The NBA 2K series has long dominated the gaming industry not just in the sport of basketball, but also with sales numbers across all games each year. 2K Sports released NBA 2K21 back in September for what are now the last generation of consoles to some of the most tepid reception the series has ever seen, but there was some hope that this was because they were focusing on the next generation version. Alongside the release of the new consoles like the Xbox One X/S and PlayStation 5, NBA 2K21 Next Generation is now here with a number of additions.
Coming as a free upgrade to those that purchased the NBA 2K21 Mamba Edition or as a completely new release otherwise, NBA 2K21 Next Generation is a full release and not just the version that released a few months ago in backwards compatible form. As with most games on the new generation of consoles, one of the first things you will notice are the graphical improvements. While it may not be as big of a leap overall visually as past generations, there is a definite improvement all around in this latest release.
The players themselves look as realistic as ever in NBA 2K21 Next Generation, with the level of detail on your favorite superstars continuing to get better and better. It’s not just the players either, as they have focused on the arena itself and the people within it. This includes the sideline reporters, fans in the stands, and even the vendors, which help to make this the most authentic NBA experience to date.
Not only do you have the improved visuals all around, but this game makes great use of the SSD found in the next generation consoles to help offer incredibly fast load times. Sports games have always been known to have some pretty lengthy load times to get into a game and that is definitely much quicker here. It’s definitely not instantaneous if you still watch all of the intro stuff, but you can skip all of these and literally get into game action from the team selection menu in less than 10 seconds easily.
As we already talked about in our review for NBA 2K21 on last generation consoles, Visual Concepts absolutely knows how to design a basketball game when it comes to gameplay and NBA 2K21 Next Generation keeps that train going. On top of the core gameplay that is still stellar, this version of the game reworked all of the player movement systems to best utilize the new consoles, while also introducing the new Impact Engine that helps to fix some collision errors of the past. 2K Sports and Visual Concepts have truly made it about impossible for anyone else to try and make a basketball game at this level and the consistently solid gameplay really proves that.
Besides the next-gen visuals, the big selling point for NBA 2K21 Next Generation is the next evolution of the game’s MyCAREER mode with the introduction of The City. The Neighborhood was introduced a few years ago and worked for what it was as a central hub for your player, but The City is the next level of that. Compared to The Neighborhood, the City is much larger in size and scale than before, which shows the potential of these next generation platforms when compared to the limitations of the past.
Within The City also comes the return of the fan favorite affiliations that has been a big request to see return for awhile. Once you reach the Pro 1 level with your MyREP rating, you will get invited and have the chance to join one of four Affiliations. Each of these four Affiliations has a mayor in charge that is voted upon every six weeks in the game, which makes decisions about the Affiliation itself. Having Affiliations returns is a great move as a way to sell The City overall.
The biggest problem with The City though is the actual unlocking of it. Unlike The Neighborhood in past games that unlocked as you played MyCAREER yourself, you are reliant on other actual players to access The City. This is because you have to reach the Pro 1 MYREP ranking in the game, which requires you to take part in Blacktop style games with random players that require you to wait in queues to do. You need to get on winning teams to increase your rank if you don’t want to take forever, which can be really frustrating due to the number of players in the lobby area trying to get in as well. There were times where it was hard to find a spot in one of these matches due to no open spots, while other times will have not enough players to where you’re waiting just for teammates. This will leave you with a lot of waiting just to get access to something you should have had from the start. This almost felt scummy as a way to force you to buy more VC just to level up and make yourself more competitive here, as people of many different levels will be here, rather than being scaled to your current player rating.
The VC system here overall is just as bad as it has been too, which does still tarnish the overall experience with how integrated it really is. Not only does it almost gate you from experiencing The City early on, but you really need VC to stay competitive in your journey as a player trying to get to the NBA. This is one of those that if it hasn’t been a dealbreaker for you in the past, it likely isn’t going to change even if it is still a pain to get around.
While The City was introduced in NBA 2K21 Next Generation due to the fact it couldn’t be done at the same level on now last generation consoles, the other big addition in this version is not something that couldn’t have been done prior. That is the inclusion of what is known as The W, which is a MyPLAYER mode for the WNBA. NBA 2K20 added the WNBA into the game, but you could really only do Play Now with them. The W is a fully fledged career mode for your created player as you play through her pro career in one of the 12 WNBA teams. There isn’t a full story mode like with MyCAREER, but this is still a great addition to have to offer something a bit different in this next generation version.
NBA 2K21 was definitely hit and miss by feeling like it really didn’t do anything new, albeit with the same solid gameplay. The good news is that it appears 2K Sports and Visual Concepts were just more focused on the upgraded version, as NBA 2K21 Next Generation is definitely a better game. With a mix of the graphical and gameplay upgrades along with the addition of The City and The W game mode, NBA 2K21 Next Generation actually feels like a legitimate improvement on last year’s game, as long as you can get past the ever present microtransactions.
Not only does NBA 2K21 Next Generation feature true to life visuals and insanely fast load times, but it also has new and improved game modes for you to check out that makes this the definitive version of NBA 2K21 without any question.