NBA 2K23 is absolutely enormous. Look, we know that’s not necessarily what you expected to read: you thought we were going to tell you it’s another copy-and-paste basketball sim from 2K Sports – but this is so much more than a roster swap. The game has age-old issues when it comes to gated progression and microtransactions, but you could comfortably put 500 hours into this release and still find plenty to do. It’s just that big!
Where to start, then? Well, on the court seems like as good a place as any. Arguably the biggest adjustment this year is the addition of adrenaline boosts beneath the stamina bar. While there’s a fair amount of complexity here, these essentially reflect intense actions, like leaping for rebounds or advanced dribble moves. The idea is that you only get three of these per possession, meaning you can’t spam your opponent into submission. It balances the game.
While we think the system is a smart addition overall, we’d argue that it’s perhaps too balanced. It doesn’t really make sense for the league’s superstars to be gated in exactly the same way as a bunch of lowly bench players, but we suppose gameplay fairness trumps authenticity, and the best players still obviously have huge attributes advantages. Maybe there’s more tuning that 2K Sports could consider for next year, but the overall concept is sound.
In addition to the adrenaline boosts, the developer’s also been busy adding an absolute wealth of animations. There’s so much here that we’d run our entire word count listing them all, but things to look out for are new contact dunks and more creative layups. You can also hang from the rim if you want to, and you can even swing your body around to flex on your posterized opponents! There’s an obvious learning curve to many of these moves, but it ultimately means there’s lots for you to dig into.
Speaking of which, we’re digging some of the overall artificial intelligence adjustments as well. Teams are much more dynamic overall, and will adjust to what’s happening on the court; they’ll double up on players who are giving them a hard time, or change their entire approach if they’re chasing the game. It all makes for a more authentic experience that forces you to be more considerate of your own playstyle: how are you going to win the game?
This kind of variety also applies to the extraordinary, industry-leading Franchise mode, named MyNBA Eras. While you can still take control of a current team and lead it to the promise land, there’s also the opportunity to start your game based on three famous periods in NBA history: the Magic vs Bird era, the Jordan era, and the Kobe era. Effectively, what this does is turn back time, recreating the NBA as it existed in that specific period.
Thus, rather than picking a team and creating your own unique future, you can instead change the past. And this gets crazily in-depth: you can choose to veto certain significant moments that occurred in NBA history, such as rule changes or relocations. It means you’re effectively able to play God over the entire league, reshaping its history to your own personal tastes. What was already the best Franchise mode on the market has been taken to an unprecedented level.
And that’s without even taking into account the various facets that make this mode unique: teams will play differently in the 1980s than they do in the 2000s, with totally different playbooks and strategies. Furthermore, 2K Sports has created unique visual filters to reflect each era, with period-appropriate replay packages and overlays. While you can disable some of these if you like, it’s an outstanding novelty that reflects the care and attention invested into the package as a whole.
All of these features also apply to the Jordan Challenge, a single player mode based on a similar mode in NBA 2K11 which spotlights 15 of the Chicago Bulls shooting guard’s most memorable moments. These all have unique commentary and interview footage, as well as some pretty taxing competition conditions that will really help you to appreciate His Airness’ most impressive NBA feats. Completing this mode to 100 per cent will probably run you a good 10 or so hours alone.
And we’ve got this far without even mentioning MyCareer or the City, the flagship sandbox mode that sees you creating your own MyPlayer build and piloting them to NBA stardom. So, the bad first: the overreliance on Virtual Currency remains, and it’s still an outrageous grind to put together a competent competitor. You can’t exactly pay-to-win, as you need to be playing and performing to unlock Badges and improve your maximum rating, but upgrades become too costly you’ll need to pay real money.
The storyline feels like a step-back in many ways this year, although we appreciate 2K Sports’ attempts to streamline certain aspects – even reducing the overall size of the online open world to reduce needless walking times. In short – because it isn’t going to win any awards – you’ll be competing against an impressively irritating rival named Shep Owens, who for some reason is the City’s favourite and you need to prove fans wrong.
You’ll do this by playing basketball matches, and conquering different districts. This is where the campaign explores its Fashion, Business, and Music aspects, with J. Cole and various other household names cameoing throughout. The biggest problem is that sometimes you just want to play basketball, and while we appreciate the overall ambition, handing out flyers for the owner of a vegan hot dog stand just isn’t very entertaining. And yes, that’s a thing that happens pretty early in the plot – we told you this game was ridiculously massive, didn’t we?
The other big appeal of the City is competing with friends and strangers alike, and while additions like the Theatre do make it a bit easier to matchmake rather than waiting around for courts to be empty, it just doesn’t feel as snappy and accessible as it should be. Furthermore, the netcode makes the gameplay much floatier and less responsive overall – we’re far from pro players, but things just feel snappier in single player to us.
On that note, there’s actually a lot more single player content to explore in the Ultimate Team-esque MyTeam mode this year, with the addition of the high-octane Clutch Time. Aside from this, the mode is largely unchanged from last year, but the removal of Contracts and introduction of co-op is welcome, and we still reckon this is one of the more generous team-building modes out there, alongside MLB The Show 22. Sure, you may need to pod out real-money on hilariously overpriced card packs to compete at pro levels, but realistically if you just want to assemble a reasonable roster to muck about with, Locker Codes and standard Seasonal Progress will get you what you need.
It may be easy to accuse sports games of offering the same experience year in and year out, but you simply can’t say that about NBA 2K23. The game still has issues with its overemphasis on microtransactions in MyCareer and to a lesser extent MyTeam, but the new MyNBA Eras mode is a revelation – and the Jordan Challenge campaign is damn fun, too. On the court, 2K Sports has made some nice balancing tweaks and also improved the overall AI to make matches more dynamic and competitive, and when you pair all of that with all the new animations, you end up with a basketball sim that’s the very definition of a slam dunk.