NBA 2K24 Review

NBA 2K24 by developer Visual Concepts and publisher 2K GamesMicrosoft Xbox Series X review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 11  minutes

NBA 2K24 in many ways represents the best of sports video gaming. However, NBA 2K24 also represents some of the worst aspects of the video game industry as well. It is a shame, because NBA 2K24 is a fantastic game when you take into account its presentation and the fun to be had in playing the title itself. However, the gaming industry’s need to squeeze as much money out of its customers as possible rears its head here in a way that is impossible to completely ignore as well, which is unfortunate.

As a lifelong fan of the NBA who has been playing the 2K basketball franchise since it first released on the Dreamcast just before the turn of the century, I am the target audience for this release. I love basketball. I have been playing it since I was a kid, I grew up watching the Detroit Bad Boys era and have numerous collectibles spanning decades of fandom. I’ve experienced the growth and change in the 2K series over its 25 years, from a more fast-paced, arcade style of play to the more deliberate, simulation style of play that the series has become known for over the last several years.

I say all of this to explain why I love this series, and was able to enjoy so much of what NBA 2K24 brings to the table this year. The presentation is better than it has ever been. This is in some part simply due to the evolution of technology and time as developers continue to improve upon their craft and find new ways to leverage hardware. One of the most notable aspects of this is in the new PROPlay technology that Visual Concepts has rolled out. For quite some time now, this series used motion capture on a handful of specific players to help create authentic gameplay movements. NBA 2K24 is now leveraging this new technology to incorporate actual game footage instead, opening up a wealth of shots, dribble moves and realistic collisions to make the on-court gameplay look and feel more authentic than ever.

That is no small accomplishment. Unlike hockey or football where players have a lot of bulky equipment to sort of mask their body physics, the NBA has players out there in shirts and shorts jockeying for post position, colliding into one another mid-air and diving across the floor for loose balls. The types of tangled interactions are virtually endless and the 2K series has done a remarkable job capturing the athleticism and physicality found in the NBA. If the gameplay is the most important part of most video games (and I believe it is), then updates like this help to make the experience better. This title looks and sounds the part.

This translates into a thoroughly entertaining representation of basketball through a variety of modes such as MyCareer (create a player and put them through this hybrid single-player / online experience), MyTeam (think fantasy basketball mixed with card collecting), MyNBA (basically, a franchise mode where you run a team, not just a single player), MyWNBA (basically a stripped down version of MyCareer, but with a focus on the WNBA). Last year also saw the reintroduction of Jordan Challenges, and this year swapped in Mamba Moments. This is focused on highlights of Kobe Bryant’s career, where you try to emulate them through some targeted challenges. All in all, it’s a nice celebration of Kobe’s career for the 25th anniversary of the NBA 2K series.

There are some notable changes in other areas as well. The interface is easier to get around, with more information in it than previous years. I like that the Seasons that occur every so many weeks are now shared across the MyTEAM and MyCAREER modes as opposed to being separate and making me feel like I have to budget how I spend my time between those two most popular modes of play. The AI has seen improvements as well, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I loved playing the three-on-three mode in MyTEAM and no longer seeing the opposing team abuse backdoor cuts on almost every other possession. I didn’t realize how twitchy that part of the gameplay had made me until I caught myself needlessly shading my defender that way out of habit from last year’s release, but instead found myself pleasantly surprised to see my defenders preventing that and some other relatively cheap tactics / angles taken to the hoop.

Of the aforementioned modes, the MyWNBA has received a few small tweaks to the formula they have been using the last couple of years, but nothing substantial. It makes sense that this is not where the devs would put most of their time as it’s been a nice inclusion for fans of the game, but I’m sure there’s data somewhere that shows that this mode is not as heavily played as some of the other ones. I appreciate that the MyNBA mode has received a ‘Lite’ mode that strips out some of the more complicated systems for those who want to run a franchise, but desire more time on the court and less in the menus micromanaging things between games. I for one really enjoy the depth of this franchise mode and don’t feel like I get much out of the ‘Lite’ option – but at the same time, I think it’s a nice design choice for those who don’t feel the same way. In addition to this streamlined functionality, we see the return of the ‘Eras’ option we saw last year, with an additional one representing Lebron’s time in the league. These five eras are fun to play with, though I’d like to see even older ones get represented at some point, and create a fun alternative to simply rolling out a franchise set in the current time.

However, the two modes fans are most likely to spend their time with are the MyTEAM and MyCAREER ones, and that is where the business practices of 2K Games starts to get in the way of the fun. MyTEAM is the best version of this ‘pack of cards’ collection modes we see in other sports titles like Madden, WWE, The Show and more. Additional options such as a more restrictive but rewarding Salary Cap Mode to help keep games a bit more balanced between players, or the addition of an option to buy specific cards you are looking for to complete collections are welcome. The core gameplay loop of complete tasks, gain cards and currency, then add to your collection and build out new teams to tackle new challenges is actually pretty fun most of the time, and largely unchanged from prior years.

That being said, the gameplay loop can be pretty grindy, with the rewards for completing tasks and playing games being fairly incremental. That is fine in and of itself I suppose, if it was a level playing field for all and this was just sort of ‘padding’ to keep people playing longer to reach their goals as opposed to feeling like they have nothing more to do. The issue is that you can spend real money on VC (Virtual Currency) that allows players to buy more packs or specific players. This gives those who purchase these funds an obvious advantage over those who spend time grinding for these same rewards. If that pace of progression wasn’t disconcerting enough, the new ‘buy whomever you want’ shop feels like a grab at getting players to spend more currency as well. On top of that, there is now a battle pass in the mix. That’s right, if you spend more money during the ‘seasons’, you can get more virtual rewards for the time you put in.

This same problem rears its head in the primary mode, MyCAREER. For the record, none of this is new. This has been standard operating procedure for the NBA 2K24 series for years now, and it’s often been viewed as a sort of gross set of microtransactions. However, something about it seems every more pronounced this year than the last few. Progress in MyCAREER just feels very slow. With my review copy, I got a 100,000 VC head start that got my player into… the mid 70’s in terms of their overall score. A dozen hours or so later, I was in the low 80’s. Again, I get wanting to set a pace that is somewhat slow, so players are still enjoying the game weeks or even months from now, but for those willing to spend potentially hundreds of dollars to skip the grin and suddenly have the best stats? Well, the actual experience is likely to be far less frustrating.

There is certainly an element of ‘get good’ here, as an incredibly skilled player can likely make up the difference between a character who is a 75 overall and a 90 overall. However, the vast majority of people will simply be doomed to lose against those higher-rated opponents. Of course, no one makes you play the multiplayer component, but MyCAREER certainly wants you to do so, as well as explore the new beachfront city it has established this year. The setting is more enjoyable than last year’s more cluttered, less visually appealing city, but with shops around every corner and numerous reminders that your character could be more competitive if only they had a better rating, there’s a stronger sense that NBA 2K24 is more reliant on VC than ever before.

It’s a shame really, because the actual career mode is still the strongest part of the overall experience for me. Admittedly, I miss the slightly more structured narrative focused on some sort of a plucky underdog or resilient comeback story like we’ve seen in prior games. Here you are seen as the next great player, perhaps even capable of becoming the GOAT (Greatest of all Time). There is still a story here, but it feels heavily stripped down in favor of getting the player into the game and not the ‘extra stuff’. That’s going to be hit and miss depending on the audience. I have a couple of friends who just like to roll out and play, and NBA 2K24 makes it easier to do that than years prior. However, I’ve generally enjoyed these narratives and missed some of that storytelling found in years past.

I will say that I thought one particularly cool new idea is in how NBA 2K24 approaches your career arc. Instead of feeling like you have to play each and every game in a season to get your stats up and instead gives you the option to play ‘key games’. This can be your first game as a pro, or against a key all-star at your position, or a pivotal matchup with another great team also vying for the championship. These games ‘mean’ more in terms of developing your character, and you can simulate the game in-between, and the system does a really nice job of keeping those simulated results in-line with how you played during actual games. The idea is to get you deeper into your career, more seasons into the career arc, so you can experience more of that rise to greatness.

Frankly, I think the above is a great idea. I’m someone who probably spends dozens (if not 100+) hours a year with every installment of the NBA 2K series and almost never make it more than one or two seasons into my career. By skipping the more mundane or ‘filler’ games along the way, I got to delve deeper into my created character’s career than ever before. This is especially cool, as I tend to make two or three different kinds of characters each year, just to try out the different playstyles available. There is still plenty to do between games, with numerous quests and objectives that give this beachfront city a sort of MMO-type vibe that works nicely with the RPG elements in character progression.

So where do I stand on NBA 2K24? This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write in some time. I love the game itself, and have spent a ton of time with it so far and have no doubt that I will continue to this year. It’s still the best sports game out there. However, there is an ever-present grindy-ness to this year’s iteration that gave me the feeling I was swatting 2K’s hand away from my wallet as well. Will I still be playing in a couple of months, like I usually do, because I want to reach great heights with my characters? Or will the microtransaction-heavy nature of 2K’s business practices wear me down and cause me to move onto something else sooner than normal? It’s tough to say right now, but that’s the mixed nature of this year’s release in a nutshell.

Score: 6.5 / 10
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