The long-running basketball franchise returns to the hardcourt this year with NBA 2K20. The star-studded series brings with it an all-new MyCareer storyline, some relative changes to the fundamentals, a tweak to MyGM, the WNBA (finally), and a little bit of controversy with accusations of promoting gambling. We’ll tackle all these and more in our official NBA 2K20 review.
Note: We also have our NBA 2K20 technical review for the PC version. You can check that out right over here. For the purposes of this official review, I’ve split up the game’s various modes and features into their own sections that are graded accordingly in typical NBA 2K fashion.
MyCareer – The Story So Far
MyCareer serves as the usual highlight every year for the franchise, and what NBA 2K20 has to offer is no different. No different in the fact that it’s still a major fixture for this title, and that it’s about as rudimentary as it gets once you get past the actual “story.”
This year’s MyCareer story mode is produced in conjunction with Lebron James’ own studio, SpringHill Company, featuring a stellar cast that includes Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Middleditch, and more. Various NBA stars and personages even pop up for a cameo or two.
Once you’ve set up your MyPlayer character, you’ll see NBA 2K20‘s story unfold as “Che,” an upstart college athlete who ends up earning the ire of the big leagues by standing up for his teammate. Che’s promising future becomes mired in controversy and drama.
Then, just when you thought the plot would hammer key points — staying true to your values, the importance of college scholarships for those in need, the little guy fighting against the system, and all that (not-quite Utah) jazz — you’re suddenly in the middle of negotiations with your cheesy agent (played by Thomas Middleditch).
The flow of the narrative is restricted by the need to combine it with Che’s attempts to eventually make it to the NBA, to the point that other characters are either shoehorned in or forced off to the sidelines for no discernable reason. For instance, Idris Elba’s role is basically relegated to an unlikable coach. He’d disappear off to the sunset after a couple of cutscenes, only reemerging later when Che’s at the NBA Summer League and the two make amends.
Your college advisor (played by Rosario Dawson) has a similar fate. There’s a dramatic turn which leads to the estrangement between her and Che. More cutscenes, a few mini-games here and there, and she pops up again just before the NBA Draft as if nothing happened. It lacks the cohesion and depth that you would expect from the story it wanted to tell.
NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer mode attempts to tell an emotional and impactful journey, but it’s limited to only a handful of truly brilliantly done cutscenes, with the rest serving as filler or just as a rushed payoff. In the end, it falls flat, wasting the incomparable talents of various performers.
MyCareer Story Rating: B
MyCareer – The Mechanics
Even worse, there’s also a jarring section during NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer where you’d need to go through various drills during the NBA Draft Combine. Those aforementioned mini-games (vertical jumps, bench presses, and the like) weren’t too difficult at all. But, they completely distracted from the overall story, slowing it down considerably, especially when you had to do two practice runs before your actual attempt. It made me long to “play ball” since the mechanics served as unnecessary filler.
In fact, the Combine’s results barely mattered. I was having coffee and I ended up in the last place for a couple of exercises. I thought my draft prospects would be terrible. Instead, I passed the team tryouts with flying colors and I ended up being drafted during the first round by the Golden State Warriors. That also meant a whopping 1,000 virtual credits (VC) salary for every game that I played.
Note: In our technical review, I mentioned that I had been playing other modes with v-sync disabled and getting very high framerates. Apparently, when v-sync is disabled, it causes a major bug in NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer mode.
While you’re on the bench, skipping leads to a slow-mo effect. The game slows to a crawl and nothing happens afterward. Enabling v-sync on the main menu fixes this issue.
Speaking of VC, yes, it’s still interwoven in a variety of features and modes in NBA 2K20. You still need VC to upgrade your attribute points and to buy various attires, courts, designs, boosters, and whatnot. Although I genuinely only cared about the attributes and not the cosmetic microtransactions, it still surprised me how it’s become so integrated and commonplace in the NBA 2K franchise. (For comparison, the WWE 2K franchise also has VC, but you can also purchase an “unlocker” that gave you every extra wrestler, move set, or logo that’s locked behind progression.)
I didn’t need to purchase VC at all using real money, although I know how it can be tempting for some players. It was not too hard to acquire VC at all given that being a first-round draft pick plus having an A to A+ teammate grade each game led to higher payouts. Endorsement deals from various sponsors also added bonuses on top of your earnings.
As mentioned earlier, MyCareer’s mechanics are just about the same as before once you’re done with the actual “story.” You’re moving from one game to another, playing at your best to earn a high rating, earning VC, upgrading your character, and just going through the motions. If you’ve been used to this system from previous years, then you’d feel right at home. The mechanics aren’t “bad,” per se, and they’re not as grindy as before due to the ease of earning VC. Unfortunately, it also means that 2K has been relying on something that has become too formulaic.
MyCareer Mechanics Rating: B
Although NBA 2K20‘s online/multiplayer Neighborhood content is still part of MyCareer, I feel it’s better to separate this from what the single-player experience has to offer. The difference between experiencing Che’s story on your own versus seeing the interactions and matches among other players in an online hub can be quite jarring.
The Neighborhood mostly has street basketball matchups, and you can queue up solo or with your squad on the various courts. There are also other mini-games such as golf, some facilities to train in, and shops.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of The Neighborhood is that it has a “daily spin” mechanic. There’s a small building that you can enter which has numerous “spin-the-wheel” machines you can interact with. Every 24 hours, you have a chance to win different prizes. This was seen as an attempt to glorify “gambling” in a basketball video game. I’ll delve more into this later in this article.
The problem with this mode, in particular, is that there’s just no way to find a server manually. I kept getting placed in the Asia servers which have very few players. There were also times when the entire area was devoid of all life besides my Che and I’d have to reload that instance. On a number of occasions, I’ve also experienced network errors and disconnections. There were also some annoying moments wherein I would find lots of players in The Neighborhood, I’d queue up on one of the courts, but there was no way to communicate and ask others to join the queue as well. I had to rely on others to notice that I was interested in a matchup.
The Neighborhood Rating: B-
NBA 2K20‘s MyLeague remains the same as it has been since time immemorial. You’ve still got the same old teams with their updated rosters. You’ll even see the same premade expansion teams that you can add.
There’s really not much else to say about this mode since having a customizable season has been a nominal fixture in sports games. What the NBA 2K franchise provides remains as good as ever, if a little outdated.
MyLeague Rating: B
NBA 2K20‘s GM Mode is still how you remembered it in previous iterations although there are some changes. The most obvious change is the addition of action points (AP).
Almost every possible interaction that you’ll have will cost AP. Each day will provide you one AP. This means you’re limited to a single interaction — be it with your staff, players, management, and the like — every calendar day. As such, you’ll need to prioritize on who you’d want to talk to at any given time. You may not have the luxury of convenience to talk to Ivica Zubac if you need to discuss something with Kawhi Leonard.
This change provides a layer of strategy to NBA 2K20‘s MyGM which has been surprisingly absent in past versions. I, for one, have been liking it so far.
MyGM Rating: A-
Although EA was able to include the WNBA first in their NBA Live franchise, 2K followed suit this year. It’s a welcome addition, indeed, since all teams are represented. You can play as the WNBA athletes and teams via the regular exhibition mode or MyLeague/season mode.
The problem? You’re actually just limited to just those modes. The WNBA aspect doesn’t have its own MyCareer or MyGM modes. Heck, even its MyLeague finishes after just one season and you’re notified to “see if you can do better next time” (aka. a new season and not a continuation onto 2020-2021). I can surely commend 2K for including the WNBA in the game. That’s an “A” for effort, but a “C” for the execution. Let’s leave it down the middle.
WNBA Inclusion Rating: B
MyTeam and the Gambling Controversy
MyTeam has been around since NBA 2K13. Yes, the mode which combines basketball with card collecting and deck building is still around in NBA 2K20. And, yes, the acquisition of cards (also known as “loot boxes” in the video game world) very much remains the same.
The mode still shares the VC you acquire for use in MyCareer, and it has its own currencies — “MyTeam Points” (MT) and tokens. Those two can be earned when you win match types in this mode. There are several match types and challenges depending on whether you want to go at it solo versus the AI or against other players. You can also earn “Evolution Cards” which are NBA players that can have their card’s rarity/tier and stats increase when you complete milestones. For instance, in Dirk Nowitzki’s case, I had to get 150 points and make 20 three-pointers to upgrade the card’s stats.
The biggest controversy with regards to MyTeam isn’t just because of the randomized rewards you get when you open card packs (aka. the “loot box” mechanic). The mechanic itself has been around for decades with baseball cards, Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and EA’s FIFA games via “Ultimate Team” mode.
The major point of contention in NBA 2K20 is that it also added spin the wheel and ball drop mini-games in MyTeam. These, along with “casino-like” areas in The Neighborhood, were seen as a glorification of gambling in a basketball game that kids are also playing.
Given that the NBA 2K series has already had a slew of microtransactions that can be seen as excessive, the inclusion of these two mini-games has definitely earned the ire of various internet users. It’s even led to this Reddit post from user Anime-NoireChan which provided PEGI’s official response regarding the matter. PEGI did not consider these instances as gambling at all, though Europe’s ratings board did acknowledge that it might “get too close for comfort” for some users.
So, are you really “gambling” in NBA 2K20 via the daily spin and ball drop games? The answer would be “no.” The daily spin comes from being able to log on each 24-hour timeframe. Meanwhile, the ball drop game comes from winning the triple threat (3-on-3) bouts. You’re not spending actual cash just to have a chance to play these mini-games.
The word “gambling” has a legal connotation. Had that been the case, then shows such as Wheel of Fortune — or that ball drop game you played at the department store after you bought $100 worth of items — would be considered “gambling,” correct? But, they aren’t.
However, and this is an important personal caveat: this does not exonerate 2K from adding these mini-games and online areas that will remind you of a casino, especially with the backlash and criticisms that the NBA 2K franchise has faced over the years. If you’ve been repeatedly critiqued for encouraging players to spend extra for microtransactions, and you start adding flashy lights, “hit the jackpot” sounds, and more chance or luck-based mini-games, then that simply sends a bad message.
I digress. What I genuinely didn’t like about NBA 2K20‘s MyTeam mode wasn’t precisely about the “gambling” controversy. Rather, it was more about how it just didn’t suit me as a player.
Sure, there might be those who’ve enjoyed this mode over the years. There might be those who’ve liked sniping the auction house for good deals. For me, though, basketball remains a game of skill, and I still prefer the old-school ideal of picking an existing organization and defeating another player with a 30-point blowout. I’m not here to play “Auction House Simulator.”
Since we’re talking about loot boxes and microtransactions, MyTeam just did not provide that “sense of pride and accomplishment.” I’d much rather see my player or my squad grow because of my own capabilities when controlling them (opportunities and challenges which other NBA 2K20 modes already provide). There was no reason to rely on lady luck or the “arcadey” mechanics of MyTeam.
MyTeam Rating: C
NBA 2K20: The Fundamentals
Lastly, we need to discuss the fundamentals in NBA 2K20. No, we’re not just talking about Tim Duncan, we’re talking about the core components of the gameplay, dynamic player roster, as well as overall presentation. From the brilliant controls and the fluid animations, the ease of playmaking and cutting to the paint, to accentuated tweaks that make dribbling, defending, and sprinting more realistic, NBA 2K20 is a masterclass.
Although I’ve mentioned in our technical review that you’re still seeing the same graphics from prior years — and the system requirements haven’t changed since NBA 2K16 — the presentation remains top-notch. You have all the glitz and glamor, and the trappings that are included in NBA broadcasts and analyses, with vibrant commentary that puts WWE 2K‘s own brand to shame.
Let’s not forget that NBA 2K20 also has all the existing teams for you to pick with a roster that’s updated regularly. Of course, you’ve also got the all-time NBA teams (either the best squads from an organization or the top players of each decade), and even classic lineups from a particular season. It has enough content to last you to your heart’s content (or at least until next year’s game).
Outside of the hiccups I noted (such as a bug in MyCareer while sitting on the bench if you had v-sync disabled), the games flowed smoothly. If I made a mistake, I’d be punished for it. If I read my opponent’s moves and the lane correctly, I’d be rewarded with a great play of my own design (“hop step” dunking included). The system remains intuitive and it is accessible for any newcomer and as challenging for any veteran who wishes to put their skills to the test.
NBA 2K20 Core Gameplay Rating: A+
NBA 2K20: The Final Verdict
The last section, I feel, holds more weight. Consider the fact that each and every mode in NBA 2K20 will have the option for you to play basketball on the court like your regular exhibition match. Next, consider how well the game actually plays from a practical standpoint. Remove (or ignore) all these microtransactions and tacked on elements, and NBA 2K20 still remains a fun and well-made offering. That’s a testament to the core gameplay mechanics and technical aspects that are on a league of their own.
The NBA 2K series still remains one of the best sports video game franchises out there, one that fans eagerly look forward to each year. The only question is whether 2K can correct existing missteps and reinvigorate existing content down the line.
NBA 2K20 is available on PC via Steam. You can find it via its Steam store page.