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NBA 2K20 review – a slam dunk spoiled by microtransactions

Anthony Davis, the cover athlete of NBA 2K20 (credit: 2K)
It’s one of the best sports games ever made but its gambling and microtransactions are the worst – so where does that leave NBA 2K20?
Publisher 2K barely has any competition these days. You hear of people having brief flings with NBA Live every now and again but, really, NBA is just competing against its previous instalments and the expectations of a vocal and passionate fanbase. The real game’s biggest stars endorse it and their eSports tournaments continue to grow, all with the egregious spectre of microtransactions looming over it.
So it falls to the developers of NBA 2K20 to fine-tune the gameplay, somehow improve upon the most authentic presentation of any sports franchise, and even add an innovation or two – to feel like it’s justifying its annual retail price. It’s tricky, NBA is a monster of a game and arguably contains more content than any other, while the aforementioned microtransactions are bordering on criminal. But this is where we’re at.
One thing you can always say about 2K is that they’re fast to patch glaring issues, and whilst this year’s launch didn’t contain anything universally game-breaking (okay, the rep counter breaking was *quite* bad for career and Park players) the developers leapt into action and issued a fix. That’s half the reason this review is out a week after release – we want to be sure we’ve seen the launch issues *and* the recovery, the bench replacing the starters if you’re into basketball analogies.
The other reason is that, like Borderlands 3 , 2K didn’t want reviews going up early, no matter how good the game may or may not be.
Let’s dive in…
The Good
The myCareer story in NBA is a mainstay of the series, and whilst we’ve had some abominable characters to deal with over the years (looking at you B-Fresh), 2K20 starts you out on a great journey. Following the success of 2K19’s excellent storytelling, this time you’re placed in college trying to lead your team to a national championship before making the move to the NBA. 
The acting is tight, the story authentic, and there are great cameos from the likes of Idris Elba, Lebron James, and Scottie Pippen. You can sweep through the story in two hours if you skip the cut scenes but we enjoyed our first run-through over the approximately four hours it takes to complete. 
When the lights are brightest, Idris Elba turns up (credit: 2K)
With the changes 2K made in 2018 introducing the park neighbourhood, myCareer has become the most important mode in the series and also where the most significant changes tend to appear. 
Take 2K19 and the absurd grind to level 99. Some users calculated that it would take around three months, playing 40-hour weeks, to hit this level – a frankly outrageous demand for anyone that doesn’t consider themselves a pro. Well, 2K20 has gone someway to change this by altering the parameters required to hit those heights. 
The speed at which you can get to 95 is far quicker and from there your rating becomes dynamic, fluctuating between 95-99. It’ll still take months for most to get to that stage but at least when you get there a skill gap exists and will separate the great from good. 
The main change though begins at inception – the new mybuilder gives players much more freedom over the creation of their archetype; last year was frustrating and led to far too much uniformity in the neighbourhood. 
Significant changes to the myPlayer builder gives you more freedom than ever (credit: 2K)
From creation to all the way through myCareer and the journey to 99 (if that’s what your aim is) you can make your player feel unique and that’s saying plenty given the sheer number of people that buy the game (it even shot to no.1 in the UK charts on release week). The reworking of badges is also a fantastic move and gives you even more personalisation options for your build. Putting badges like contact finisher on someone under six foot will never get old. 
Naturally, gameplay is what tends to define each entry in the series and this year is no different. There have been some subtle changes and some not so subtle changes – both attracting praise and criticism.
For our money, the game is improved. Let’s be clear though: unless you’re a pro player, or someone who envisions making a career out of 2K eSports, you’d already be pretty happy with the previous entry. There are few games that get as close to reality as this franchise, especially with the splendid pre-game presentation, in-game commentary, and guest pundits. It’s superb. 
And so is the gameplay. Shooting has been tweaked to require you to either get more space or use players with the quick draw shooting badge. This doesn’t have a major effect on myCareer games but those in the Park have certainly felt the repercussions and have been forced to adapt. 
Ball handling has been reworked, whilst the motion engine has received subtle alterations that have limited the frequency of blow by animations, a major gripe in the community last year. Of course, the game is still in the early stages of its cycle, and exploits might appear in time but right now, the game feels nicely balanced. Difficult enough but by learning to master certain dribble animations or post moves, you can really excel and separate yourself from the crowd. 
Then we have myTeam, a mode we’re personally very fond of. It has, after all, led the way in Ultimate Team-style formats for a few years, enhanced by the introduction of Triple Threat last year. 
Hitting milestones will see you evolve your cards to truly great assets (credit: 2K)
Well, this year they’ve moved it on again with the introduction of evolution cards. For the uninitiated these are base cards at, say, emerald level but with milestone targets attached to them – score 10 points, play 12 games, get 25 rebounds, etc. Hit all the milestones on that version of the card and you can evolve it to the next level. Some cards have one level they can evolve to, some have five. 
It may sound gimmicky but it’s quite the opposite. Maybe it’s the novelty of them but so far we’ve found our team containing more evo cards than regular cards, and that’s almost entirely borne out of the desire to see them grow. Basketball as a role-playing game, who saw that coming? 
Beyond that, myTeam’s ability to hold your attention is impressive, with its many online and offline modes giving players of all levels a suitable challenge. The presence of evo cards really helps out the player looking to avoid spending real money on packs. It’s always felt fair on the player in a game that can so brazenly push microtransactions at you.
The Bad
Triple-A games just don’t get released without launch day problems anymore. That’s pretty much a given, no matter how unacceptable we deem it. 2K20 is no different – there were bugs, there were errors – glaring in some cases – and we’ll discuss them below, but most have now been amended. 
When you progress through myCareer and into the NBA perhaps the most exciting moment is seeing your surname on the back of a nice fresh 2019-20 season jersey. Except in 2K20 you were left with a blank space and just your number. We’re not entirely sure how this escaped detection but it didn’t take long for hordes of players to alert 2K to the issue, leading to #Fix2K20 spreading like wildfire over Twitter. Though as we later found out, that was only about half (quarter?) of the problem. 
People quickly realised that they were not picking up rep or mypoints in the Park – a pretty vital part of ranking up and improving your ratings. This didn’t affect us thankfully, but from what we can gather it was pretty widespread and essentially game-breaking. 
The grind has certainly been eased somewhat this year, although the work needed to unlock all of your badges looks as if it will take dedication, a necessary trade-off to keep the Park somewhat balanced for now. 
At this point they’re not even trying to hide it (credit: 2K)
Rewards still feel disappointing outside of Triple Threat, which has an amazing new tiered reward system in myTeam. Elsewhere though, VC (virtual currency) can feel a bit stingy in the park, while the companion app has inexplicably reduced the daily VC limit from 500 to 400 – pointless but infuriating nonetheless. 
Everything feels like a money grab in 2K. Regulars have learned to live with it in a way early Internet users hesitantly accepted the outbreak of advertising but that doesn’t mean it can pass without comment. 
From the Wheel of Fortune prize wheels to the myTeam slot machines, the presence of gambling is so insidious across pretty much every mode you begin to wonder if it’s an in-joke you’re not party to. And yet even when you think it’s reached its most ostentatious, the story literally tries to sell you a product (a personalised water bottle) for *real* cash in the *real* world, via a video game. This is dangerous territory and particularly dangerous for a game with an age rating of 3.
Microtransactions and loot boxes are never far from the news and it now seems possible that even the UK and U.S. governments may make a move against them. It seems inevitable that this will hit 2K at some stage, and you’ll do well to find someone defending the U.S. publisher after years of such belligerent pay to win greed.
Beyond this, fans of myGM will be in for a shock this time around. Inexplicably the developers saw fit to remove a swathe of settings, meaning users can’t even adjust quarter lengths for a more realistic season. And why has it been done? Online leaderboards. Which are fine if you still allow users to play offline with customised settings. A real fail.
The Nearly
The neighbourhood was introduced to 2K18 to quite a bit of fanfare. It was a novel take on an online hub and the courts were almost buzzing. 
The problem that year was the length of time it took to run from place to place. This was amended in 2K19 and it became a much better user experience, even if the online infrastructure occasionally struggled under the weight of 60-odd players simultaneously playing ball. 
So it’s with a heavy heart that we report similar issues this time around. Games can still experience input lag and there are few noticeable changes to the layout. The Wall of Fame is more central and there are more 3v3 courts but overall you’re playing in the same environment, just with dynamic weather.
We mentioned the new badge system under ‘The Good’ but the grind can also be filed under ‘The Nearly’. Of course we’re only a week into the year-long grind but at present it looks like taking longer than it did in 2K19 to unlock all your badges.
It’s a shame because the creativity you’re given now with badges really is a lot of fun.
LA Sparks’ superstar Candace Parker is the star of the WNBA (credit: 2K)
One of the most notable new features this year is the inclusion of the Women’s NBA (WNBA). The women’s game is going from strength to strength and it’s a welcome addition after years of lobbying. 
And credit must go to 2K. Despite the multitude of modes and elements they have to contend with each year, the developers have recreated an entire world of female players and teams. Even the presentation, from courts to commentary is unique to the women’s game, whilst you can play a full season too.
Our only criticism is that we would have liked to have seen female players in the park and the possibility of playing a career. 
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In Conclusion…
NBA 2K20 is an excellent game, there’s no doubt about that. Even if there was competition, 2K has built such a tremendous basketball sim it’s hard to see how it can be bettered. 
The reworked gameplay will make you more considered in your play. Spamming buttons will be a thing of the past and finding that perfect jumper will take time. It’s well-balanced. 
But, as ever, microtransactions take up a lot of column inches. They’re not just a blight on the industry but a scourge on the 2K series and this year’s version is the worst example of it yet. 
If you can resist the temptation and are happy building your way slowly through the year – entirely possible we must add – then you will find a lot of joy in 2K20. 
But a game that could be accused of preying on children with the bolshy gambling elements deserves unfiltered criticism.



eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020
NBA 2K20 review
In Short: Splendid recreation of basketball with game-changing, innovative evolution cards – but it can’t escape the bad taste the microtransactions leave.
Pros: Presentation is better than ever, great myTeam improvements, a compelling story and positive changes to character creation.
Cons: Have a guess…
Score:  8/10



Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Price: £54.99
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: 6th September 2019
Age Rating: 3

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