Although 2K sent me a copy of the title to review, I won’t pull any punches with this piece since it's a series that's so near and dear to me.
As someone who has been playing the series pretty religiously since NBA 2K8, from elementary school through college, it's been pretty awkward telling my friends over the years that NBA 2K has been my favorite video game franchise. Yeah, I would play it regularly, but I admittedly felt like the game has been losing its touch since about 2K18.
This is why it has genuinely shocked me even more now as I write that I've truly enjoyed my time testing it over the past couple of days, and continue to be excited to log into this game. A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one, I cannot make this up when I say that NBA 2K22 has well surpassed my expectations thus far.
In the weeks leading up to NBA 2K22's release, I, like what felt like a lot of the series' community on social media, was admittedly skeptical. There had been no demo, no true gameplay trailers, and the rumored MyCareer story being changed to a quest-based format couldn't help but make me feel pretty indifferent about the game's launch come Sept. 10.
Well, with about 60 hours of total play time accumulated so far on the Xbox One and Xbox Series S versions of the game, I can confidently say that NBA 2K22 easily has at least one giant-sized Luka Dončić stepback of space between it and 2K21. The latest iteration of the simulation basketball franchise is just so much more fun, and exactly what the series needed coming off last year's flop.
Starting off with the gameplay, the bar couldn't have been set much lower than it had been coming off of NBA 2K21. The horrors of zen aim cheating, speedboosting and extremely casual defensive mechanics made the game feel out of touch from real-life basketball, as much, if not the most it has been in series history.
This year, NBA 2K Gameplay Director Mike Wang reportedly envisioned 2K22's gameplay revolving around "faster-paced gameplay, tighter and more responsive movement, more skill-based offense," and a defensive system that gave players the "tools to be able to really change the outcome of the game on the floor and at the rim."
Overall, I can confidently say that the gameplay is better and more realistic overall. While I cannot attest to noticing that the game plays at a faster pace than last year, it is true that the movement feels much tighter, the offense feels much more rewarding and the on-ball defense is much improved.
On offense, it's as if Dončić told the 2K team with last year's game, "this isn't how I view the game of basketball at all." From stepback jumpers, to moving hop step middies and post fades, the majority of players can actually take moving shots in NBA 2K22, something that hasn't been effective for what feels like forever ago.
There's a reason why NBA 2K22's launch has felt like it has received the most positive feedback from the community in years—the core gameplay is actually solid. The fact that the MyNBA2K22 app being unavailable on day one was perhaps the only main blemish of the game's launch says something. With the gameplay being pretty much the same on both Current Gen and Next Gen, it seems like dribblers are happy with the dribbling, shooters are happy with the shooting, and post players are actually happy with the post play. Here's perhaps where I was most convinced of how much more fun 2K22's offense has been compared to last year's game—I could actually score with a much wider variety of NBA players. While those such as Steph Curry and LeBron James remain easy to dominate with, players who had been absolutely terrible in 2K21 like Nikola Vučević, Jayson Tatum and Jonas Valančiūnas could now actually get to their spots and ball out in 2K22. The new alley oop timings, as well as the aggressive skill dunk feature on Next Gen, have been a bit hard to get used to, but do feel like they add a nice skill gap layer to inside scoring. Ultimately, if your opponent doesn't get a hand up, it's all fair game as a scorer.
Speaking of getting a hand up, the defensive side ball in NBA 2K22 truly feels like it rewards those who put in the effort. Whereas last year's defense was so predicated on ghost contests that you quite literally never even had to jump when being posted up with taller defenders, this game forces you to be aggressive when the moment arises. If not, your opponent can and will score on you, which makes sense given what level of basketball this game is supposed to reflect. Unlike in 2K21, open shots in 2K22 also go in more often than not, so you can't always just gamble for the steal and expect to be able to recover. Overall, the new shot-contest and on-ball defense gets a big thumbs up from me, so much so that for the first time in my many years of playing 2K, I decided to make a defensive-minded build in MyCareer.
Expanding on what I touched on before regarding zen aim cheating and speedboosting, the state of MyCareer gameplay in 2K21 was so cheesy that just about all of my fellow basketball friends dropped the Next Gen version of the title about a month or two after its November 2020 release. A main point of us getting Next Gen consoles had been in anticipation with the Next Gen version of the 2K. We plowed through the initial months of 2K21 Current Gen, which pretty much followed the same exact formulas of the previous 2Ks except on a beach, and got greeted with a City that felt cool at first, but quickly became an empty, laggy mess to try to play consistently in.
After exploring both the Current Gen and Next Gen versions of 2K22, I strongly believe that 2K did a superb job with both environments of the game, which, again, is strange given what felt like a lack of promotion leading up to the title. To sum up what I covered in my comparison of the two versions' online experiences, which has been well documented in the "2K Gen War" of recent weeks, both are admittedly extremely refreshing to look at and explore.
Current Gen's Cancha del Mar cruise ship Neighborhood is just exactly what park lovers needed with its dynamic nautical theme and redesigned staples of the Ante Up, Gatorade Facility, etc. The quick travel elevator system is a breeze to navigate, and perfect for those who simply want to grind out games of 2v2 and 3v3. Couple this with again, the fact that gameplay between the two gens is mostly the same, and you have a winner for those who just want to play endless hours of park games.
Meanwhile, the level of improvement between the new Next Gen City and its predecessor remains something that I cannot overstate how much better it truly is. While 2K21's City felt dead for most of the year with what felt like a never-ending Winter, 2K22's City is sprawling with NPCs, POIs and views that have made the map truly feel alive so far. When I first imagined an NPC-driven quest system taking place in a setting similar to the one in 2K21 Next Gen, I felt like it was going to be terrible. I thought, "Wow. No cinematic story, huh? Guess this is going to be a throw away year." However, similar to the way the new City defied all of my expectations, I can't believe how well the new RPG elements have sat with me. After all, why care about any of this extra stuff in a basketball game? I personally have never really aspired for a career in the music or fashion industry. Well, fact of the matter is, you don't have to consume any of this extra content if you don't want to. Beyond even that though, the story and extra side missions have been very entertaining to me so far to the point where I definitely would recommend for players to try it out. Before I knew it, the time I spent playing the game had flown by, just as in recent years, despite everything feeling so new. Additionally, for those concerned about the lack of games going or latency issues, I personally have not had any trouble on those fronts as 2K seems to have adjusted how they handle the servers on Next Gen this time around.
While I haven't spent too much time in NBA 2K22's other modes, MyTeam seems like it's in for another big year, while the WNBA and League building modes seem like they really could keep the players who do look forward to them as invested in them as the game's more core offerings.
I do want to mention that NBA 2K22 is by no means a perfect game, however.
First and foremost of the cons remains how dependent the game's experience leans towards microtransactions and in-game ads. Aside from Jake from State Farm being a recurring character in MyCareer, players continue to have to drop $20 USD minimum to have any chance of competing with their MyPlayers online within weeks of creating their player. Even as someone who had a 100,000 VC head start, I still dropped an extra $30 just to get where I am now, an 89 overall with still no drip whatsoever. Perhaps the most telling of this is that the 2KDay park events once again brought over the formula from last year where players could buy clothing items that cost thousands of VC in order to get a limited-time XP boost.
The other con that stands out is something that remains tough to police, as it comes down to the sheer "kill or be killed" set up of the matchmaking in park and Rec/Pro-Am. Unless I'm missing something, it remains as if there's no consistent way to matchup with those of the same MyPlayer overall and skill level, with games feeling too one-sided. Against a team of 92-97 overalls, although I personally can hold my own with an 89 overall player and years of 2K experience, my more casual friend with a 73 overall was unable to do anything for an entire 5v5 game but get scored on, stripped and blocked.
As far as the "every AI plays defense like prime Kawhi Leonard even on Pro difficulty" complaint going around, I personally have not had any trouble scoring several games into my MyPlayer's NBA season, but I could see why newer players could be annoyed. That being said, I still do hope that Mike Wang and the crew refrain from touching the gameplay though.
Other peeves of mine regarding NBA 2K22 include:
- No WNBA online play now versus mode
- On Current Gen Play Now with Friends, you can’t select your jerseys or have a randomized team
- On Next Gen Play Now with Friends, you can't select the difficulty or have a randomized team
- There are a ton of unscanned rookies who don't look remotely close to their real life counterparts (e.g. Brandon Boston Jr.)
- No option to equip the trendy folded arm sleeve in MyCareer, as seen on Tyler Herro in the game's other modes
- My friend's taller, heavier and longer wingspan Small Forward is given the smaller opponents to guard instead of my 6'6", 180 lbs Small Forward, with no option to switch the matchups
- No proximity chat in the Neighborhood and the City
- On Next Gen, certain quest objectives are too vague (e.g. Put on a unique outfit.)
Some things that I wanted to recap/point out that I especially like in NBA 2K22 include:
- Gameplay is more predictable and focuses on what's worked in the series' heydays, which is exactly what you want if you prefer to play games with higher skill ceilings
- Play Now with Friends on NBA 2K22 Next Gen allows both sides the ability to choose their team and jerseys (which was inexplicably broken for a whole year on 2K21 Next Gen)
- Revamped Badge system feels like there's good variety of competitive options, and much less useless ones
- The way to unlock the Mamba Mentality Badge, as well as earn additional Badges and unlock Takeover Perks via in-game challenges and Season Rewards is a fair system
- Finally gave my guy Ivica Zubac a proper face scan
NBA 2K22 is just such an improvement over 2K21, as well as a step in the right direction for the series, that I just can't seem to stop me and my friends from playing it. Perhaps it's still too early to tell, but I thank that barring a major shooting patch or latency bug that ruins the smooth, current state of the gameplay, the tons of new content out right now coupled with the Seasons that are set to come will have me playing NBA 2K22 regularly this year. For now, I'm going to get back to getting my MyPlayer badged out and up to a 99 overall.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
DBLTAP was provided a copy of NBA 2K22 NBA 75th Anniversary Edition by 2K for the purpose of this review.