NBA 2K21 Review: Not Really an Upgrade

Here’s where it gets strange. I had skipped past the Rookie of the Year winner because I didn’t have any rookies. Turns out that the other teams didn’t have any either. In fact, the options for one of the NBA’s more notable postseason awards were so low that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dylan Windler took home the trophy. Windler, a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who missed this season due to injury, remained a rookie because he didn’t appear in any games, unlike real-life winner Ja Morant or No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. What makes Windler such a strange award winner are his season averages: 0.0 points, 0.3 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks. 

The MyLeague modes offer no alternative to starting in the 2020-21 season without any new rookies. Well, it does present an option to “Start In Offseason,” but it is designated as “NOT AVAILABLE” for some reason. That means you can’t opt to do a 2020 NBA Draft to inject new blood with made-up players. For that matter, there’s no free agency period before the season starts, and all upcoming free agents are treated as if they signed one-year deals. My Raptors had just one player still under contract after winning the championship: Pascal Siakam. Every other roster spot was open.

I know MyLeague and MyGM get short shrift every year, but NBA 2K21 highlights how much of an afterthought these modes were. I know plenty of people who love the series but haven’t bought a new edition in years because so little has changed in these modes. I don’t blame them, and I would encourage anyone looking to play these modes in the new game to think twice about buying.

All of the non-gameplay development effort went into new ways to interact with the card-collecting, microtransaction-soliciting MyTeam. And, to be fair, those who are all about MyTeam should be pleased with what’s new in NBA 2K21. Dedicated players can chase rewards during new seasons, which seem to last about 40 days or so judging by the initial offering. Those who can earn 150,000 XP before time runs out will be rewarded with a 96-rated Stephen Curry, plus 39 other rewards levels along the way. It’s the kind of tangible loot chase that’s much more tolerable than relying on RNG to deliver something useful from packs purchased with in-game MyTeam currency or Virtual Currency (VC).

VC deserves it’s own paragraph, although it might be more apropos to talk about VC in every paragraph owing to its invasive presence in most modes of play in NBA 2K21. This is not a new complaint about the series, which has never settled for the cash flow that comes from being one of the perennial top sellers in console gaming in terms of units sold. Whether upgrading your MyCareer player or looking to buy a MyTeam pack, VC is in your face. 

I accept microtransactions in the card-collecting modes that take center stage in NBA 2K21 and other sports games. It’s not my thing, but I won’t knock the hustle. By when every time I look to add a few attributes to my MyPlayer feels like a transaction, it sucks me out of what should be a fun experience.

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