It's really hard to try and appreciate a game when microtransactions are woven so tightly into it, and it's especially difficult to enjoy a game when you're continuously prompted to spend more money, even though the game itself is pretty good. NBA 2K20 is one of those games.
We used to be big fans of the NBA 2K series, but as time went by the series has focused less on the actual basketball and more on sucking the player dry through microtransactions. This year it's reached almost disgusting levels. If microtransactions were a focal point in the MyTeam mode alone (2K's Ultimate Team mode, similar to FIFA's version), we could have given it a pass, but when it takes up a big chunk of the solo mode it becomes a more pressing concern.
Let's rewind a bit and start with the capital of microtransactions in NBA, MyTeam. It was when watching a trailer of this game mode that players all over the world got concerned. In the midst of the intense debate regarding gambling in games and what that entails, 2K Games displayed roulette wheels, slot machines, and pachinko machines in its sports game. It didn't look good before release, and some challenges can't even be completed without buying packs or players from the auction house. In Dwyane Wade's challenges, you need specific players on your team, such as a special version of Udonis Haslem, for example.
So how do you get these special versions of players to be able to play this offline challenge? Well, you have to pay for packs, of course. These packs are, to put the icing on the cake, also on a timer, so you won't even be able to find these cards in packs after some time has passed, forcing you to check the auction house for what you need. We should note that the packs aren't exactly cheap either.
As of writing this review, for example, there's a pack you can buy with the theme "Multidimensional", and some players will only be released through this pack. The cheapest pack in this category holds one player and you're not guaranteed to get a multidimensional player either - you could be getting one of the worst players in the game if luck isn't on your side. The price for this pack? Around £4. To summarise: if you want a good team, you'll need to cough up a lot of cash.
2K has decided to push this a bit extra this year in terms of player skill as well. Remember when player skill levels were put into the three categories of bronze, silver, and gold (and at times diamond)? That era now sits fast six, and we have bronze, silver, gold, emerald, sapphire, ruby, onyx, amethyst, diamond, pink diamond, and galaxy opal. New to the series this year is also the option to upgrade some player cards from one category to another by, for example, scoring 150 points or a 20-pointer with that player.
As we stated earlier, we would have been able to overlook the microtransactions a bit, had they been kept solely to the MyTeam mode, because if that would have been the case, the players who weren't looking for that kind of mode could have skipped playing MyTeam altogether for the career mode - MyCareer. Well, if that was your plan for dodging the microtransactions, we're sorry to say that you'll have to scrap that plan too. You see, to upgrade your players' attributes you'll need to spend - you guessed it - real money.
This isn't exactly a cheap system either, and the better the attribute, the more VC you have to spend to upgrade it. If you want to add an attribute point (that's one singular point) to your "close shot" you have to spend 1,482 VC. In one game you'll make around 1000. As you can probably visualise, you'll be playing a lot of games to be able to upgrade your player enough for the character to be viable, and it also affects your online gameplay. If you want to play online in 2v2 or 5v5, you have to use your MyCareer player, meaning that if you want to compete online, you really do have to spend a ridiculous amount of VC.
The online hub is called the Neighborhood. Here you'll be able to join in with various online game modes or buy new outfits or shoes. You can also play frisbee golf, dodgeball, and various other minigames. We enjoyed the idea behind this, but not the execution. If the hub doesn't have enough players active it feels like a ghost town and the windows on the buildings surrounding you are completely greyed out, adding to the feeling.
There's a lot to dislike about NBA 2K20, but there are also aspects that shine through. This year's MyCareer story won't be liked by everyone, but we rather enjoyed it, even though it was on the shorter side. The story follows Che, whom you control. Che gets into a fight with his college coach (portrayed by Idris Elba) after the coach has done something that Che thinks is incredibly unfair to one of his fellow team members. After this, the story follows the character as he tries to get drafted as high as possible. You'll also get the chance to participate in a so-called scout combine, where all of the NBA team scouts get the chance to observe you during various practice instances. You'll be hitting the bench press, running around cones, and jumping as high as you possibly can. The better your performance, the higher you'll be drafted. Sadly, the career mode has a very abrupt ending after you're drafted and get to play in the Summer League, with minor scenes like press conferences and sponsor meetings drawing the experience out slightly. The friendships and the rivalries that you build during the career mode never really get a follow-up either, which is a shame.
We also enjoyed the overall presentation of the game. The matches feel like an actual live match, and you'll find player interviews, overview shots of the city you're playing in, statistics, great commentators, and more to make the match experience as true to the source material as possible. It's such a shame that the game is so focused on microtransactions, because if there's anything you can't critique in NBA 2K20, it's the actual basketball. There's "too much basketball in my casino game" was a popularly used phrase when the MyTeam trailer dropped, after all.
We should also mention the third big game mode, MyLeague. Here you'll be able to pick a team and play 80 seasons as that team. You'll also have the option of being a GM in MyGM where you take control of a team to manage it by fixing sponsors, hiring and firing coaches, and drafting players. You'll have to prioritise though, as you only have a set amount of actions to finish per day. Of course, you can also play the games yourself if you want to be involved even further. Don't think you'll be able to escape the grasp of the microtransactions here either though, as if you want to grant a player better attributes during the training camp you can do so - by spending VC on them.
A pretty big piece of news this year is the addition of the women's league WNBA. All teams and players are present in the game, and you can use these teams in regular matches as well as in the season mode. This also means that there are new animations and playstyles added to fit women's basketball.
It's such a bummer that the core of the game has such a hard focus on making the player spend money. NBA 2K20 is a really good basketball game with fun gameplay during matches, but it's all wrecked by always getting prompted to spend money. To add insult to injury, the addition of roulette wheels and slot machines feel like a slap in the face.
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