As someone who grew up in the Chicago suburbs while Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were dominating the NBA, the return of the Jordan Challenges to NBA 2K23 twelve years after it was previously showcased already makes 2K and Visual Concepts’ latest yearly iteration of basketball an appealing item. That being said, after last year’s microtransactions pervaded nearly every aspect of the game, will the various additions and on-court improvements help this release shine past these darker aspects?
As usual with a NBA 2K release, the MyCareer mode that functions as both one of the core online aspects and primary option for those looking to build their own star comes with its own storyline. This time around in NBA 2K23 players’ MyCareer will be drafted to the team of their choosing but unfortunately, their selection in the draft wasn’t a popular one with the fans as nearly everyone wanted them to recruit Shep, who was drafted immediately after the player by a separate team. This ignites a rivalry between Shep and MP (the player’s name… get it?) as they try to prove that they deserved to be drafted first.
Now while this tale does avoid plenty of random drama and does allow the player to immediately jump into the NBA, it is also incredibly bland. As players play through games and complete various objectives, they will talk to stand-in characters that replace the actual coaches and managers of the team they selected to be drafted by all while the rivalry is played out in a useless manner to the point that it detracts from the actual effort of becoming a rising star for the team.
Outside of the poorly handled plot of the MyCareer mode, the main storyline told through NBA 2K23 are the Jordan Challenges. These fifteen matches begin with Jordan’s North Carolina game playing for the 1982 NCAA Championship and run all the way through to his final championship match against the Jazz in 1998 that culminates in winning his sixth Championship with the Bulls. These games all provide players with three challenges that mimic the feats that Jordan did during the match, such as scoring 63 points by himself against the Celtics, accompanied by great in-game commentary that try to match the feel of the era.
Every match also features an interview or discussion with NBA greats or coaches that were part of the game players will be challenging and many offer halftime video packages that make these Jordan Challenges feel like a truly great gathering of Jordan’s biggest moments and a real special highlight of this package.
When players first launch NBA 2K23 they will likely find themselves astonished at the fact that the game has an outstanding amount of content on offer and surprisingly most of it can be enjoyed entirely in single player. Players can take advantage of the aforementioned Jordan Challenges to try and master every aspect of his career all while refreshing themselves and growing accustomed to the various on-the-court mechanic changes that have been made to NBA 2K23.
The historical references to the NBA greats doesn’t stop there as MyNBA has now been given a number of new options that take full advantage of what the expanded roster has to offer. Players will now find that instead of only having the current roster to work with, they will now be able to select from one on four “Eras” to begin playing through. This includes starting all the way in the 1980s during the Magic Johnson vs Larry Byrd Era, the 90s through the Jordan Era, the ’00s and the Kobe Era, and finally the modern era.
Players can still choose to heavily modify things as they wish and create their own thing using the modern era but by taking advantage of these historical NBA eras players can choose to rewrite history or play things out similar to how they happened if they so wish. The entire rosters of these times are there for players to take advantage of and as they progress through the years various NBA legends will appear as parts of the draft just like they did in real life, giving players a chance to really shake things up. Along those same lines players will have options to vote yay or nay on various rule changes proposed by other owners such as extended shot clocks, the moving of some teams to other cities just like they historically did, and more. Those looking for nostalgia or happen to be fans of the greats will easily be able to sink countless hours into this mode alone.
Also on offer as a single player option, with optional online matches, is The W mode that has returned in a mostly similar fashion as the original. Players will find that the WNBA mode still is rather small compared to what is offered elsewhere as their created player will not be nearly as customizable stat wise nor is there any real story. Instead players will select from the twelve teams available and play through games, increasing various ranks and eventually unlocking the ability to create a team of their very own. While a fairly solid mode it still feels as if The W is being treated as a side addition instead of something that could truly shine.
Now MyTeam has also been given various improvements despite its core aspects remaining the same. Players will find that the “contracts” for certain cards that would then vanish from the player’s deck after some time have been removed entirely, allowing everyone to keep cards that they have earned or bought and there are even some cards that can be given various upgrades before starting over for better rewards. This mode also offers the inclusion of a triple threat co-op mode that allows three friends to team up against three others in what can potentially make for some fun matches. That being said, while MyTeam does have these improvements it remains an absolutely ridiculous pay-to-win scheme. Virtual Currency remains a prominent issue throughout every aspect of NBA 2K23’s online game modes and MyTeam can be where it is at its worst with players coming across those who have sunk hundreds of dollars into creating monstrous teams compared to those who stick to free-to-play and need to grind out currency through matches.
Before we delve into the microtransaction issues with MyCareer, there are a few nice improvements made to the mode. First and foremost The First and foremost The City has finally been shrunken down a little bit to be more reasonable in size. This eliminates the long distance travel that players used to have to make to access various parts of the MyCareer mode. Of course, skateboards and other modes of transportation still exist but they continue to control awfully. Thankfully for those that really want to cut down on travel time, Visual Concepts has included a fast travel system via subway platforms in various parts of the city making it even faster for long distance locations.
Here players will still find various NPCs offering side-quests that generally involve either completing various feats on the court or taking part in drills but mostly involve simply traveling from place to place on the map talking to other NPCs or participating in basic races. This is also where players will find various shops to customize the look of their character while in The City as they will always wear their team jersey when playing actual NBA matches. Here begins the issue with microtransactions and virtual currency as not only is it used for MyTeam, players will also be using it in MyCareer for nearly everything.
When starting their character will have a baseline start of 60 and even with the $100 edition of the game offering a nice advantage to start with however it is shockingly obvious walking around The City and seeing other players already near max that a lot of people have already opted into paying to win and purchasing as much VC is needed to boost their character. While this isn’t a universal thing, it is an incredibly discouraging one especially when players witness how little VC they earn from completing basketball matches. After sinking hours into the MyCareer mode it is entirely possible to come away with only enough points to slightly improve your character or… buy a pair of shoes.
Not only is VC used for everything, the price of character upgrades and clothing has been increased over last year’s entry making the grind even harder as it constantly entices players with VC and pop ups every time players start the game. There are little activities that can potentially award players extra VC but these either fall to chance with Daily Rewards or other competitive modes. As such, unless players wish to drop money themselves they will find themselves simply outclassed even if they outplay their opponents simply because their attribute scores cannot surpass those who’ve paid to win. Thankfully the single player aspects of MyCareer can still be enjoyed even though players may still struggle a bit against some top athletes from the league from time to time if their own character isn’t built quite up to snuff.
Now that that is all out of the way, the actual on-the-court controls remain a phenomenal aspect of the game and is part of the reason why, even with the excessive amount of microtransactions and advertising, NBA 2k23 continues to offer the best technical gameplay a basketball fan could be looking for. Various on-court improvements include some refinement to the returning shot meter that players will use for making jump shots and three pointers, adjustments to how players can drive into the paint and finish the play either with a lay-up or other shot depending on the way they hold the shot stick or simply press the shoot button, and even a number of fancy dunks to style on opponents. All of these improvements to shooting and driving the ball up the court are helped by the fact that players now appear to move far more realistically than in the past allowing for better ankle-breaking moves and the ability to create solid passing lanes for the team.
On the defensive side of things players will also find that it is easier to box out an opponent or hold them from rushing the basket as well as trying to block shots as well. Unfortunately it appears that any attempt at stealing the ball will almost always result in a foul so be prepared for this when on defense. Alongside these enhancements is the addition of adrenaline boosts. Every player has three boosts per possession of the ball and one is consumed every time players make a difficult maneuver. These boosts work quite well as they limit players to having to make proper use of various skills instead of spamming them all over the court and playing as a team rather than trying to force things with one player
As far as the AI of the players on the court, things have seen a little bit of improvement in NBA 2K23 as players on the team will actively make attempts to clear up passing lanes and create spacing for potential drives for the basket while also doing their best to cover the opponents players. That being said, the AI still struggles with aspects such as the shot clock forcing them to either freeze in place or take wild shots instead of passing the ball, an aspect that continues even into the MyCareer mode as players on your own team may ignore clear opportunities for a pass that would result in an easy basket in favor of a bricked three pointer.
Visuals & Audio
NBA 2K23 delivers the near life-like details to the characters that fans of the series have come to expect over the years. Nearly every player in the modern era is designed to look as close to their real life counterpart as possible but it is worth noting that some characters in the retro modes have been designed from the ground up instead and, while they still are quite impressive looking, do have some rather odd looking features compared to how they did while playing in the NBA. It must be said that Visual Concepts has also made an effort to provide various filters to help make games set in older eras mimic the television and broadcast quality of the time to a great degree though players can choose to turn them off if they wish.
As far as the audio goes Visual Concepts has managed to provide separate commentary teams for older games as well as the current modern games with plenty of strings of dialogue to keep games feeling fresh for quite some time. The voice work throughout the game’s story modes are handled well enough but don’t really stand out in any special way while the soundtrack features quite a lot of music to enjoy though be prepared for only one music genre to take most of the focus.
NBA 2K23 is the type of game that has nearly everything that a basketball fan could want, if only it wasn’t mired down by pay-to-win mechanics and microtransactions at nearly every turn when it comes to online play. The on-the-court gameplay is as tight as ever and with so many different single player modes, the Jordan Challenge and Eras being the major offerings, available players will easily be able to sink hundreds of hours into NBA 2K23‘s various single player modes even if they choose to avoid the grind or pay up element that is the online experience.
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