NBA 2K21 fails to improve upon past editions

Kobe Bryant goes up for a lay-up against Grant Hill in the new NBA 2k21 game. (Fair use from NME)

In the world of sports gaming, yearly edition games like Madden, NBA 2K and NHL are often criticized for being copy-and-paste versions of the previous years’ editions. In a world full of games that lack creativity and fail to change from year to year, this year’s edition of 2K21…. is exactly that. 

Regardless of the lack of change, the NBA 2K series always arrives with huge amounts of hype and excitement. The series is consistently the best selling sports game on the market—a trend that is likely to hold true for 2K21.

However, as popular as the game may be, it has some extreme shortcomings. Its most popular game mode, MyCareer, has become increasingly popular from player participation in the ‘‘neighborhood’’ feature of the game, a mode where players can team up in groups of two, three or five and compete against online opponents. However, this game mode is quite lackluster and doesn’t provide the player with any dynamic improvements from past years.

It is evident that the 2K creators understand that players are willing to download the game to play with their friends in the MyCareer mode regardless of how little the game changes year to year due to the high sales numbers. This gives the creators a reason to make minimal adjustments as they don’t feel the need to change much as long as players are still purchasing the new iterations. 

Other game modes like MyTeam and MyLeague are much less popular than MyCareer and are not any better than their counterpart. These game modes, respectively, allow you to build a team made of current and past NBA players and control a basketball franchise in its quest for championship glory.

One of my biggest problems with the game stems from the developers. Every year, players request change through social media messages directed at game developers, hoping for new game modes or bug fixes. However, there never seems to be any major changes to gameplay. 

The developers have made some important additions to the game this year, though. For the first time in MyCareer and MyLeague, WNBA players can be created and WNBA teams can be controlled. This is a huge step for the 2K franchise, as the WNBA was only added to the game in 2K20.

Additionally, the developers have added a huge number of small shooting, dribbling and dunking animations to the game—attractive options for 2K fans who like the ability to curate each individual part of their game experience.

As much as I wish 2K21 could have been a more significant improvement on its predecessors, it is still an enjoyable game that can be played for hours with friends. Although limited in some aspects, many of the game modes are fun to explore and spend some time with.

NBA 2K21 may be somewhat of a letdown this year, but 2K22, the next game in the series, will have the chance to shatter expectations. Next year’s game will be designed for next generation consoles (Xbox Series X and PS5) and will be one of the first games to harness the power of these consoles that has never before been possible.

Next year’s iteration of the 2K series is likely one the series’ final chances to take a step up. If the 2K franchise fails to take advantage of the spectacular power of next generation consoles, it will truly be an airball that will likely turn many players away from the franchise’s future games.