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NBA 2K23 Review – NBA 2K23 Goes Wide and Nostalgic

NBA 2K23 Review, NBA 2K23 Jordan Challenge, MyNBA Eras, MyTEAM, MyCAREER, MyPLAYER, The W

NBA 2K23 doubles down on the nostalgia and goes wide in terms of coverage, bringing loads of new content that sadly came with issues. In this NBA 2K23 review, we take a look at the game’s depiction of history and the past decades of the NBA, the beauty of the game, and some new problems that came with this new release.

NBA 2K23 Review: What’s new?

NBA 2K23 comes with a big dose of nostalgia, available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for the current-gen version, and PS5 and Xbox Series X for the next-gen version. A lot of new game modes are added to the game that bank on players’ appetite for historic NBA moments. The frontrunner, of course, is the Jordan Challenge, a returning feature that hasn’t really made a lot of appearances in past NBA 2K games. However, the biggest addition this year just may be the MyNBA Eras game mode. In the past, players have to painstakingly customize their leagues to replicate leagues from the past. However, MyNBA Eras allows players to just choose an era, pick a team, and play Association of MyNBA with that league, with that time’s rules, rosters, and TV presentations.

With all of these nostalgic offerings, NBA 2K23 is all about authenticity. Last year, we saw a major graphical leap. The graphical improvements this year is minuscule, if not entirely absent. But that’s only because the focus this year is different. Hence, many players will probably judge NBA 2K23 based on how well it delivers on its promise of authenticity, which includes improvements in The W as well. Of course, we will take that into consideration in our NBA 2K23 review, but at the end of the day, we’ll still be focusing more on the entire package on how well it delivers on all fronts.

So, let’s take a look at each one of the offerings that NBA 2K23 has, judge and weigh each component, and, in the end, see how the entire package pans out. So, we’re starting off with the flagship feature of this year’s NBA 2K…

Jordan Challenge

The Jordan Challenge is like a Showcase Mode for those who’ve played WWE 2K games before, which is basically a game mode that focuses on a particular person, in this case, Michael Jordan himself. The game mode features fifteen milestone games for Michael that defined him as the G.O.A.T. in basketball, from his NCAA championship with North Carolina in 1982 to his final, game-winning shot in the 1998 Finals. Each one is accompanied by a video package detailing Michael’s place in history and an interview with a person close to him at that point in history. Then, players get to play the game with Michael’s team, with set goals and challenges players can undertake. Completing these challenges will earn players some prizes for MyCAREER and MyTEAM, which incentivizes all players to complete all challenges.

An odd thing about the Jordan Challenge is that the challenges are for Michael only, like “Score 16 points with MJ” or “Register 7 rebounds with MJ”, but you actually play as the entire team. Granted, you can just lock your control on just one position so you’ll mostly play as MJ, but early on I actually expected to play only as MJ throughout this challenge, to really “live as Michael Jordan” in the game mode. This is just a small gripe and mostly a disappointment based on an unmet expectation, but this does not really depreciate the game mode in any way.

In terms of presentation, Visual Concepts really did the extra work to dial in the authenticity, with custom TV filters, true-to-date attires, courts, team logos, and even up-to-date rules accurate to the time. Players can also expect to enjoy accurate rosters from those times, so yes, James Worthy could dominate the 1982 NCAA Finals as he did in real life if you don’t really feel like having MJ take over.

However, as it will be brought up again later in the next section, one weakness that NBA 2K23 has in its pursuit of authenticity is that there’s just too much ground to cover. Even if we’re getting accurate rosters from those times, 2K couldn’t make realistic-looking player models and portraits for all players involved. On top of this, there’s also the problem of the commentary, as 2K’s usual commentary team will be commentating all throughout, which means we won’t be able to hear Bob Costas, Isiah Thomas, and Doug Collins call Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. Of course, it’d be unreasonable to expect 2K to get all the rights for these commentators and to actually get them to remake all of their calls for all of Jordan’s 15 games, but it’s a glaring miss in NBA 2K23’s aim for authenticity.

MyNBA Eras

This year’s MyNBA has also expanded both in its base features and its nostalgia features. Let’s discuss the new base features first.

These new or improved base features apply to all MyNBA setups, regardless of the era you play in. These include revamps for the game’s RPG features, which give players more agency on how they interact with their franchise and with their staff; new RPG skill trees; and more streamlined menus for staff management. There’s also a significant improvement in the overall presentation of the game mode, including better UI, menus, and simulation presentation. Overall, MyNBA feels sleeker, and even the simulation speed experienced an uplift this year with faster simulation times and less throttle when simulating over longer periods.

It’s also worth noting that NBA 2K23 doesn’t suffer from the same issues that Madden NFL 23 experienced in its similar game mode. Thankfully, the AI in this game is competent enough not to waive superstars and to offer them better deals when in Free Agency. This allows the game to have a better and more immersive association mode, one with competent GMs as adversaries.

Now, the only thing that gets in the way here is that the depiction of the players from yesteryears isn’t always satisfactory. The good thing about the Eras is that all rosters for all teams are accurate down to the most obscure bench warmer. However, going wide also has its drawbacks – most of the player models and portraits for many of the players – not even the obscure ones – don’t look good and realistic, and honestly looking at renditions of Manu Ginobili and Steve Kerr when I played as the Spurs in the 2002 season left me wanting – the portraits, at least, look horrendous. The models themselves are fine and all – 2K mostly use the ones they’ve been using for years – but there’s no excuse to have the portraits of some of the stars from the yesteryears look the way they do now in the game. Couldn’t they have used archival portraits? That would have been better.

Otherwise, the game mode is terrific and works faster than last year. Overall design improved because of the better UI and deeper RPG options.

MyCAREER & MyPLAYER

MyCAREER this year provides the player with a rival, Shem Owens, which gives the story a lot more personality this year. The game starts with the player getting drafted as usual, but this year players can actually choose which team to play in. However, the chosen team’s first round pick of the player draws flack from both the media and fans, as they believe that Shem Owens, who plays the same position, would have been a better pick. The two rivals end up getting drafted right after the other, with the MyPLAYER, MP, getting chosen ahead of Owens. This rubbed Owens the wrong way, riling up the media and calling out MP throughout. Now, the player has to carve a path for themselves and prove that their team’s investment in him isn’t wasted.

New to this year is the Leadership System, replacing last year’s takeover system. Takeover still exists this year, although in a less extensive role – players have access to a Primary and Secondary Takeover Perk. As the player performs well on the floor, they charge up three Takeover bars. The first takeover bar is for the secondary perk, the second takeover bar is for the primary, and the third is for Team Takeover. Once the first bar is charged, the second bar starts getting filled, and so on. The player can choose to activate Takeover by pressing R3 at any point that at least one bar is full, activating the higher-tier Takeover and emptying it to give the player a boost.

Meanwhile, the Leadership System affects the player’s progression on and off the court. Before milestone matches in the game, players will be given a choice between two options – Trailblazer and General. Depending on which one the player takes, fans, media, and teammates’ perceptions of them change. The chosen Leadership Perk also gives the player one of two challenges – and completing that challenge during the match will give the player and his team a buff for a set number of possessions.

I like this Leadership System as it gives the player a more defined personality, but having only two options when responding to events isn’t exactly role-playing at its finest. Still, the Leadership System gives me a reason to vary my playstyle from one game to another, slowing down the creep of staleness on the game.

Outside of the court, this year’s G.O.A.T. Boat and The City are far better than last year’s in my opinion. Last year focused on the grandois – a city too big, and a ship too big. This year, both The Neighborhood versions for either console versions are better for being more compressed, removing the tedium of walking from one activity to another, and making places easier to find and go to.

There are also a variety of opportunities for the player to explore across The Neighborhood, just like last year, which gives the player cosmetic rewards as well as virtual currencies and MyTEAM packs, as well as careers outside of the court like music and fashion. However, VC farming is just as stingy this year as it was last year, if not even stingier, so I guess some fans would still be tempted to purchase VC to fast-track their progress.

Finally, I just want to point out that the animation store now saves purchased animations to your account instead of a save file, which means you can now spend your VC and have an animation usable for all of your MyPLAYERs instead of just one. That’s a neat change that we hope would persist in future iterations of NBA 2K.

MyTEAM

MyTEAM returns largely unchanged from its previous iterations. The core gameplay remains the same but with three core differences: Clutch Time returns but now has a single-player mode. Second, there are no more contracts for your Permanent Cards. So, Free Agents will still have a limited number of plays, but everyone else can be played an unlimited number of times. And finally, there’s now an Exhibition system that lets you send your unused player cards to “quests” which will make the cards unusable for a set amount of time. Once they complete their quest, players will be able to collect rewards. These Exhibitions have set requirements and parameters that dictate what kind of cards can be sent to complete the quest. In general, Exhibitions give the player something to do with their unused cards apart from gathering digital dust in their digital collector albums. Apart from this, the game still has its core gameplay loop intact – play games to earn rewards that will let you build a better dream team, which you’ll use to complete more difficult rewards. Domination returns, as well as Triple Threat.

One big improvement from this year compared to last year is actually a small adjustment – opening packs this year works faster than before. However, it’s still annoying that you can’t open all your unopened packs all at once – giving you the boring chore of opening all of them one by one when they stack up. The game mode’s Vault also opens oh so slowly still, which will cumulatively waste your time in spades the longer you play the game mode. Hopefully, Visual Concepts can do away with these annoyances and make playing much less of a hassle. If you’re giving us rewards, please don’t make us waste our time with overly long but redundant and repetitive animations.

Triple Threat also now has an co-op multiplayer mode that lets you match with your friend against AI, which is a fun new way to play. However, I don’t imagine this to be a staple in my gameplay, as it’s a hassle to schedule matches with friends. I’d much rather play online alone and let matchmaking do the trick.

Overall, though, it feels like getting to the reward cards this year is harder than before. With each team having a whole ton of collectibles needed to unlock their signature players, it feels like the grind is ever longer this year. Also, the Rewards system has been overhauled such that you redeem instead cards from the base set of the teams instead of exchanging your reward tokens for packs or unique player cards. While overall the different rewards still arrive at a steady pace such that you will always be unlocking something new, the long haul feels more grindy thanks to the number of things you’ll have to collect.

The W

The W returns this year, and while we appreciate the inclusion, The W Career Mode still feels like an after thought. Granted, there are fewer players who play this mode, but that could change if The W was as engaging as MyCAREER is. The W Career Mode feels like a story mode for NBA 2K from a PlayStation Portable game back in the day, so while it’s still a fun game mode to play, the depth is just too shallow for a non-WNBA fan to appreciate, making them default back to MyCAREER or the other game modes.

I also hope that The W would eventually feature in some capacity in MyTEAM in the future. This wish is a Pandora’s Box, however, as collecting is already a drag this year without the WNBA, and if 2K just hastily implements The W in MyTEAM, then things could get even more grindy and cluttered. Maybe a whole new MyTEAM ecosystem for the WNBA could do the trick. End of the day, any new addition to the WNBA in future 2K games would be appreciated and would help in giving the WNBA more attention.

General Impressions and Review

Last year’s focus was defense – this year was offense. Defense still got a couple of tweaks – most prominently the zone HUD for on-ball defense, which informs the player how well-covered a player is – in front of them, or on the flanks. This is a nice addition, but in the grander scheme of things doesn’t feel impactful.

Meanwhile, playing with the pro stick just got more complex. Players who prefer shooting and dunking with just the 🔲 button can still do so and not feel the majority of changes this year apart from the new shot meter. But playing with the pro stick adds more flashy moves to your player’s arsenal. It takes some getting used to, but once your muscle memory settles in, this new pro stick system makes for more fun and more flashy plays.

Speaking of getting used to, the new shot meter takes some getting used to, too. Thankfully, there’s an option to play with other shot meters from previous iterations, finally letting us use whatever’s the most comfortable for us, which is, again, a neat feature that we hope would persist in future iterations of the game.

Meanwhile, the game’s sound design this year feels a little bit odd. There are a lot of animations when claiming rewards and such that doesn’t make any sound, and it’s a weird design choice – or possibly even an oversight. The default volume levels for some game modes like Triple Threat are also odd as they fall awfully silent.

The lighting this year is also odd in some places, with a couple of courts looking a bit darker than what feels comfortable. There are some NBA courts that experiences this, but it’s most noticeable in Triple Threat, where the dimly-lit court makes my eyes strained.

NBA 2K23 Review: Conclusion

In spite of its nostalgic coating, NBA 2K23 still feels way too much like NBA 2K22. For many reasons, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good in a way that this means this game is also stable, of good quality, and not too unfamiliar for returning players. Bad in a way that if you’ve already sunk $60 last year, there’s very little reason to sink another 60 this year – even if, say, you’re a big Jordan fan or if the MyNBA Era looks great to you. That’s not to say that NBA 2K23 is a bad game – it’s just that it’s not innovative enough for it to justify another purchase. So, if you don’t mind skipping a year, you’ll do just fine playing another year’s worth of MyPLAYER on NBA 2K22.

NBA 2K23 Review Score: 9.5/10

Editor’s Note: ClutchPoints received a PS5 review copy to allow us to cover this game. This copy did not, in any way, affect this Stray Review’s final score and verdict.