NBA 2K19 had a real opportunity to be something special. Its markedly more physical and defensively minded gameplay could have made NBA 2K19 a clear winner over previous entries. Unfortunately, last year’s most egregious issues have once again reared their ugly heads and put a damper on everything.
NBA 2K19’s taken a long, hard look at one of my biggest complaints about last year’s entry and overhauled its defense. Driving straight into another player and somehow blowing past them toward the basket is no longer a possibility, as you’ll generally end up turning over the ball. Passing has seen a considerable nerf, too. You’ll need to really check your lanes and consider where the ball is going before you try to get it to your teammates. The design choices here seem to actively recognize that basketball is more than just flashy moves and a high shooting percentage. It’s a deep, strategic game, and NBA 2K19’s core gameplay and player physics seem like a love letter to that fact.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be constantly stealing the ball. On the contrary, NBA 2K19’s referees are even stricter with reach-in fouls than they were in last year’s game. Every time you press the steal button, you’re chancing a foul call, especially if your timing is nowhere near where it should be. Again, this is how actual basketball works. You won’t see a bunch of NBA players swiping at the ball at all times like you will in most basketball video games. The focus on preventative defense and positioning over highlight-worthy steals is a refreshing change.
Another area that’s seen a fairly substantial improvement is in its MyCareer Prelude. I was honestly shocked by the difference in the story, acting, and scope of NBA 2K19’s Prelude over last year’s utterly laughable attempt at a narrative. This year’s MyCareer will start your created character—in my case, Jumbo Dirtbag has pulled a “reverse Jordan” and transitioned from baseball to basketball—in China, playing for the Shanghai Bears. During these games, the play-by-play is entirely in Chinese, which was such a surprising touch that I was actually disappointed when my character moved back to the U.S. The Prelude takes a long time to complete as well, giving you time to figure out your particular character’s archetype and how to best use your natural attributes to grade as high as possible per game.
The Neighborhood, which debuted just last year, has seen some general improvements as well. You won’t have to take a subway or run around a confusing map to get to where you’re trying to go. Now, almost every store, shop, and facility is within one main hub, cutting down on a lot of the pointless walking you’ll be doing this year. Ironically, one of the things NBA 2K19 lets you spend your virtual currency on this year is a scooter, even though that would have been much more useful last year. Unfortunately, most of the Neighborhood’s pickup games—including the new Under Armor Cages, which add wall passes and trampolines into the mix—still make you stand in place while you wait for a spot on the court instead of just letting you queue up for the next game on a sign-up sheet. Alternatively, you can go to the rec center and queue up for a standard five-on-five match, but smaller teams and the wackier cage modes still rely on the utterly pointless waiting system.
Then there are the microtransactions. This is where NBA 2K19 once again drops the ball. Virtual currency payouts per match seem slightly more generous this time around, but it’s still going to feel like a grind, and you’ll still be warming the bench for most of your early MyCareer matches, depending on your rating. Playing against higher-ranked MyCareer characters, where “amateur” characters are somehow already at an overall rating of 90, reeks of pay-to-win or, at the very least, pay-to-skip. It’ll probably be even worse for players picking up the game’s standard edition, which won’t gift you any VC. The special edition I received for the purpose of this review gifted me 100,000 VC right off the bat, instantly bringing Jumbo Dirtbag from a starting overall of 60 to a more reasonable 75. The “Road to 99” is still paved in gold.
The worst part is that VC once again plays into everything you do. The currency is shared across all modes, including MyTeam, meaning you’ll have to make tough decisions about whether you want to enhance your MyCareer character or build your MyTeam. I have a feeling that players are generally into one over the other, but the fact that the only character-based career mode relies entirely on the same system as the game’s card- and loot box-based mode makes the single-player aspects of the game feel dirty. Best of all, you can still literally gamble away your VC in the Ante Up courts, which remains the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in an E-rated game.
There’s still MyLeague, a slightly enhanced MyGM (even though it still isn’t voiced at all), and Play Now, but these modes haven’t seen any significant improvements. Likewise, the presentation itself seems like a direct copy-paste from last year’s edition. Shaq, Ernie, and Kenny still look as dead-eyed and blank as last year, and David Aldridge, while not as offensively terrifying as his NBA 2K18 counterpart, still looks like a living puppet.
In many ways, NBA 2K19 feels like it’s getting away with something. While the gameplay might have seen some real enhancements that hardcore players will truly appreciate, more casual players will mostly be met with the same game as last year—and that includes its shady microtransaction practices. Nothing in NBA 2K19 is actively worse than NBA 2K18, but it’s frustrating that an increasingly competent and satisfying basketball simulator is dragged down by a microtransaction system that’s just as pervasive as it was last year.
|Publisher: 2K Sports • Developer: Visual Concepts • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.11.18|
NBA 2K19 had a real opportunity to learn from last year’s mistakes, and in some ways it did. The Neighborhood is more convenient, the Prelude is way more interesting, and the gameplay has seen some subtle but important improvements. Unfortunately, all this is marred yet again by the game’s predatory microtransaction system, which turns the MyCareer stuff into a grind-heavy, pay-to-skip farce.
|The Good||Improvements to player physics and defensive gameplay will please hardcore fans of basketball strategy.|
|The Bad||Virtual currency still rules all, and everything else seems like a carbon copy of last year’s game.|
|The Ugly||The character creator is at least expansive enough to let me capture some of the real Jumbo Dirtbag’s magnetism.|
|NBA 2K19 is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by 2K Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|