After a shaky entrance to the new generation of consoles, the NBA 2K series seems to be building on its ambitious foundation for NBA 2K22 (release date: September 10). In a short preview event with Visual Concepts, I was overjoyed to hear that many of my complaints about NBA 2K21 were addressed in NBA 2K22. For example, The City, which previously felt empty, is populated with NPCs and interacting buildings. Nevertheless, microtransactions and their impact on new features are overshadowed. It is difficult to say whether any changes have been made in this regard, and if history has taught us anything, it is probably best to assume the worst.
Optimistic, but the most exciting changes involve all of The City and MyCareer. In NBA 2K22, MyCareer will waste the more movie experience we have become so accustomed to in favor of a more open world mission system in The City. I was skeptical at first, but this does not feel like a cut. Instead, the focus seems to be on making The City feel more alive and popular. One of my key complaints in NBA 2K21
NBA 2k22 first screenshots
Similarly, the overly cruel Rookieville has been cut from NBA 2K22. This is a significant change, as it will allow me to jump right into the best parts of MyCareer in The City: playing with my friends and exploring the newly populated areas. There will also be the freedom to explore business outside the NBA, with new opportunities to develop clothing lines or even become a hip-hop star. It remains to be seen how detailed these mission lines are, but it seems like an interesting step towards a better role-playing experience.
In terms of play, there was very little talk about. Almost everything that was mentioned was about a focus for more “control” – something NBA 2K21 already did a much better job with. There seems to be an increased effort to make the defense entertaining, with renewed blocking and stealing systems. Similarly, the focus on crime seems to reward high skill levels instead of the dice rolling elements the franchise has become known for. Some of this seems promising, but without many details it is difficult to know what these concepts will look like in action.
One aspect of the game that got some attention was fatigue and how this would interfere with the focus on load handling in MyNBA. With the violent injury set in this year’s NBA Finals, NBA 2K22 emphasizes how focusing too much on a star player can put injuries or greater fatigue at risk. The new fatigue system stands for things like cross-outs with great effort and the kind of energy that zaps from players in the middle of a game. Giving players rest days and plenty of time to rest is now crucial to making a deep play-off without injury.
Another interesting development is the addition of “seasons” to all facets of NBA 2K22. Seasons was first used in MyTeam in NBA 2K21 as a way to engage players every six weeks or so. Now this concept will apply to the entire game. Visual Concepts promises significant updates over a similar six-week time frame – including a holiday update that will add an unknown mode to MyTeam. Although they did not give details of what this might look like, there was a promise that the game in season one would look completely different than when season two or three came around.
The last thing that came to my mind at the press event was Visual Concept’s dedication to both the previous and current generation of consoles. When they talked about MyCareer, they talked excitedly about the differences between each. For example, The Neighborhood (a previous generation exclusive) involves playing aboard a cruise ship with excursions to places like Egypt. Similarly, there seemed to be a real focus on game parody between the two generations with a focus on not leaving the previous generation behind. While this is in some respects admirable, I came away and felt a little confused that the focus had not first shifted to what should be the best version of the game on Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X and S.
In the same way, it seems that there will still be a narrative experience available on the previous generation version of NBA 2K22. While 2K22’s addition to The City seems more exciting to me, the door seems open for the new generation NBA 2K22 to feel less complete with the feature. More details are promised for August, so it may be safe not to make any assumptions until then. While cross-generational momentum is still available, both versions of the NBA 2K22 seemed to have dedicated development time. I just hope that the next generation versions do not feel less impressive than they should be.
In the end, it seems that NBA 2K22 is playing it safe in many respects. After the monumental shift from the neighborhood to the city, it seems appropriate that Visual Concepts would take the opportunity to build on what is already there. As it stands, I look forward to hearing more details about NBA 2K22 and how it will build on its ambitious performance from a year ago.