NBA Live 19 Review — So Close to Greatness
Electronic Arts brings its pro basketball series back for another season with NBA Live 19, a vast and much-needed improvement from last year's iteration.
Earlier this year, I purchased EA Sports’ NBA Live 18 on a whim; it was on sale for an incredibly cheap price and figured I had nothing to lose. I played two five minute quarter games and realized I did lose a couple of things: my money and my time. It took less than two games for me to know that this was not even close to its competitor, NBA 2K18, which I wasn’t too keen on either. Last year was an off year for basketball games.
Fast forward to 2018; we are approaching a new season with some exciting moves that will, for better or for worst, change the NBA landscape. While we aren’t there just yet, the latest NBA games, like NBA Live 19, give us a preview of what’s to come of the upcoming season. However, is EA’s latest iteration of the annual franchise worth playing this time around? While NBA Live 19‘s issues are noticeable, I actually found a bit of joy under its flawed systems.
The first thing I did – after creating my character — in NBA Live 19 was play a quick game to see how well this entry played. I had such a negative experience with NBA Live 18, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t about to quit in the opening minutes of me playing the game. Luckily, that was not the case; I was actually enjoying myself. The controls felt a bit more precise and, for the most part, felt in control of what was happening on the court.
Playing as the Minnesota Timberwolves – they are essentially Bulls 2.0 and I still (reluctantly) have faith in Tibs and Butler – I was absolutely dominating the 76er’s by simply driving Jimmy Butler right to the basket for the layup or dunk. I felt unstoppable which is fine and dandy but takes away from the sense of realism NBA Live 19 is attempting to portray. Sure, there are teams that might play through a particular player but you won’t see them driving to the basket every single play. There just seems to be a lack of strategy to it despite it prompting you that you can set a screen.
There are times when I felt tied down by NBA Live 19’s animations. If you drive to the basket for a layup or dunk, which you will often do, you are essentially locked into an animation that will either miraculously give you two points or get stuffed so hard, you can feel the virtual player’s embarrassment. If I’m wrong and you can alter the course of your layup, it certainly doesn’t feel like it affects the ball’s course whatsoever.
The ESPN branding is a nice touch to its presentation. Based solely on visuals, it looks like something you would see on television. However the in-game commentary, both on and off the court is pretty stale. It feels like the commentators hardly go into any specifics of NBA Live 19, making it seem more like voice-over rather than live commentary. The desk seems to just speak generic lines sometimes recycling those same lines within the same game.
Another facet that throws off NBA Live 19’s feeling of authenticity is the crowd. It doesn’t feel like I’m playing in front of thousands of people. A lot of this has to do with lighting. If the audience lighting was brighter, the stadium would feel more full. If I were playing in a real-life NBA game, the audience’s energy is almost palpable. The crowd’s energy in this almost feels non-existent.
When you actually begin the game, you’ll create a character which can be male or female. The bulk of NBA Live 19’s game modes revolves around this character’s journey as “The One.” There are real acted videos attempting to portray your character as some top prospect in the basketball world but it all comes off as corny.
The League mode brings your created to the traditional NBA games you are used to. This will have you play in the combines to determine roughly what draft pick you would be. I was expected to be the ninth pick but ended up being the eight for the Cleveland Cavs. However, I received an in-game text which allowed me to choose any team to move to. It’s nice to give players this choice but, once again, takes away from the “simulation” aspect of NBA Live 19.
The League mode is fun if you’re into the loop of getting your character into the starting lineup by playing a ton of games but it is only available for male created characters. Despite having every WNBA team available to play as, there is no option to play the League mode with a female character. It is great that you can play with a female character in everything else but it would have been neat to move up the ranks in pro women’s basketball.
The rest of NBA Live 19’s modes – which include The Streets World Tour, Court Battles, and the special live events – can all be played with male or female players on the same team. It is great to see that, for most of the game, men and women players, both created or pros, can be on a team together. It is a bit off when a power forward from the WNBA is in your squad is about the same height as your shooting guard from the NBA, but it is still a step towards the right direction.
The aforementioned modes all feature the same gameplay formula. Since it is street ball, it doesn’t seem like you can foul anyone. I tried my hardest to see if I could get called for a reach-in but I couldn’t. Additionally, each game may have specific rules and stipulations in order to win a game. This can be as normal as the traditional game to 21 or as bizarre as dunks and layups count for five points, every other shot counts for one, and each half is five minutes. It provides a lot of variety keeping things interesting as you potentially play for hours.
The differences between the modes are fairly minute. The Street World Tour mode is basically The League mode but for street ball. The Court Battles require you to create a court – which have a good amount of options to choose from – and try to take over other player’s courts. Someone can take over your court, in which case you’ll have to successfully defend it to take it back. The special live events are there to off rewards you wouldn’t normally get in the base game.
The biggest flaw in NBA Live 19 is how you earn these rewards. The basis of NBA Live 19 is to level your created character and earn rewards to make your player and court look cool. This entire process is purposeless in both its function and design.
Each time you level your character, instead of allowing the player to select specific areas to improve, depending on your position and the type of icon you chose, you’ll only upgrade the attributes pertaining to your icon; as you level, you’ll get different attributes and perks you can further upgrade. Additionally, after you garner a certain amount of experience, you can upgrade the icon you chose giving you statistical bonuses, cosmetic items, or specific animations.
Not only is this process incredibly slow, they seem pointless. This is especially true for the icon abilities. When you are able to upgrade said ability, it takes you to a linear skill tree; there are a few spots that give you a choice but it isn’t anything that will significantly change your playing style.
You’ll also have separate bars to level for each mode. When you do level one of these bars, certain cosmetic perks will be unlocked. That is really it. I never really felt attached to the idea of leveling the plethora of bars because the gains were minuscule. I don’t really need this Lonzo Ball shot animation. I don’t really need this pink sleeve. Sure, I’ll just keep dumping my points into layups because mid-range shots are useless. Every “choice” I made with my character felt like I was just going down a linear path not allowing me to truly create the character I wanted.
Ultimate Team for NBA Live 19 is not unlike previous Ultimate Team modes from other EA Sports games. If anything, there is less of an emphasis on it. Unlike it’s predecessors, when you go to the mode’s menu, it doesn’t really explain how Ultimate Team works. As someone who has played a bit of MUT and FUT, I understood what I was supposed to do. For anyone who is new to Ultimate Team or NBA Live, it doesn’t do a great job with introducing you the basics of the mode.
NBA Live 19 is by no means the pinnacle of NBA games. EA still has quite a bit of work to do to be on par with its competition. However, this latest release is guiding the series in a positive direction. The gameplay is fun and the basic concepts of the modes are great. If you’re looking for a game to just pass the time, NBA Live 19 has your back. It is how they are executed where the problems start to surface.
In the end, any progress made, whether it’s leveling up my player or regaining control of my court, just feels aimless. If I’m simply being rewarded with cosmetic options, I don’t see the point of furthering my character’s career. If my Icon path is linear, why make me go to a menu to activate those perks? Why play the mid-range game if driving straight to the hoop while getting double teamed will still grant me the 2 points I need? It’s questionable decisions like this that sets NBA Live 19 just below the bar of greatness.