After having played just over 123 hours of the game, I feel like I can safely say that NBA 2K23 takes the series forward in terms of gameplay. However, it is tough to overlook the variety of ways in which it continues to frustrate and alienate players both new and old.
In terms of gameplay, NBA 2K23 gives hoops fans and series loyalists alike the ability to immerse themselves in some decently realistic ball, so long as they stick to the more casual modes. The biggest night-and-day difference between this year's game from previous iterations is that the Visual Concepts team quite impressively updated the jump shot animations of every active player in the NBA. Coupled with the delayed timing/coverage overlay and green release animations, it feels extra satisfying to see jumpers go in this year, especially for someone who is a pretty hardcore fan of the league in real life.
This ties right into the shooting itself in NBA 2K23, which, to be quite honest, has had my series-veteran friends and me bricking pretty often (outside of using our own MyPlayers). Like, at least one-airball/brick-per-gaming-session bad. I chalk this up to the fact that you have to learn all of the new jumpers, as well as the awkwardly introduced Shot Timing Release Time system. Gone are the often-annoying "full whites" from previous years, but now it seems that just about all of the jumpers you take have to be greens in order to go in. As someone who has years of NBA 2K experience under his belt, I find the shooting difficulty to be fine overall, but I see why many players are missing a lot more this year and could be frustrated with the way it is. Doing away with the numbered jump shot animations could prove to be a gift and a curse with how things have played out.
Another major change in the gameplay this year has been the improvement to layups. Thanks to the added quick scoop animations and buffs to layup timing, I can honestly say that layups might be in the best state that they've ever been in NBA 2K. You don't always have to beat your man and take off from the free-throw line to finish in the paint this year. You can afford to slow it down and either evade or finish through the contact to lay it in, which I really appreciate.
As for the dribbling, defense and post play, I think players can truly play how they want to play against AI. It is worth prefacing that I'm not someone who spends hours labbing dribble god combos. As such, I found the dribbling to be as satisfying as, if not more satisfying, than it has been in recent years. I like how you can tailor how fast your dribble combos activate and how smooth your pace with the ball can be, which gameplay director Mike Wang worked to perfect over the years, so kudos to him and the team in that regard.
On the defensive end, you really have to read and react to what your matchup is doing and make peace with giving something up to stay in front. You can't just hip-ride your matchup with the left trigger and hold your right stick up the entire time. You need to be willing to gamble a bit, which is how I think things should be. If you play too far up on the perimeter, be prepared to get beat off the bounce. If you sag off, don't be surprised if you give up a three. Perhaps the main takeaway I've had is that if you think your matchup is driving hard to the rim, you have to sprint to the paint and cut them off, even though doing so might give them the space to stop and pop for a middy. Lastly, this game rewards those who want to play with post-moves way with an expanded arsenal. You can still abuse height and weight mismatches so everything remains all good on that front.
It's at this point, after learning and evaluating all of the core gameplay aspects, that I feel this game can really take a tragic turn in the eyes of many. I'm mostly speaking about MyCareer here because I haven't grinded MyTeam in years, but the subtle on-court improvements pretty much go out the window when it comes to online play. There are still a handful of meta jumpers that are Air Jordan-esque leaps and bounds better than others. Despite the overhaul to stamina, there are still ways to abuse the same dribble moves over and over again. And perhaps the biggest issue at the moment, on-ball steals — particularly with those who have the Hall of Fame Glove Badge — appear to be extremely overpowered. If you've played a bit of NBA 2K MyCareer online in recent years, don't expect much to be different.
Once again, so much about NBA 2K23's MyCareer experience is dependent on having VC, and it begins even before players get a chance to step into the mode. The new MyPlayer builder, despite being one that is supposed to be more refined in order to make "demigod builds" impossible to make, is almost set up for players to get started off on the wrong foot. With the amount of hidden physical and attribute requirements for animations and Badges present, it's almost impossible to know how to make a good build on day one without spending endless hours in the builder or looking up a guide. This, of course, steers players to then "do right" on their mistakes and start over with Rebirth builds, which again forces them to fork over more money for VC. On top of it all, the game's community ends up finding the meta combinations anyway weeks after launch, as shown by the 6'9" point guard build videos that are all across YouTube.
When you do finally enter the mode for the first time, it's almost a battle of how long can you hold out before you buy VC. Even as someone who had a 100,000 VC head start courtesy of the Michael Jorden Edition, I still dropped an extra $50 just to make sure I could max out my build as quickly as possible. Of course, there's the argument that you could just grind it out without spending money, but trust me, it's truly painful to do so offline, and nearly impossible online. Whenever I played with or against someone at less than a 90 OVR, they just about couldn't play the game. You just don't have to respect their presence on either side of the floor. This is not even mentioning how expensive the clothes are, regardless of how cool the collabs may or may not be. NBA 2K23 is a full-priced game. Why are players being punished so much for not having VC when they already have to pay to get in?
Of course, the other major gripe that many have with NBA 2K23's MyCareer is its story. Oddly enough, despite its wacky writing and overdramatic storylines, I personally don't really mind it. I know many players just want to hoop without slogging through these out-of-touch cutscenes, and at times, I too joked with my friends that this isn't a basketball game. It's a "fashion and music game with basketball in it." On one occasion, I actually watched my guy lose a frustrating game down the stretch and then immediately talk to my girlfriend/manager and Jake from State Farm backstage to go over plans on how to win over more fans. I'm pretty sure the best way to do that is by simply winning ball games, MP.
Ultimately, however, with the wide array of cameos from guys like Josh Giddy, Tyler Herro and Kevin Garnett, and the ability to quite literally enter NBA arenas through the "backdoor" players' entrance and walk out to the floor, I feel like I see what 2K is doing. They've already done the serious rags-to-riches storylines in years past and instead of just recycling the same thing over and over, they want to give NBA fans more lighthearted tasks to do and different sights and sounds to see that perhaps the league's stars experience in their lives. Have they been overdoing it lately? Definitely, but not enough to stop me from finishing the story.
What this all boils down to is that for the second year in a row, NBA 2K23 brings a lot of good that, sadly, gets overshadowed by the bad. The game's Jordan Challenge, broadcast presentation, graphics and MyNBA Eras features are some other aspects that I truly think that basketball fans, both new and old, could appreciate. Those offline experiences represent the golden days of what made many fall in love with the series: the devs' own genuine love for the sport. However, with the sweaty, VC-fueled online gameplay scaring off newer players, and the corny, ad-ridden storyline putting off returning ones, it's easy to see where a divide has grown in the community over how hard the game promotes microtransactions and pushing non-basketball-related agendas.
Lastly, I'd like to list off some more minor changes that I truly appreciated seeing in NBA 2K23:
- You can actually use the WNBA teams online against friends!
- You can change the difficulty and quarter length settings in Quick Play with friends at launch!
- The photo mode feature in the replay system is great, but oftentimes isn't able to capture the right moments.
- You can switch between editing NBA players in custom rosters without having to back out to the team screen!
- The Theater on Next Gen is a great idea, but needs a better variety of fun modes (e.g. Hustle).
- The MyCareer Coach Drills end once you hit 3-Stars!
- You can wear a shirt under your jersey!
- The added ability to control your rim hangs after dunking (next-gen only) is a fun addition.
- Core Badges are a good concept, but the lack of explanation/glitchiness with the progression leave room for improvement.
Some things that I'd definitely like to see in NBA 2K24 include:
- Proximity chat in the Neighborhood and City.
- The Next-Gen version of the game available on PC.
- Easier and more obvious ways to earn VC.
- More Locker Codes.
- Improved MyPlayer builder UI and Badge Level data so you know what you're getting into before spending hundreds of thousands of VC (e.g. Can I use "x" dunk package or need Gold Posterizer for this build?).
- A basketball-focused MyCareer story.
- An Austin Reaves face scan.
DBLTAP Rating: B+
DBLTAP was provided with a copy of the NBA 2K23 Michael Jordan Edition for review by its publisher, 2K.
NBA 2K23 is available now for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam).