NBA 2K21 is packed with great moments like these, and 2K’s basketball series continues to do an excellent job of bringing the game to life. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of picking out an unmarked Steph Curry in the corner and sinking a three-pointer with one of the world’s best basketball players, or driving into the paint with the GOAT LeBron James and dunking over the head of a helpless defender.


Unfortunately, once players step off the court, lootboxes and microtransactions once again take centre stage in a series that has been plagued with these issues for years.

But before diving into the lootbox issue let’s start with what NBA 2K21 gets right.

Which is plenty. The gameplay has been refined even further since last year’s excellent entry. Dribbling with players feels great, shooting (following a day-one hotfix) is challenging but satisfying, and defending is incredibly rewarding when you manage to successfully box out your opponent or deny them a dunk.

The pro-stick (right stick on your controller) allows you to perform skill moves such as crossovers and stepbacks. You can also shoot using the pro-stick which includes a shot-meter that gives you useful feedback on your shot timing.

I found the pro-stick a little tricky to use in the beginning, but thankfully 2K21 includes a training mode which does a decent job of introducing you to the system and teaching you how to use it.

Visually it’s a stunner too, with each player a faithful recreation of their real-life counterparts, while the stadiums and crowds are all pleasing to the eye. The game also does a great job re-creating the look and feel of a real NBA match, with all the US sport razzamataz that goes with it.

The continued inclusion of the Women’s NBA league is also a real plus, and it’s great that you’re able to play a MyLeague season in the WNBA.

It is worth noting though that the bar to entry for newcomers in 2K21 is a little higher than many other sports games, such as FIFA and even Madden NFL. Even on pro mode (the second easiest difficulty) the CPU is still a real challenge, trust me you won’t win with button mashing, this game definitely requires a bit of practice and tactical thinking.

MyCareer was easily the most enjoyable part of the game for me. This is 2K21’s sports narrative story, and sees you follow the journey of a young player named (unfortunately) Junior as he tries to make the jump from college player to NBA superstar.

MyCareer is a surprisingly well told and touching story experienced through a mix of cutscenes and gameplay. It’s also packed with some big names, including Michael K. Williams, Djimon Hounsou, and Jesse Williams.

The story did a great job of highlighting the stress and pressure of being an aspiring NBA player and how easy it is to burn out in pursuit of such a difficult goal. 

It also touches on a lot of the less talked about aspects of the game, such as how the praise or scorn of influential individuals in sports media can make or break young players, as well as the ruthlessness inherent in the NBA scouting system.

MyCareer allows you to choose the look of Junior, as well as design him as a basketball player. As you progress through the game mode you can upgrade his stats using in-game currency known as VC, and unfortunately it’s here that NBA 2K21 starts to break down.

Last year’s entry received a lot of criticism for its heavy focus on lootboxes and in-game transactions that often required parting with real world money. While not as egregious as last year, 2K21 is still riddled with this issue.

VC is needed in large quantities if you want to make any sort of meaningful upgrades to your MyCareer player, and while you can grind for it in-game, this requires hours of dedicated gameplay to earn even relatively small amounts.

VC is also required for 2K21’s other popular game mode MyTeam (equivalent to FIFA’s Ultimate Team). And while the focus on ‘gambling’ in MyTeam has been slightly reduced from last year – for example the much derided casino feel has been removed, as has the awful roulette wheel – microtransactions still dominate.

For example, a deluxe pack of players will still cost you the equivalent of around £6.00 in real world money. For a game that initially costs £45-£50 this feels like an outrageous cash grab.

The fact that VC is required for both MyCareer and MyTeam is also incredibly annoying, as it means you essentially have to either choose between the two game modes or part with even more money.

Which is a real shame, because aside from the microtransactions, MyTeam is  great fun. It’s easily on-par with other Ultimate Team style formats from rival sports games, and arguably superior to a lot of them.

Creating your squad is fun, the various game types such as triple-threat are very enjoyable, and the ability to upgrade your individual players with collected badges to improve their stats adds a lovely and unexpected element of RPG gaming to the mix.

Much as last year, then, NBA 2K21 is a fantastic sports game wrapped in an unappealing layer of lootboxes and microtransactions.

While this issue is hardly unique to 2K21, the game marks itself out because of the pervasiveness of the problem. With that said, things have started to move in the right direction, albeit at a snail’s pace. And on the court, at least, NBA 2K21 remains one of the best sports sims around.

Originally published by Telegraph