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NBA 2K21 Initial Impressions - Gameplay Feels Good, Seems Rushed Elsewhere

NBA 2K21

NBA 2K21 Initial Impressions - Gameplay Feels Good, Seems Rushed Elsewhere

#2KDay has now come and gone. After what many felt was a lousy demo with limited playability and a new shooting mechanic considered to be complicated, four days of full hands-on time has passed. NBA 2K21‘s launch weekend came and went with almost no issues, which is most definitely a welcome sight. (In saying that, a lot of people didn’t receive any of their pre-order bonus content and are still waiting on the 100K VC as well. However, by 2K standards — and just big-budget games in general — it was clean.) After jumping into the game and spending the weekend (mostly) grinding out in MyCareer, here’s are some of my NBA 2K21 impressions up to this point.

NBA 2K21 Impressions

-Building off of last year’s game, I’ll say right off the bat that the game should be considered NBA 2K20.5 for current gen. Yes, there’s a new Neighborhood, shooting mechanics and refined dribbling. As I’ve said in the OS roundtable regarding the demo and on various other platforms, it seems almost obvious that a “guinea pig” approach is being taken with the current-gen version of the game.

nba 2k21 impressions

-Expanding on the previous point, I’m under the heavy assumption that the 2K devs are going to work diligently to work out all the nuances with the new pro stick, dribbling and shot meter to prepare for the inclusion of these things on next gen. They’ll want the experience there to be as seamless and near to perfection as possible. I think that next-gen 2K21 is where all the attention and “eggs in one basket” are sitting with the game.

-Graphics in the game have been fine tuned. Player models, at least for current teams and players, have been touched up and look slightly cleaner than NBA 2K20. In saying this, at first glance to most people, the graphics look exactly the same. I can understand the sentiment regarding that, but think they’ve been touched up a bit, or as much as possible to the capabilities of the hardware.

-The game and how it plays definitely feels smoother. I don’t feel that it’s as herky jerky as NBA 2K20. I have really only encountered one absurd bug and it was a one-off thing:

-The changes to the pro stick regarding dribbling are good. It has taken me no time to get pretty good with the dribble moves, and I feel like I can string together some pretty good combos. Some of the more hardcore “dribble gods” in the iso community might not be as happy with how dribbling is right now (lack of ankle breakers) but I feel like it’s pretty good.

-The new dribble moves and styles added to the game once again allow differentiation between players in the NBA. The new iso signature dribbles and how those work are awesome to set up your crossovers to make space to either try and blow by your defender or set up space for a jumper.

-Continuing with the pro stick, the 2K team wanting to create a skill gap with the shooting mechanics for NBA 2K21 has mostly been a success — albeit let’s see what continues to happen here with how it’s being tuned. That being said, after many hours trying to get shot aiming down, I just couldn’t make the leap. Despite the tweets from Mike Wang offering up extra tips to help, I just left the shot stick and shot aiming alone. I guess that I’m not “comp” or good enough to lock it in, but I reverted back to using the square/X button. I’ve combined that with turning off my shot meter as suggested by Mike Wang for the shooting boost. Since doing these things and finding a custom jumper that works for me (thanks Quil), I’m hitting at a way higher rate.

-On the whole topic of shooting, I have zero issue with how complicated it is to hit shots in the game right now and don’t want them to continue making it easier. A lot of people are and have been complaining about how ridiculously hard it is to shoot in the game, but most haven’t earned nearly enough badges to warrant shooting as well as they think they should be. A hotfix was dropped to address shooting in various modes on lower difficulties, but left shooting the same on higher difficulties and within the Neighborhood. This, of course, will really depend on what mode you’re playing in the game, but MyCareer/Neighborhood players have had the most gripes with shooting. I’ve earned almost all of my shooting badges for my player and I’m having a much easier time sinking shots, both in career games and in the Park.

-Badges are king once again in MyCareer. You could grind out your player to a 95 overall rating, but without having almost all or all of your badges your character is useless, even with a high rating. This is an issue to me because I feel that badges should serve as an enhancement to your player instead of being a necessary evil. They’re obviously a big part of the game, and you won’t be able to do anything on the court without them.

-Across all modes the, AI poses a challenge, even at easier difficulties. Obviously, this also depends on who you’re using and who you’re playing against, but the AI will give you a moderate to full-out challenge. On easier difficulties, casual players or newcomers to the game may have a little bit of a learning curve, and the AI will offer up some competition but it isn’t at a frustratingly hard level.

-The AI still has some soft spots, but it mostly looks like things that could be fixed through updates the game would usually get during a normal year. In other words, due to the 2019-20 season still being in progress, some things probably can’t be updated properly due to player right’s issues or they simply got overlooked in the rush to launch. Once the offseason, NBA Draft and other offseason activities pass and the game receives an update to reflect all the new rosters and movement, I’m sure that the 2K devs will correct the some of the AI management quirks and clean up the tendencies of AI players.

-Defense still needs fine tuning. When attempting to steal the ball, it’s easier to attempt getting in the way of the dribbler with your body to knock the ball loose instead of actually swiping at the ball with your hand to steal it. On top of that, I’m seeing some trends of leaving the corner shooter open too often.

-Rebounding is a bit better, but the ball still hits the court more often than it should. It’s very rare in to see a ball hit the floor and bounce out of bounds in the real NBA, so that should be the same in NBA 2K. This is definitely a legacy issue that we see in the game every year. In addition, it still feels like the offensive rebounder attacks the ball more than the defensive rebounder.

nba 2k21 impressions

Various Observations

  • Presentation looks to be almost the same as NBA 2K20. I did notice a new in-game graphic that shows a player matchup with a visual of each player but that was about it.
  • There’s no inclusion of a female MyPlayer. I’m almost certain that’s going to be one of the “new” additions we’ll see in NBA 2K21 on next gen.
  • There was zero effort to change the content of the stores in the Neighborhood. We got a new atmosphere but the underlying elements are exactly the same. Swags and the NBA Store sell the exact same items that they did in NBA 2K20.
  • The Neighborhood experience is still majorly influenced by VC. The same can be said for MyTeam. Yes, you can get by by not spending any real currency. If you decide to go that route, you’ll be grinding for a long time. If you want to be competitive now, you’re going to have to spend real money to re-up on VC.

Where My Head Is At Right Now

My impression of NBA 2K21 so far is mostly positive. As someone who predominantly plays MyCareer, I’m impressed with the fact that the devs have decided to leave the Park experience as is for the time being (for the most part) despite the outcry from the 2K community.

I can also say that while I understand the focus on the next-gen version of the game and the limitations that the current-gen face, the way that NBA 2K21 was presented has been underwhelming. We’ll have to wait until we start to receive news on what NBA 2K21 on next gen will bring us before a true assessment of the current-gen game can be made. Polished gameplay is delivered so I can be happy that I’m getting a good (yet arguably more complicated) game this year. With that in mind, I suggest really trying to get comfortable with the new changes before you either fully embrace or dislike NBA 2K21.

About the author

A father, dedicated sports fan and gamer. FIFA, Madden, NHL, NBA 2K are what I play majority of the time. Manchester United runs in my blood. Chicago Bulls and Denver Broncos drape the walls of my man cave. Play hard, or don't play at all.

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