Ever since I was able to see Lebron James play his last game as a Cleveland Cavalier after their devastating loss to the Golden State Warriors, I wanted to rewrite history and give The King another title for Cleveland. Now I can with NBA 2K19, and I’m happy to report that this may be the most fundamentally sound game in the long-running series’ history. Some shady dabbles into microtransactions can’t drag this stunning title down for what matters most: how it actually plays.
If you’re already familiar with NBA 2K19 because it is an annual release, you probably have a great idea of what to expect from this years version. The presentation is slick, tons of different game modes are present, it has some of the best commentary in any sports title, and a deep/rewarding representation of the NBA form a winning formula. You can tell a lot of work went into making this the ultimate experience for fans.
NBA 2K19 looks and sounds fantastic with this year’s array of minor audio and graphical enhancements adding an extra layer of authenticity. There are a few minor hiccups and glitches, but for the most part it’s an absolute beauty to behold. Developer Visual Concepts has once again nailed the feeling of capturing a live basketball broadcast with everything from the post-game interviews or the squeaking of shoes going across the hardwood floor adding to the presentation. It’s these little touches that help set NBA 2K19 apart from the competition. The soundtrack is a big deal in this year’s iteration and with Travis Scott curating you get the usual blend of modern hip-hop sounds with a few out-of-genre picks to change things up.
In terms of gameplay, while the core framework is essentially the same from previous titles, it’s still accessible. There are still enough intricacies and small details to master which make it a rewarding experience to learn. A few notable changes are included, mainly from the offensive side. It’s no longer enough to just get a small and fast player on the ball and charge towards the basket anymore. Slashing is still effective, but only when a seasoned player takes the reigns.
There’s a far greater emphasis on play-making and you’re really going to have to work for your point which brings a whole new strategic element to NBA 2K19. The gameplay feels more methodical and when you have the ball in the hands of a player like Chris Paul, it really feels like you’re out there controlling the floor rather than just slashing or throwing up shots aimlessly. This new strategic approach makes 2K19 feel like you’re accomplishing something and adds to the experience in positive ways.
The offensive tweaks aren’t perfect and while slashing has been nerfed to not be as overpowering as last year, working in the post is too strong and if you’re good enough can essentially turn any average player into a great one. Thankfully, the new Takeover system is a welcome addition that works very well when executed. This is represented by a bar and as the players on your team make positive contributions, the bar starts to fill up. When it gets to the end you basically unlock all kinds of modern tribute boosts and there are a many different archetypes based on the stats and skills of the player in question.
Certain elite players are able to perform several archetypes at the same time, so if Erving or Lebron get on a hot streak, they’re going to be nearly unstoppable to beat. I liked this new feature and while players could always get “hot” shooting in previous iterations, this added something positive to my team. My players were more rewarded for playing well and this feeling of positive momentum swings made playing more engaging.
NBA 2K19 features a host of different modes and while I wasn’t able to experiment with them all, I have a firm grasp on the most important: MyCareer and MyTeam. MyCareer successfully taps into the RPG genre to form a cohesive narrative driven experience called “The Way Back”. The story takes place with you missing the cut in the NBA draft, so you have to relocate to China in order to play and get back onto the radar of American basketball. This is probably the best year for My Career and it actually isn’t cheesy or dull as previous incarnations.
Unfortunately, MyTeam takes a back seat this year. The concept is fine in execution and is essentially the same as EA Sports Ultimate Team modes in that you gamble your virtual currency away on a number of random card packs hoping to get a few good to great ones. As usual though, in order to get the most out of this gameplay mode you have to either grind your way through earning virtual currency with an unrewarding system or using microtransactions. NBA 2K19 for all the positives is still plagued with greedy pay-to-progress systems which really drag the experience down. It’s also present in MyCareer, but not near as bad as in MyTeam.
Even with the microtransaction conundrum, 2K have wisely loosened up on this front where players now earn a significantly greater amount of virtual currency per game, which in turn makes your progression much fast. The micro transaction debate has been done to death and it’s not worth delving deeper into, but it can still be annoying even with this title. It’s pretty good when that is the only major flaw with the game overall.
Overall, NBA 2K19 is still the king of the court with a strong gameplay foundation and a massive community of other players giving this release some staying power. This is an advancement on NBA 2K18 with adjusted gameplay mechanics, a new worthwhile story to take part in, and adjusted shot meter, making hitting shots more intuitive. 2K still reigns supreme as the best place to go for a true basketball sim experience.