With the release of NBA 2K19, the series marks its 20th year with The King, LeBron James gracing the Anniversary Edition cover. It’s fitting as the annual franchise has been the king of basketball games for almost as long as James has dominated the NBA. NBA 2K19 looks to remain on top of the competition by refining almost every aspect of its already dense offering. Between a revamped neighborhood in MyCareer, a new MyTeam, and many other ways to experience life as an NBA star, 2K has done anything but rest on its laurels.
2K has established itself as a very ambitious company when it comes to its basketball game, and after spending a lot of time in the practice gym with NBA 2K19, it’s time to tip-off and see how the newest entry in the franchise stacks up.
With each new year, would-be basketball players flock to the ever expanding MyCareer mode. This season, your MyCareer player starts off in China after going undrafted. It’s here that we get to create our player, dubbed A.I., as he meets with Chinese media for the first time. The dual-archetype system from NBA 2K18 returns, as do the attribute caps and the badge system. Unlike last year, however, you can now see what your player’s attribute caps will be before committing to making a specific type of player.
Archetypes and badges have been reworked and the options are staggering. Stat caps change based on a number of factors like height, weight, wingspan and position. Badges are consistent by position, but the same archetype at a different position may have different badges at different levels. Badge levels still remain divided between Hall of Fame, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, and while a point guard may get a gold Dimer badge and a Silver Limitless range, that same archetype at shooting guard may have those badges flipped in terms of tier.
Once names, vitals, and position are filled out for your player, there is an option to either play through the Prelude, where the bulk of the story takes place, or go straight to the NBA. While I won’t give away spoilers, I highly recommend that players experience the Prelude, which is much longer and more in depth than the demo of the same name. The narrative in NBA 2K19’s Prelude is easily the most grounded and emotionally heavy of the MyCareer stories. There are no Friends of Freak or D.J.’s here.
Once you make it to the NBA proper, players are introduced to the new and greatly expanded Neighborhood. Introduced in NBA 2K18, the Neighborhood was a hub for MyPlayers to meet in the Park and the Pro-Am to see whose virtual baller was King of the Court. That’s still very much the case in NBA 2K19, and it’s clear that the dev team has done a lot of work to make the Neighborhood a more refined and more fun place for gamers to play.
The first thing players will notice is that the neighborhood is much easier to navigate than it was before. Gone are the labyrinth of streets and alleys, and in their place is a town square. It’s this square that players can find everything from the NBA store to the Jordan Rec center — and everything in between. This new layout makes everything much easier and faster to get to so time in between games or changing outfits has been reduced.
Speaking of change, new this year is the ability to change your player’s jump shot and outfit without having to step out of the queue in Park games. This is another quality-of-life change in NBA 2K19 that doesn’t seem like much, but it all adds up to save the player time. In fact, the only area in the Neighborhood that takes some time to get to is also one of the most fun additions in the game: The Under Armour Cages.
In the Under Armour cages, NBA 2K19 leaves the confines of regular basketball and introduces trampolines. Yes, that’s right: TRAMPOLINES. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had in the Park so far, and it was also the longest wait to play as many wanted to experience this wacky way to play. It’s very reminiscent of NBA Street in that way as players sky for dunks, rebounds and blocks. It’s even possible to double jump from one trampoline to another, though I’m not sure if that was intended as it’s inconsistent as to whether or not it works.
Another way to kill time in the Neighborhood is a good old-fashioned game of dodgeball. At various times, dodgeball will open up for players in the Neighborhood, though I’m sad to report that it wasn’t up and running during my time with the review (though I’m sure will get to this in a later article). I also did not have any luck with the Jordan Rec Center, which now serves as the Pro-Am walk-on spot (more on the servers later). But speaking of the Pro-Am, players can make their personalized team and uniforms right off the jump with only the Arena editor requiring Pro-Am rep to have access to. There is also private matchmaking for Pro-Am so finding talented squads to play against should be easier than ever.
Eventually, your player will take to the NBA arena and it’s there that more quality of life changes come in. Now your player can go straight into the next game or over to the team practice facility right from the locker room. This saves time while grinding badges and your player’s new way to get to 99 overall: MyPoints. Much like last year, the goal of MyCareer in NBA 2K19 is to get to 99 overall, and MyPoints are the new name for XP. There are also different perks for reaching certain overalls, including a boost to a new MyPlayer once you reach 95 overall.
After each game with your NBA team or in the Park, a bar will fill up based on performance. The better the game, the more MyPoints you get. Performance in-game is still shown with hot or cold icons by your player, but in addition to simply being hot or cold your player now has access to the Takeover mechanic. This mechanic boosts your attributes for a limited time once you build up the takeover meter. This could potentially grant the player access to better moves, such as momentum dribble moves depending on if the boosted attributes pass the required threshold.
That being said, MyCareer is still heavily laden with microtransactions and is still very much a pay-to-win model. While things like haircuts are free this year, those who were tired of how everything cost VC will still be disappointed. Players will still feel the pressure to pay real money in order to not fall behind, and you’ll still feel like your MyCareer player is the most broke NBA player in the world. 2K is a bit more liberal with how VC you earn, but it still feels like it’s not enough.
There are also things in the Neighborhood that are obscenely overpriced. While a pair of Jordans may cost your player a couple thousand VC, buying a football to throw around with your friends or buying a skateboard to wheel around the Park will cost you north of 50K each. It’s frustrating that 2K has added all of these fun additions to the mode and locked them away behind microtransactions.
The good news is that MyCareer is still really fun to play. Beyond the frustrations of VC, the core gameplay remains very solid with some important changes.
For those who want more out of an NBA game than the offerings of MyCareer, NBA 2K19 has you covered as well. The deepest franchise mode in all of console sports video games is back. They didn’t reinvent the wheel in MyLeague, but there are refinements scattered throughout the mode that help keep things fresh. Whether you want the traditional franchise experience, or start the league with up to six expansion teams, to even exploring matchups across different eras with historic teams, the ways to dive into franchise mode in this year’s game are staggering.
To help matters along, NBA 2K19 still has the most extensive team-creation suite in the industry. From custom logos for team uniforms, to a couple dozen expansion cities, to the ability to customize your team’s arena and court, wannabe team owners will be able to spend ample time pouring over the little details in an effort to create the next great NBA franchise.
Online MyLeague is present and accounted for as well with every detail and nuance needed to run a league with multiple users. The ability to have timed offseason events is a huge deal, as is the trade approval screen being included in game. On top of that, there is a handy icon up in the corner where the league commissioner can establish different milestones in the season such as the trade deadline. Everything in MyLeague is fully customizable so that it can be fully tailored to a player’s needs.
If running an entire league seems a bit daunting, MyGM makes its return. Players have a choice of continuing on the story from MyGM in NBA 2K18 or going straight into being the general manager for an NBA franchise. Again, I won’t spoil the story for MyGM, but it picks up immediately after last year’s story. Unlike the Prelude though, MyGM’s story is presented through text boxes.
Playing the story in MyGM takes some time to get going as you spend the first 20 minutes of the experience making a few decisions but mainly reading conversations. Once you get past that, you’ll still be expected to meet owner goals in order to keep your job. That may mean trading for a certain player, or changing out an assistant coach. How you choose to tackle those goals will impact your standing with the owner, your fellow front-office staff, and down to the players themselves.
Even if you choose not to experience the story that MyGM offers, you still have to staff your team with coaches and trainers. There are six positions to fill including a Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Coaches. During contract negotiations, your GM avatar will meet with players to discuss contract terms and player desires to keep the roster happy. You’ll even have to meet with players to discuss their playing time and all of these options can affect chemistry.
No sports video game would be complete without a card-collecting mode. The concept remains basically the same. Collect better and better cards in order to put the best team possible out on the court where you can compete solo or against another player online. That’s not to say things haven’t been improved, however.
Most notably, there are head-to-head qualifiers that will make the winners eligible for a 250K dollar MyTeam tournament. Details on exactly when this is happening are on the way, but this is something that could potentially be a boon for 2K’s foray into the world of esports. It’s just unfortunate that, again, MyTeam is a mode that is very much a pay-to-win model. With more transparency in what is inside packs this year, NBA 2K19 runs the risk of an even more unbalanced playing field.
On top of that, card art is merely okay but it lags behind other card-collecting modes. There are weekly challenges for both solo and multiplayer, a refreshed Domination mode, and a new Triple Threat Online mode, which pits teams of three against each other. The 2K dev team is promising more regular content updates for the mode to keep it fresh, so if card collecting is your thing there should be enough content to keep you busy in the months ahead.
Once you get past the plethora of different modes, you get down to the brass tacks in any video game. How does it play? If you’ve ever played an NBA 2K game before, you know exactly what to expect from NBA 2K19. It’s still a very solid game of basketball despite the gameplay showing a bit of age. While shooting and dribbling still feel great, I couldn’t help but notice how floaty the player movement was. Players seem to glide across the court, and unlike a game like NBA Live 19, there does not feel like there is any real physics-based movement for the players.
Another legacy issue that remains is that animations will trigger that remove the player’s ability to control their player. Too often my player was sucked into a bump animation with a defender and the animation ended up taking me out of bounds. I’d also like it if 2K would add a better lob pass into the game. Instead of floating a ball into the post over a defender, oftentimes the pass is straight to the defender despite the situation dictating otherwise.
With all that said, once you get past those couple of issues, this game plays extremely well and remains the most complex yet fun game of basketball out there. Euro steps, spin moves and post ups are all here, and with a little practice are really easy to do. NBA 2K19 has the most extensive set of animations for players to choose from, and each helps to contribute to making each player feel unique.
On top of that, the CPU has seen a big boost on the defensive end. Steals and blocks now make sense within the context of the game, and the armpit blocks and through-the-body steals from NBA 2K18 are largely resolved. The CPU will now access more of the playbook and run different plays to try and take advantage of the opponent.
Another addition is “pick and roll smart switching.” It’s now possible for the player to pick on bad defenders by running pick and rolls to draw a defensive switch on the screen. Along with excellent off-ball movement and new play art, you now have more agency than ever when playing the game.
Strategy and execution remain as important as ever, and 2K has implemented new double team and transition logic in order to improve the overall game experience. Spacing on the floor is better than ever, and I saw far fewer instances of four players clogging the middle of the lane or poor angles on the fast break. I’ve spent hours playing 5-on-5 basketball and I’m barely scratching the surface on all of the under-the-hood improvements.
Besides the aforementioned improvements, 2K veterans will undoubtedly pick right up where they left off last year. All of the familiar dribble moves are back and remain as fun as ever to pull off. Also returning is the jump shot creator for MyPlayers to mold their stroke however they see fit. Shooting has been tuned so better logic exists for contested versus open shots, and NBA 2K19 marks the return of the shot meter on layups as well.
At the end of the day, this is the most refined basketball game that 2K has put out from a gameplay perspective.
Graphics and Presentation
Much like player motion, graphics are where NBA 2K19 is starting to fall behind at times. That’s not to say that this is an ugly game. Far from it. It just seems like 2K went with a much more video game aesthetic as opposed to the photo-realistic route that other sports games are steering towards in recent years. Colors are much more vibrant as a result of this direction and players are still very recognizable, it’s just a clear art-style choice that you either already love or won’t be sold on at this point.
Courts look great and the lighting is also really good for the most part. There can be issues with sun glare in the Park at times but it’s a minor gripe. Player introductions in-game look smooth and 2K has even done a much better job of incorporating female characters into the game. Unfortunately, these women are few and far between and there are no WNBA or even MyCareer female avatars, which seems like an oversight by 2K.
The one area where NBA 2K19 is far and away superior is in the presentation of the game. We still get great in-game commentary from Kevin Harlan and the crew, with more dialogue than ever before. Unlike any other sports game, the commentary and sideline reporting in NBA 2K19 flows very similarly to real life. There are almost no moments where I was starkly aware that I was playing a game in terms of the commentary.
Dialogue is smooth and almost conversational, and even guest commentators — such as a returning Kobe Bryant — do a great job of being informative and deliver their lines with conviction. Everyone sounds as if they were actually calling a game. The only exception to this is during halftime interviews with David Aldridge. Play enough games with a particular team and you’re very likely to see repeat interviews before too long.
Arena and crowd sounds are awesome and really help to immerse the player in an arena atmosphere. The crowd cheers as it should, and fans will boo if they see the home team playing poorly. Arenas generally have accurate sounds, with Madison Square Garden and the trademark organ music being a highlight.
The 2K Studio reports before and after each game with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal also return. Their chemistry is awesome and really add a broadcast feel to each game, though it pains me to see that Charles Barkley is once again absent from the game. Here’s hoping he makes it in next season.
Online And Servers
Much like past releases, NBA 2K19 struggled over opening weekend with the typical server issues that have plagued 2K before. Park games would sometimes stutter to a crawl, Jordan Rec Center games often took up to 20 minutes to get on the court, and even when you did the frame rate and lag were issues. Missing VC purchases and deleted MyPlayers also continue to be a legacy launch issue.
The server issues are especially apparent in MyCareer. As the most popular online connected mode in the game, it makes sense that it would face the heaviest server loads early on. Every modern online game suffers through server issues at launch, but it seems as if it’s the same ones that 2K has to deal with every year. I even had dozens of hard crashes in the game, and every time I restarted I just hoped that all of my progress remained.
Of course, 2K is accommodating player issues as best it can, but it would be nice to see some progress made in terms of server and game stability — particularly with a lot of real-world money at stake. Hopefully, these issues get ironed out over the long run, though I do worry about potential setbacks when the standard edition of the game comes out on the 11th.
NBA 2K19 shows no signs of relinquishing its crown as the best basketball video game around. It plays well, it looks good, and it features the deepest and most varied modes in all of sports video games. While the game is yet again laying it on thick with microtransactions and server issues at launch, improvements and polish have been applied to nearly every aspect of the experience. This is especially true of the revamped Neighborhood.
If you love the NBA and want the most complete package in basketball, NBA 2kK9 is right up your alley. It’s easily the most refined and densely packed sports game on the market today.