Many are wondering if it’s worth it to purchase the next-generation version of NBA 2K21 if they already own it on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, or if the game is any good at all.
I’ve played a ton of NBA 2K21 on current-gen, but I admit, I experienced it with one foot out the door in anticipation of the next-gen release. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the next-gen version for awhile, and I’ve already logged an obscene amount of hours on it in a variety of modes.
Let’s take a look at the good, bad and the bottom line with the next-generation version of NBA 2K21.
Graphics and Animations
- Mostly Beautiful Visuals – Some of the renders and screenshots that you can pull are simply amazing. Even screens of objects, hands, legs, shoes, etc. will sometimes cause an even longer double take than we’ve seen in previous games. I’d heard one of the console manufacturers felt 2K was the most beautiful next-gen game, and I can see why. With the exception of a few factors–that I’ll discuss shortly–2K on next-gen looks phenomenal. Most of the videos you’ll see on YouTube don’t do the game justice because of system limitations for capturing. It looks fantastic on a 4K screen with HDR and the right color balance.
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- Smoothest Animations Ever in a Basketball Game – The beauty goes beyond still shots. Watching the players and objects move on the court is an amazing visual. I felt like I was in that iconic scene from American Beauty when Wes Bentley is describing that floating plastic bag. It seems a little over-dramatic, but basic movements and physics like that in 2K are awe-inspiring.
- Stunning Environments – To put a bow on the visual love, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the environments. They are as alive as I’ve ever seen in any sports video game. It feels like the arenas are a living organism and if you’ve ever been to a live NBA game, you know how busy the building is all the while the players are on the field playing, and the coaching staff are doing their thing on the sidelines. 2K21 on next-gen accurately captures that hustle and bustle, and it’s best appreciated during the pre-game festivities.
- Inconsistent Renders – Some of the player renders are straight port ups from current-gen, and a good number of them weren’t all that accurate on those consoles. Some of the players with darker complexions have been baked to a degree that makes them appear almost impossibly dark. Perhaps some of this is a product of HDR which can accentuate the black levels of your picture, but players like Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics and Taurean Prince of the Brooklyn Nets come to mind with this issue. That said, it appears help is on the way with players still being scanned.
- Still a Good Amount of Clipping – One of the things I’d hoped to see less of on next-gen was clipping. Unfortunately, the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 has just as much passthrough as the current-gen version. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is virtually impossible to eliminate this completely. However, because it is such a commonly referenced issue, I felt I needed to inform everyone who has yet to play the game, that clipping is still present.
Gameplay, Realism and Fun
- Great Expressions of Speed and Weight – More than ever, I can feel the difference between bigger guys and the smaller guards. Players run, dribble, jump and handle differently. It’s hard to put into context how important that is for immersion. This is further enhanced on the PlayStation 5 because of the haptic feedback on the controller.
- Sound Rebounding Tech – 2K might have found the most realistic and balanced rebounding system they’ve had in series history. The best way for me to represent this aspect of the game is to say, every time a rebound goes to a player, I feel as though I understand how they came down with the ball.
- Impact Engine is a Winner – There are two areas of the gameplay that I love more than others. The Impact Engine is one of them. The number of contact dunks, chucks, and other more subtle collisions in the game help to create some of the most exciting sequences in the game. There are some outstanding gameplay moments that stem from this upgrade that are only possible on the next-gen version.
- WNBA Gameplay Really Shines – If you want to see the most fundamentally sound and purest concept of hoops in 2K, you owe it yourself to try out a WNBA game. Because the game is balanced and it doesn’t exaggerate the size or athleticism of the players in the W, you get a smoothness that has to be seen to fully appreciate. I have enjoyed games with Breonna Stewart, Candace Parker, and A’Ja Wilson just as much as I have with the NBA’s biggest stars. This aspect of the game is about as close to perfect as you can get. If you jump to the 4:01:00 mark of the video below, you can see a Seattle Storm vs. Las Vegas Aces game.
- PARK play is as Good as It Has Been in Years – PARK play is supposed to be over-the-top, but it’s at its best when it is still ruled by some level of basketball concept. It feels as though 2k has found a much better balance in this area in NBA 2K21. Where current-gen had issues in some areas, 2K has seemingly used that data and community feedback to deliver something sweet on next-gen. The dribbling, physicality and player-developing journeys have inspired me to get back into a mode I’d fallen out of favor with over the past few years.
- Shooting is More Balanced – One of the biggest issues many users had with the current-gen version were associated with the shooting. To put it plainly, most of the 2K community struggled to shoot. Part of the complaints could be chalked up to whiners who simply want things easy, but another portion of it was legitimate. On the next-gen version, 2K seems to again have found the balance based on community feedback. The shot meter is larger, and there is still a way to use shot-aiming, but with even more control than before.
- Dribbling is Fantastic – The other part of the gameplay I was most impressed with is the dribbling. The ability to control the speed of your moves can’t be understated. It delivers a true skill gap for those who are nicer with the sticks than their peers, and when chained together properly with the right players, it can create some of the most rewarding moments in the game.
- Defense Isn’t as “Grabby” – Most of what makes the gameplay improved wouldn’t be possible in any mode if the action felt as “grabby” as it has in other versions. It isn’t as easy to create the magnetic contact that inexplicably impeded a ball-handler’s movement. In previous years, this had become the meta on defense, but now it’s a little more about anticipation rather than riding the wave of a flawed mechanic. This isn’t perfect by any means, but 2K has taken some strides in improving the collision balance between ballhandler and defender.
- The Leniency in MyPlayer Building is Welcomed – One of the things that turned me off about the MyPlayer experience over the years was the restrictions placed on the building and upgrade process. There were so many limitations because 2K was trying to keep the game balanced for online play that it just wasn’t fun anymore. Some of those restrictions are still there, but you now have far more control and this allows you to create players who are simply more fun to progress.
- AI Teammates Still Make Egregious Decisions – In 5v5 gameplay, I still find myself wondering why my A.I. teammates make such horrible decisions. They still aren’t reacting appropriately to double teams, and on offense, there is an inconsistent respect to spacing. This can create some maddening moments of gameplay.
- Ball Tangibility Still Needs Improvement – We’ll talk about clipping in a second, but that will be more related to what happens in respect to player bodies. Ball tangibility is arguably more impacting because when the rock is interacted with, it’s imperative that contact is respected and reflected in the gameplay. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. I’ve seen a few passes travel through the sides of players, across a guys’ shoe, etc. This doesn’t happen enough to kill the gameplay experience, but it occurs often enough to mention it here as a negative. In fact, it might be the single biggest criticism I have of the game on any level.
Sound and Presentation
- Multiple Commentary Teams – The next-gen version has multiple commentary teams, and with them, there are special guests. This keeps the audio presentation in games fresh. Many gamers simply lean on their Spotify playlists, but for gamers like me who actually appreciate the broadcast-style presentation, this a welcomed addition.
- Arena Sights and Sounds Are Stellar – To go with the realistic look of NBA arenas, there’s also enhanced sound. If you go with the broadcast look, you’ll hear a great blend of floor sound effects with the crowd (boy do I miss that in real life) and the commentary.
- Still Missing a Suitable Halftime Show – I’d love to see a halftime show where the commentary from Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith actually matched the clips being shown on the highlight reel. It feels a little less random on next-gen, but still nothing that will stop me from skipping through it.
Options and Modes
- MyNBA is Insanely Deep – NBA 2K already had the deepest franchise mode experience in sports video games. By combining MyGM and MyLeague into MyNBA, they have blown away everyone in a race they were already winning. I have to point you to my writeup on this feature for a more wholistic look at this mode, but trust me when I say, it’s as good as advertised if you’re a franchise mode fan.
- Roster Creation and Share Options Are Unrivaled – Roster creation and franchise mode kind of go hand-in-hand, and both have seen noteworthy upgrades. The next-gen version allows fans to share their MyNBA setups and scenarios for nearly unlimited replay value for those in the community. The amount of customization in this family of modes has every other sports gaming community envying what 2K franchise fans have at their disposal.
- The City is a Revelation – Back in 2017, 2K revolutionized the single-player sports experience with The Neighborhood. The concept was excellent, but it began with a ton of bumps and issues. While The City, which is far more expansive, might be benefiting from having far fewer consoles and players to contend with from a server-strength standpoint, it is performing much smoother with an even larger environment. The entire City is massive, and it reportedly takes about 45 minutes to walk through every inch of it. The number of things there are to do in this environment is layered enough to be its own game. It will be difficult for any other sports game to come close to this technological advancement.
- The Return of Affiliations is Huge – Affiliations are back, and they make a lot more sense this time around. The concept has been boosted by the inclusion of the social-media charged Mayoral themes. Also, there is a bit of an achievement element added because all players must begin their journey in Rookieville before being admitted into either neighborhood. If you’re a MyPlayer fan, it’s hard to imagine not enjoying these features.
- WNBA Experience is Great – The entire tile for the WNBA is packed with goodness. From the aforementioned gameplay excellence to the introduction of the WNBA MyCareer experience, MyWNBA, and the online play of The W, which delivers a 3-on-3 PARK-style feel, 2K has done the ladies of the community right. There is still room for more expansion, but 2K has established itself as the most inclusive sports video game series.
- Tattoos Are Finally in for Offline CAPs – Roster creators have been wanting to add tattoos to offline created players for years, but haven’t been able to do it. Thankfully, 2K has opened up the ability to add the same tatts that are available in MyPlayer to offline CAPs. It may seem small, but it’s a big deal for this aspect of the 2K community.
- No WNBA Play Now Online Feature – As good as the entire WNBA experience is, it is missing the ability to load up an online match with a friend or another user in the community for an exhibition match. You can play one-on-one with someone via couch play and in MyNBA Online, but not on a one-off basis.
- Create-A-Player Needs Improved Face and Hair Sculpting – The CAPs now have the ability to add tattoos, but the face and hair sculpting is still behind games like MLB The Show, and most certainly WWE 2K titles. Blowing this part of the game out would push an already strong piece of the game to the next level.
- No Carryover Saves for MyNBA – It feels like the absence of this feature in NBA 2K games is a philosophical decision. For some reason, it appears 2K doesn’t see the value in allowing its franchise players to continue their saves from one version to the next. MLB the Show introduced this about seven years ago and its community loves the feature. 2K is still behind in this area.
- MyCareer Story Should Be a Separate Mode – The Long Shadow isn’t an entirely different story mode than what you get on current-gen, but even if it was, it would be better suited as a standalone and optional mode that users could play and complete for a hefty VC reward and perhaps a unique badge, but it should have an end. At this point, it feels like a mode that users are being forced to play, and not given the option to enjoy for its cinematic qualities.
- No Draft Mode in MyTeam – MyTeam got most of its improvements on the current-gen version. On next-gen, there are some unique courts and venues, but it’s mostly the same. That’s not a bad thing as there was a ton of work put into the mode on current-gen, and your VC and collection transfer over from one to the next. The issue is what still isn’t included. Chief among the omissions is the absence of a draft mode. At this point, MyTeam might be the only sports collector mode without the draft feature.
- No Salary Cap Mode in MyTeam – Just like there is an absence of a draft option, MyTeam is still missing a salary cap mode. By January, the mode will again be overrun with Pink Diamond and Galaxy Opal cards that make gameplay feel ridiculous. A salary-cap mode would go a long way toward fixing this issue, but it was left out of the game, and that’s too bad. If there is another major issue that nearly rivals the ball-tangibility mention, it’s this one.
The Bottom Line
NBA 2K21 on next-gen delivers a fun and deep hoops package unlike anything else we’ve ever seen. It’s not just about enhanced visuals. There is more under the hood in almost every area. This isn’t a perfect game. There is room for improvement in multiple areas, but what it does excellently far outshines the smaller, and much-easier to absorb shortcomings. 2K has again set the standard on a new console, and everyone else is playing catch-up. The fact that this game was developed during a pandemic is inspiring.
- Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S
- Developer: Visual Concepts
- Publisher: 2K
- Released: November 10, 2020
- Price: $69.99 for the standard edition, $99.99 for Mamba Forever Edition
- Review Score: 9 out of 10
2K provided a review code for the Xbox version of this game.