After a shaky entrance to the new generation of consoles, the NBA 2K franchise is looking to build upon its ambitious foundation for NBA 2K22 (release date: September 10). In a short preview event with Visual Concepts, I came away happy to hear that many of my complaints about NBA 2K21 were being addressed in NBA 2K22. For instance, The City, which previously felt empty, is being populated with NPCs and interactable buildings. Still, the shadow of microtransactions and their impact on any new features looms large. It’s hard to say if any changes have been made in that regard, and if history has taught us anything, it’s probably best to assume the worst.
Optimistically, however, the most exciting changes all involve The City and MyCareer. In NBA 2K22, MyCareer will be ditching the more cinematic experience that we have gotten so used to in favor of a more open-world questing system within The City. I was skeptical at first, but this doesn’t feel like a feature cut. Instead, the focus seems directed at making The City feel more alive and populus. One of my central complaints in NBA 2K21 was how empty The City always felt, and the changes to NBA 2K22 promise to change that. Buildings will be more interactable and NPCs will be available to take on various quests.
NBA 2k22 First Screenshots
Similarly, the far-too-grindy Rookieville has been cut from NBA 2K22. This is a significant change, as it will allow for me to hop right into the best parts of MyCareer in The City: playing with my friends and getting to explore the newly populated areas. There will also be the freedom to explore business outside of the NBA, with new opportunities to develop clothing lines or even become a hip-hop star. Just how fleshed out these quest lines will be remains to be seen, but it does seem like an interesting step toward a better role-playing experience.
In terms of gameplay, very little was talked about. Almost everything mentioned revolved around a focus for more “control” – something NBA 2K21 already did a much better job at. There does seem to be an increased effort to make defense entertaining, with revamped block and steal systems. Similarly, the focus on offense looks to reward high levels of skill instead of the dice-roll elements the franchise has become known for. Some of this seems promising, but without many details it’s hard to know what these concepts will look like in action.
One aspect of gameplay that did get a little attention was fatigue and how this would blend with a focus on load management in MyNBA. With the rampant set of injuries in this year’s NBA playoffs, there is an emphasis in NBA 2K22 on how focusing too much on one star player can put injuries or major fatigue at risk. The new fatigue system accounts for things like high-effort crossovers 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 pivotal to making a deep playoff run without injuries.
Another interesting development is the addition of “seasons” to all facets of NBA 2K22. Seasons were first used in MyTeam in NBA 2K21 as a way to re-engage players every six weeks or so. Now, this concept will apply to the entirety of the game. Visual Concepts is promising significant updates on a similar six-week time frame – including a holiday update that will add an undisclosed mode to MyTeam. While they didn’t offer details on what exactly this might look like, there was a promise that the game in season one would look totally different than by the time season two or three came around.
The last thing that popped out to me in the press event is Visual Concepts’ dedication to both the previous and current generation of consoles. When talking about MyCareer, they excitedly talked about the differences between each. For instance, The Neighborhood (a previous-generation exclusive) involves playing aboard a cruise ship with excursions in places like Egypt. Similarly, there seemed to be a real focus on gameplay parody between the two generations with a focus on not leaving the previous generation behind. While this is admirable in some respects, I came away feeling a little bit confused that the focus hadn’t shifted primarily toward what should be the best version of the game on Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X and S.
Similarly, it does seem as if there will still be a narrative experience available on the previous-generation version of NBA 2K22. While 2K22’s additions to The City seem more exciting to me, the door seems open for the new generation of NBA 2K22 to feel less feature-complete. More details are being promised for August, so it may be safe to not make any assumptions until then. While cross-generation progress is still available, it really seemed like both versions of NBA 2K22 are getting dedicated development time. I just hope that doesn’t leave the next-generation versions feeling less impressive than they should be.
Ultimately, NBA 2K22 seems to be playing it safe in a lot of 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’m anxiously awaiting to hear more details about NBA 2K22 and how it will build on its ambitious entry from a year ago.