like most games that have RPG elements there is a leveling system, and every time the player gets a level in NBA Live 18, they get a Skill Point. Skill Points can be used to level up unlocked skills, which serve as stats for the player. Each player also has “traits,” which function more like loadouts. One’s athlete can have a customizable signature ability, but smaller traits can also be added to a character to give them special boosts on the court and make them play differently.
My character ended up playing slightly different than those around me at the event due to my traits, player type, and playstyle. It was nice to see that much depth to the RPG mechanics in a sports game, and through this system it seems like the mode that will suck up most players’ time in both the demo and the full game, as players will want to improve and have their own unique character.
Players can also equip players with gear that has better stats, which are garnered through crates that the player can use RP to purchase. I’m not the biggest fan of loot crate systems in RPGs, as I feel they can halt progression in really obtrusive ways. I did not get enough time to see how this system effects the latter parts of The One, but I’ll stay cautiously optimistic, as I got some pretty good gear rolls on the basic crates I obtained in the demo.
I continued to play games in The Rise, and got noticed after doing well in quite a few games set in locations like Rucker Park and Venice Beach. Ultimately, my exploits were able to get me in the NBA draft, and The Rise ended as I was picked up by the Golden State Warriors. After completing The Rise, I played around in the basic Play Now mode a bit, and found that I was doing much better at the game than I was when I first started the demo.
From what I played of NBA Live 18, it seems that the game’s developers took previous entries’ middling reception to heart and took the time to craft something unique, good-looking, and fun to play. While I don’t know how the late game of The One functions, what I played has made me confident that the NBA Live series will once again become a viable alternative to the NBA 2K games.
If you are curious, I would definitely recommend downloading the demo so you can see NBA Live 18 for yourself and determine whether or not you want to purchase it when it releases for PS4 and Xbox One on September 15.