While reading through the next-gen gameplay blog from Mike Wang, my general NBA 2K21 next-gen gameplay reaction was that it appears there’s attention being paid to improving context sensitivity and creating opportunities to create space between you and your defender. I did not see as much time spent on some legacy issues — and issues that are plaguing NBA 2K21 current-gen gameplay — but I’ll get to that after hitting on some of the stuff that stood out.
NBA 2K21 Next-Gen Gameplay Reaction – What Stood Out?
Do I really understand why shot arc control is in the game? No, not at this point. However, it does seem like the development team is doubling down on the pro stick shooting, which I’m still okay with as of now. I liked the pro stick shooting more at launch than I do today, but I still think it’s a better way forward as the “default” shooting method than button timing — albeit I don’t think 2K is going to really try to pick one over the other, which I think plays into the balance issues present in the game.
It appears the speed that you pull the stick down will continue to matter for where the aim point winds up, much like it has since the patches. In addition, the strategies to stop your motion mid-downward pull won’t be as effective anymore as it’s more about a smooth tempo. It’s not clear at this point what this means for pre-loading your shot for catch-and-shoot jumpers, but we’ll just have to lab that one when the time comes.
What seems more interesting to me is the focus on the tempo of your dribble moves and the variety that can exist in that space. This was called out with the triple threat moves and the size-up moves. The explanation seems straight forward where the speed with which you flick the stick will create a different tempo for the moves you pull off. This means you can go from a slow size-up move right into a hard cross, or do a slow jab step into a sudden hard-go.
Flow is crucial in a basketball game, and throwing off the rhythm of your defender could be a really nice touch for 2K. So much of the time, you can start to get a feel for what moves your opponent is going to go to because you just get used to seeing certain animations. If you can throw in more rhythm breakers to keep a defender guessing, that will do a lot to create more situations that feel fresh moment to moment.
My concern would be the same one that exists already when it comes to dribble moves. Will certain moves be OP and thus it doesn’t matter the pace you do things? On top of that, much like with pro stick shooting, there’s so little space on an analog stick that it’s hard to have such fine control of your thumb in these tense situations. It’s a skill all its own, and it’s not really one that’s easy to attain because you’re working in such a confined space that even when you get good at it, the game could have a tough time reading certain inputs correctly at times.
Still, variety is the spice of life when it comes to dribble moves, and I’m all for more creativity in this space as long as the defense comes along with it.
Banks Shots Are Back
Bank shot control has gone in and out of 2K over the years. Now, we’re getting that control back with the pro stick shooting. It’s unclear to me how the game determines a fast flick is meant for the bank shot rather than just a regular shot, but maybe it ties into where you are on the court. On top of that, aiming at the backboard is said to be the other method to initiate these shots and layups, but that’s also confusing to me because we “aim” to get things to hit inside the meter rather than miss the mark to hit it off the glass.
This might be one of those things you just need to “feel” to understand.
…So Is Layup Timing
At least when it comes to pro stick aiming, the timing for layups is really going to matter on next-gen consoles. I’m a fan of this idea in that the “aiming” system remains the most rewarding around the rim. I also think it’s logical to increase the skill gap here by turning off the timing window for button users so they can just focus on certain animations while not being helped/hurt by the timing of the button press itself.
Creating Separation Off The Dribble
Okay, so this in theory is what gets me most excited about next-gen NBA 2K21. We got to see a Klay step-back jumper and a Luka step-back jumper in the trailer, and in the next section I’ll talk more about other signature elements that were added to the game that will also tie into creating separation off the bounce.
Other shots that involve separation include the side-step jumpers, controlled and high momentum pull-ups, fading jumpers, quick stops into jumpers and your standard step-back jumpers.
But here’s the thing, making most types of jumpers off the bounce is hard as hell in 2K. Now, fading jump shots and leaners got easier this year because you have extra time in the air to use the new pro stick shooting. On top of that, yes, any shot is “easier” in theory in the Park and so on if you have such a handle on things that you green most everything. However, the contest system being what it is on current-gen consoles means it’s a low-percentage shot doing these step-back jumpers. On top of that, fouling jump shooters is not taken as seriously as it should be, so we get these heavy contests that should lead to more fouls but don’t.
I include that video above from OS user alabamarob as a primer of sorts on the issues with the contest system in the game right now. I might even write more about this in a future article because it has bothered me for years in 2K. The truncated version of the problem I’ll detail here also applies to the community itself. The community seems to rage far too often about semi-contested jumpers going in off the bounce that are not green releases. But here’s the thing, every green release goes in (more or less) so if the conceit is only the green releases should go in on semi-contested shots, then what the hell is the point of any shot that’s not a green release unless it’s 100 percent open?
Dunking is already overpowered in this game (Tim Hardaway Jr. in the next-gen trailer says “what’s up?”), and folks who don’t have extreme confidence in their shooting will already pound the paint because they don’t want to shoot 10 percent from behind the line. But the NBA is a 3-point league now, and 2K needs to embrace that and the community needs to get over non-green releases going in to create a more balanced NBA experience — what happens with the Park and so on is a totally separate topic. The fact that 2K has made jump shooting harder while making dunking easier runs totally at odds with the pace-and-space era. Paint points/free throws are up because there’s more offense and shooting, not because everyone is simply more athletic and dunks on everyone in the paint (even if the athleticism point is valid).
If we look beyond these problems, I’m with Mike Wang/Beluba in saying making step-back jumpers with players like Harden and Luka is a delight. It’s rewarding seeing those signature animations play out, and it’s even more rewarding to put together a nice little dribble combo before nailing those shots. But if we shoot 15 percent on them or need to lab with every player to feel confident in that sequence of events, they won’t be used by a wide range of users.
As a side note, I hope all this talk about side-step jumpers and such means they will no longer be broken like they were on current-gen, detailed once again by my buddy alabamarob:
All that being said, I’m going to give 2K the benefit of the doubt here and hope they’ve realized that jumpers based on creating separation won’t matter unless the core concepts that surround them improve too.
Signature Elements In More Areas
Look, anytime we can get more signature animations in the game, I am going to approve of that. The newest touches mentioned include new jumper packages for LeBron and Luka (we saw a Luka signature step-back jumper in the trailer), the LeBron suspended dribble and Harden’s quicker between the legs move. We also have a mention of signature step-back jumpers overall, signature quick stops, signature escape dribbles and signature lateral step-back jumpers.
We didn’t get all the specific players involved here, but one of the joys of playing NBA 2K is getting to do a lot of the signature moves you see from the stars of today’s NBA — as well as the stars of the past.
Reading Your Mind
What I mean here is 2K is trying to up their game and know what you’re trying to do in certain context-sensitive situations. This relates to passing in that you don’t need to do “manual” lead passing since the lead passing will now be tied to tapping the Triangle/Y button. This means you’ll be able to lead a player who is running to the 3-point line or hit a cutter going to the rim without having to think about it as much — the momentum of the player you are passing to will guide the direction of the pass. If you hold the Y button, then you’ll target players further away for those lead skip passes.
The other aspect mentioned here includes getting your feet behind the 3-point line on jumpers. So when you do step-back jumpers near the 3-point line, it should look smoother and lead to less long two-point jumpers.
Both these concepts sound good in theory, and so now we just need to see if that context sensitivity actually works out.
Keeping Things From Current-Gen Patches
I just want to make a quick note here and point out it seems like the changes that are happening in 2K current-gen patches do seem like they’ll carry into the next-gen game as well. This starts first and foremost with the aforementioned tweaks to the pro stick shooting as everything mentioned in the blog is additive to those patches rather than reverting to the original version of shooting. The same can be said for the change to the “park handles” with L3 and the HOF Tight Handles badge creating a situation where park handles are now initiated.
This can be seen as a positive or negative. I was personally a bigger fan of how the game was playing at launch, but if 2K can find a way to balance out the post-launch patches with the additive flourishes coming with next gen, then I’m willing to see how it plays out.
NBA 2K21 Next-Gen Gameplay Reaction – What’s Missing?
Greens Releases Remain
Green releases are bad gameplay design as I’ve tried to explain before, but as I’ve also written previously, I’m not shocked 2K is sticking with them because they do appear to be popular in a general sense.
Do you want to be able to see your opponent’s green lights online?
— Mike Wang (@Beluba) August 27, 2020
The shot meter is being changed so it’s easier to see the sweet spot, which is good because it was very hard to see that little white notch when doing pro stick shooting. There will also be some consistency with the size of the meter, and overall, I do think the changes made to the shot meter/green releases are logical/smart quality-of-life improvements.
Still, my thought with next-gen gameplay was that it was the best chance to make a case for “big” changes that could be sold to the community, and a big change would have been to say “green releases no longer mean you make the shot almost every time.” On the bright side, at least 2K is keeping the promise to give users the option to keep all this stuff off for a clean screen for next gen. Nevertheless, I just wish the same move would be made to turn green releases off as a mechanic for certain online and offline modes.
In a general sense, defense is too easy when it comes to defending on-the-ball jumpers yet it’s underpowered in many other regards. This includes pick-and-roll defense, transition defense, off-ball defense and AI. This also ties into the ease with which you can push the paint and dunk on fools right now — in part due to a lack of offensive fouls — and also ties into how ball tangibility is lacking. This creates an environment where turnovers are too low, and the loose balls/deflections that do occur end up hurting you more than helping you far too often.
We heard absolutely nothing about defense in this blog, and so I hope that’s rectified at some point with a future blog.
Still Want To Hear More About Passing
Passing did get mentions with the changes to lead passing, bounce passing (including bounce pass alley-oops), and pass refinement so you don’t catch the ball out of bounds, but I still want to know more. Can we ping the ball around the perimeter with more zip now? Can we still throw stupid outlet passes all the way down the court with just about every player? Will there be more pass deflections?
Passing has gone through phases in 2K where it’s a strength and then other phases where it’s a weakness. Right now, I think we’re in a “weakness” phase and so I would have liked to hear even more about how passing is changing because both the defense and offense could use some assistance in this area.
One of the most annoying legacy issues in NBA 2K has been the offensive rebounding problem. Offensive rebounding is not a priority these days in the NBA — but it’s still important and should mean something. However, in 2K it can just consume some games and drive you up the wall. Part of the problem is the way players attack rebounds, part of the problem is how often rebounds hit the floor, and another part just ties into boxing out being sort of wonky at times. These problems coalesce more in games against the CPU, but they’re for sure a problem in head-to-head games as well (Clint Capela was a god in 2K for many years).
We heard nothing about rebounding, so much like defense, that concerns me.
We will apparently get a gameplay blog on the tech that went into next-gen gameplay, so I hope to hear about things like the ball being a tangible object again, what went into rebounding, foot planting/change of direction, on-ball interactions between ball handler and defender, and the contest system. However, I have no idea what a “tech” blog will really encompass at this point so that could all be wishful thinking on my part.