We’ve reached that point of the year where we see a lot of annual sports game franchises push out their latest and greatest – and NBA 2K23 is the first one we’re looking at. It’s out for all major systems including the Nintendo Switch, and we checked it out on a PlayStation 5.
Of course, with any series where the core gameplay is as refined as it is in NBA 2K, the big question is how much the new version will deviate from last year’s offering. In terms of the on court gameplay, the difference is in the small nuances, adding subtle improvements here and there. For example, you’ll notice that it’s now near-impossible for players with low shooting stats to sink three pointers – much like what you’d expect when watching a real game. It makes for more realistic games, and for players that stand out more from one another.
The computer AI seems to account for this as well, and you’ll notice opposing teams trying to find their star shooter rather than just letting anyone take that important shot near the end of the game. This adds to the tactical elements of the game as well, since it pays off to guard these players extra closely and force weaker ones to take the shot. You can also force something (both offensively and defensively) with the adrenaline boost, which works much better than the usual spring/turbo button you often see because it can only be used sparingly in games. In short, the NBA 2K franchise has always been known for very refined gameplay, and this new edition raises the bar slightly higher.
What’s important for an NBA 2K game is how it handled the content surrounding the base game, and unfortunately 2K23’s “The City” content is as microtransaction-heavy as it was before. If you want to level up without spending an eternity grinding, you’ll need to spend money unless you went for one of the more premium editions of the game – and it’ll take even longer if you spend some of your virtual currency on cosmetic upgrades as well. For those who enjoy taking their game online, it’s a major entry barrier, as there are plenty of players who do spend money for the quick upgrades and it’ll take a long while before you can compete with them. If you’re a more casual player, it’s a letdown.
Luckily, there’s plenty of offline content to enjoy, and even the most casual basketball fan is going to love the return of the Jordan Challenge, which was part of the 2K franchise about a decade ago but returns after the recent success of the documentary The Last Dance. It’s a definite highlight of the game this year, spanning nearly the entire career of Michael Jordan, from his college days up until his 1998 victory with the Bulls. What makes it so good is that the development team went above and beyond in making sure the experience feels authentic, changing the way that games look and feel even to the point where early career moments look like televised events from that era.
Add a roster of NBA veterans that add their thoughts on these moments, and you’ve got a playable docu-style mode that Jordan fans will certainly love. Some of these legends, like Bird, you’ll also face on the court, which we loved as an alternate way of enjoying these stars. Another option to play with them is the MyNBA Eras mode, which lets you play the Franchise mode in way that transports you to another era – complete with the appropriate teams, players and visual filters that also appear in the Jordan mode.
MyTeam and MyCareer return, with the latter featuring another original story to play through with your own players. The premise is that you’re a high draft pick, but fans resent you for it as the crowd favorite was picked after you. It’s fun to play through at least once, but you likely won’t return to it a second or third time.
NBA 2K23 isn’t majorly different from last year’s offering and in the long term it’s a matter of wanting to grind or spend money to keep competing online, but it plays a great game of basketball and the included Jordan, career and franchise options should keep fans happy for a long time even if they’re not interested in the grind or investment of going online.