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NBA 2K21 review: The most challenging, confusing and fun game in a long time

NBA 2K21 offers a little bit of everything. But the MyTeam mode stands out once again.

SHARE NBA 2K21 review: The most challenging, confusing and fun game in a long time
NBA 2K21 offers a little bit of everything. But the MyTeam mode stands out once again.

NBA 2K21 offers a little bit of everything. But the MyTeam mode stands out once again.

Matt Chang (2K)

The NBA Finals just wrapped up, putting another title in the trophy case for the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James. We don’t know when there will be a new NBA season, so we have to watch highlights of the Lakers-Miami Heat series for awhile.

But if you want new NBA content — you may want to look toward NBA 2K21, the latest installment of the NBA video game franchise.

NBA 2K21 came out back at the beginning of September, just when NBA bubble basketball was hitting its peak and the NBA Finals seemed so far out of reach.

I waited about a month to put together my review. I wanted to play a full season under the MyTeam mode — more on that later — to fully understand what to expect from NBA 2K21 going forward, and give the best guide I could for those who might try to snag it on Amazon Prime Day or during the holiday season.

These are some immediate findings about the game, which I will update as time goes on. Let me know if there’s anything I missed by email at hscribner@deseretnews.com.

The shooting scandal almost ruined the game

Much hype centered around the improvements to the NBA 2K shooting style. Instead of just a flick of the trigger or pressing X, you would have to aim your shot slightly to the right or left. And it had devastating consequences. Gamers complained about the high amount of missed shots. I went 0 for 26 in one game. A solid 1 for 11 in another game. Just brick after brick after brick. It was frustrating, so much so that I left the game for a good week to reset (and I had some other games to review).

But NBA 2K responded to the criticism, releasing a patch that improved shooting to be more like NBA 2K20’s style. There’s still an option for the aiming gimmick, but I’ve stuck with the old model because it’s what I’m used to. For a minute there, NBA 2K21 almost ruined its chances at succeeding. Now, it’s back on course.

MyTeam mode hits like Steph Curry

The big focus of the recent NBA 2K games has been the MyTeam mode, where players collect digital “cards” of different NBA stars (past and present) with various skill levels, badges and ratings. Each card is name after a specific type of gem (for the most part). For example, there’s an Amethyst LeBron James card and a Diamond LeBron James card. The latter has more skills and whatnot, and often costs more in the in-game auction house.

The typical run of stuff is here. There’s the auction house — which honestly taught me a lot about the United States’ economic system and market flow — and the “Domination” mode where you compete against teams past and present. The online modes are there, too, like Triple Threat Online and Unlimited. There’s also a new Limited mode that calls on you to use certain cards during online play. That’s a fun one.

This year, NBA 2K21 added a “seasons” agenda list, sort of like what you’d see from Fortnite or other videos game. You complete challenges to gain XP. The high amount of XP wins you rewards throughout the season, leading up to the Pink Diamond Steph Curry card. It’s a fun mode that seriously invokes feelings of “the grind,” forcing gamers to spend hours on end.

I personally reached level 35 (good for 75,000 XP) after about 27 days playing the game. I’m still only halfway to that Curry card. It’s insane. Hopefully, 2K will lower the highest amount or increase the XP awarded per challenge for next season to give “no money spent (NMS)” players a chance to win the cards.

NBA 2K21 MyTeam mode season rewards.


MyPlayer and the park

I don’t dabble too much in this mode — only because the MyTeam grind is more than enough to keep yourself busy. But the opening experiences were a little tough, getting used to the shooting systems. But MyPlayer — like in previous years — offers the cool experience of actually dealing with your career and building a legacy.

Not to mention, the mode has done well to update itself to reflect real-life events. The 2K team added some Halloween courts during October to celebrate the holiday. So there’s plenty to keep you busy during your stay on the MyPlayer mode. There always seems to be upgrades for clothing as well, so that’s worth checking out.

Should you move to NBA 2K21?

Honestly, it depends what you like. If you’re a MyTeam fan, there is plenty of new content to get you started on a new grind. That said, NBA 2K20 fans can compete with their old set of players for as long as they want. Those happy with their NBA 2K20 lineups may want to wait until the new best players come out in NBA 2K21.

Kobe Bryant appears to NBA 2K21.

Matt Chang, 2K

But there’s also Next Gen to consider. NBA 2K21 will be released on the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox One X, so who knows what they’ll lead to for gamers.

It’s also an odd time for basketball. The real NBA season just ended and we won’t see another until maybe ... well, who knows when. So, I’d say pick whichever version will fill your need for new NBA content. Because we’re going to need it.