Twenty years. That is how long the NBA 2K franchise has existed and NBA 2K19 is not only a terrific way to celebrate, it shows why the 2K Sports franchise is the best when it comes to NBA video games. Before I played one game in 2K19 I immediately took notice of the amount of authenticity it builds on, creating the most in-depth, realistic, and attention-grabbing experience I have had playing any NBA-based game. I must mention it requires a microSD card with at least 32GB of free memory space and 5GB of system memory; the file size of NBA 2K19 is 31.5GB. Nintendo’s website states you must insert the microSD card before downloading the game.
A broadcast that makes games feel like the real thing
Ernie Johnson, Shaq, and Kenny “The Jet” Smith are back once again to offer insight before, in-between, and after every tip-off. Kevin Harlan and a cast of broadcasters including some NBA greats once again provide play-by-play and commentary that not only pulled me in as a player and as a viewer, their chemistry and conversations made me feel like I was sitting next to them at the table. What I love most about the NBA 2K franchise is the commentary is always fluid and informative in a way where it does not come off as robotic and something to play over the crowd. Every word Harlan, Doris Burke, Clark Kellogg, and others speak is informative, and genuine in a way that provides a sense of warmth and makes their conversations about stats, players, and situations inviting. Chinese and G-League commentators have also been added to My Career.
Ballet on the hardwood
Right from tip-off, the mechanics and player animations are very fluid and detailed. Jump shots do not appear stiff or robotic and passes are fast and depending on a player’s attribute rating, precise. There is no lag when it comes to running, diving, and rebounding as everything moves in a beautiful motion. It actually made me want to run real plays instead of improvising because executing a play felt rewarding – both from a player and aesthetic perspective.
Also, the detail that goes into arenas and players’ looks is amazing. Like previous games, players in NBA 2K19 bump into each other, fight for loose balls, and fight through screens. Every statistic also carries with it a certain sense of accomplishment and disappointment. Hitting a game-winning shot and turning the ball over both carry weight, making every trip up and down the court important.
MyGM adds while MyLeague and MyTeam mostly stay the same
MyGM has been greatly enhanced and is now broken up into two types of modes. One is more traditional, centering around owner and day-to-day tasks, and allows you to control your favorite NBA team. The other is more story based and puts you at the helm of an expansion team. The story is also a direct sequel to last year’s mode (i.e., the Sandersons are back). I found myself greatly enjoying the latter of the two options more because it was fun to be able to pick and choose my team’s name, location, logo, and design uniforms.
MyGM offers a lot of places to put your new team from the lights of Las Vegas to the boardwalk of Virginia Beach, and more. The only hiccup it has is even though the team owner gave me the green light to hire whomever I wanted for my initial staff, I was not given a list of candidates to choose from. Instead, my character immediately went into interviews with various candidates I did not choose and hired them on the spot. This really was a bit of a bummer because I would have loved to been given more of an opportunity to be hands-on especially since the team is brand new.
MyLeague is mostly the same, offering players a multi-decade-long franchise mode. Once again you have full control of your favorite NBA team(s) and have the options to import draft classes, hire and fire your staff, and relocate your team(s). The most notable addition to MyLeague this year is the ability to have players mentor each other so they can earn various types of player badges. It really does add emphasis in signing and trading for marquee players so they can help younger prospects reach their full potential.
MyTeam is back, offering fantasy-style gameplay in the form of virtual playing cards and card packs. When you first open the mode you are given a superstar player card based on your favorite team. My initial Lakers pack contained a LeBron James card. By completing goals and playing 5-on-5 domination, you earn tokens which can be used to redeem more card packs.
The Way Back is a grind
In addition to My League, My Team, and My GM, My Career is back and its story The Way Back involves an undrafted rookie nicknamed A.I. whose road to the NBA starts in China. From there you work your way through the NBA G-League (NBA’s minor league) and build your path towards NBA stardom. The voice cast includes big names like Anthony Mackie and Haley Joel Osment, among others. While I did enjoy the fresh approach the story took on the underdog tale in a sports game, I found myself a bit bored.
Not because the gameplay was bad (far from it), but because some of the cutscenes in the prelude are ridiculously long. I do not mind a cutscene here and there in a sports game, but when one scene is almost eight minutes long it is kind of hard to stay engaged. After the prelude is over there are fewer cutscenes, but another problem that was in NBA 2K18 rears its head in NBA 2K19. Virtual currency and microtransactions are once again tied to a player’s progression.
You can play games in My Career to earn virtual currency but your stats and contract determine how much you get after every game. While playing in China and the G-League it is easier to dominate and earn more currency because I was playing against inferior talent. But once I made my way onto an NBA roster, I found it extremely difficult to make shots, have an impact on my team, and earn currency. It was not due to a lack of skill; it was due to my player having a rating of 62. Despite spending tons of currency on his shooting in the prelude, his shooting afterward was only a D, making it impossible to hit shots.
The difference in talent level can be felt in various other ways. So I stopped playing My Career and began grinding my way through My League to earn more virtual currency. The option to purchase virtual currency to increase your attributes is a choice but in a mode based around becoming the best player and staying on an NBA team, it is hard to ignore the grip of supremacy being a credit card input away.
I would have preferred the game put more of an emphasis on practice and training to increase my player’s attributes. I love the story this year’s version of My Career tells – I think it is one of the better ones – but having to grind affects both my ability and desire to play it.
Still king of the court
Despite its issues, NBA 2K19 is by far the best installment in the franchise’s history. No matter which team I play as, no matter the late-game situation, it does a tremendous job of pulling me in. Its presentation enriches me with tons of basketball info and insight, plus its gameplay makes me more anxious for the actual NBA season to start (in a good way). There are still improvements that can be made for next year’s game, but 2K Sports and Visual Concepts shows their dominance while also celebrating 20 years of NBA 2K basketball.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 11, 2018
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
A review code was provided by the publisher.
- Attention-grabbing presentation
- Fluid gameplay and animations
- Interesting MyCareer story
- Easy to use controls
- Plenty of team relocation options
- Virtual currency, microtransactions tied to MyCareer player progression
- Cutscenes are too long
- Lack of initial staff choices in MyGM