Visual Concepts has finally found its groove with this year’s NBA game, knuckling down on the fundamentals while improving on a range of modes both new and old. It’s still not without its shortcomings, but there’s never been a better reason to jump back into the series than now.
A lot of this comes down to the gameplay, which has seen significant improvement across the court. New animations make the game look and feel more like the real thing, while a welcome refresh to passing, in particular, provides a sense of freedom for players on offence. All players now have adrenaline boosts, too, which has been implemented to stop players from overdribbling. Each player has three boosts, which are consumed by performing explosive sprints. When you’ve consumed these boosts, your player will be noticeably slower until the shot clock is up or possession changes. It’s a welcome change, though it’s a bit odd that every single player has the same amount of boosts, no matter their experience or rating.
Defending has received a notable uplift, with well-needed refinements to shot blocking, steals, and ball strips, allowing for a range of different defensive maneuvers to call on throughout the course of a game. Similarly, match ups across the court are closer to what you see in the real world, with the game actively rewarding you for stacking the right player up against a dribbler and making the right decision when electing to block or steal. It’s a well needed refresh that injects a better sense of reward when taking risks, whether you’re on offence or defence, and it’s something that the series has desperately needed of late.
A refined focus on the court allows for NBA 2K23’s returning mode to shine, too. The Jordan Challenge, which looks at 15 of the biggest moments in Michael Jordan’s career, is a fantastic trip down memory lane of one of the all time greats of the game. The mode walks you through moments that defined Michael Jordan’s career, from his early college days to the iconic Bulls vs Jazz 1998 NBA Finals game.
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Throughout each of the games, you’ll be asked to complete a range of tasks. These range from relatively basic requirements like winning the game to scoring a certain amount of points or getting a particular amount of rebounds. This, combined with the excellent presentation package on offer, makes the Jordan Challenge one of the standout modes in 2K23 by some distance. Whether you’re an avid fan of the game or have dabbled in the sport every now and again, there’s something on offer for everyone in the mode.
MyNBA has seen a welcome refresh this year with the introduction of MyNBA Eras. Rather than focus on just the present, the mode now allows you to jump back to defining eras in the sport. Whether it’s the Magic vs Bird era from the early 80s to the Modern era, MyNBA Eras gives you the reigns to play through (and potentially change) iconic moments that changed professional basketball as we know it. Presentation packages, commentary, kits, courts and players are all expertly recreated here, making for one of the deepest modes in a sports game by a mile.
The Jordan Challenge’s visual presentation packages also make their way to MyNBA Eras, adding a nostalgic flavour to the mode. Jumping into the early 80s, for example, brings all of the classic presentation packages over while fuzzing up the visuals to look like you’re watching the game on a much older screen. While the filter can be turned off, it definitely adds to the immersion of playing those classic match ups and is a nice option to have.
I was particularly happy to see a bigger focus on the WNBA in this year’s game, with the inclusion of the Commissioner’s Cup a notable highlight. These inclusions are positive steps forward for the series, and there’s no doubt the mode is well above anything else seen in any other sports game right now, with a raft of options available for those wanting to play through The W or a WNBA season.
NBA 2K23’s MyCAREER mode includes a range of improvements across the board, opening up a range of new ways to carve out your own story as an up and coming NBA star. Whether you want to dominate the paint or dip your toes into the world of a modern basketball star – where fashion, business and music are also huge parts of a player’s career – there’s more than enough content here to keep you entertained for a long while.
That said, the game’s story still finds itself going a bit too over the top for my liking and is filled with lots of grinding for those that don’t want to cough up some money to improve stats. Because of this, I found myself gravitating towards the more rewarding modes, like MyNBA Eras and the Jordan Challenge, rather than getting bogged down in the MyCAREER grind. Microtransactions are littered throughout MyCAREER, unsurprisingly, making the mode feel like it’s more keen to grab your money than it is about rewarding you as a player.
It’ll come as no surprise to hear 2K23’s MyTEAM mode continues to be the weakest mode of the bunch. Filled with predatory microtransactions, I found myself bouncing off of this mode relatively quickly. That said, there are some nice minor additions, with the single-player focused Clutch Time mode a particular highlight. Looking past this, though, it’s still easy to see the litany of issues I have with the way the microtransactions are structured and pushed. Your time’s better spent elsewhere in 2K23.
While it still has its issues, Visual Concepts has done a good job in setting the NBA 2K series up for a positive future. The Jordan Challenge is excellent, and the improvements across almost all of the main modes are well appreciated. The game’s core gameplay has seen some well-needed revitalisation, too, coming together to form one of the most enjoyable basketball sims in many years.
Refinements to core aspects of NBA 2K23’s gameplay make for some of the most fluid and enjoyable action seen in some years, and it’s all capped off with the excellent Jordan Challenge. It’s not perfect by any means, but this year’s NBA 2K is certainly a big step up from previous entries.
Offensive and defensive improvements are great
The Jordan Challenge is excellent
MyNBA Eras provides a huge canvas to play around with
Improvements in WNBA modes are well appreciated
MyTEAM is the weakest mode of the lot
MyCAREER is still a slog, as usual
Littered with microtransactions