2K, the publishers of NBA 2K18, have left me and their die-hard fan base absolutely disappointed. How did they get it so wrong when NBA 2K18 was lined up to be bigger and better than all its predecessors?
At first I was excited by the fact that my Nintendo Switch was going to get a version of one of my all time favourite game franchises! I had my concerns around performance issues in handheld mode, but I was willing to forgo minor frame drops so long as I could play Career Mode on the go. But very early in my career with NBA 2K18 I realised there were too many unnecessary changes which made the game feel like an absolute grind. And my initial excitement pretty quickly soured.
On the lighter side, this year’s NBA 2K18 boasted a new approach to your entry into the NBA. Rather than being drafted into the NBA through the normal draft pick processes, this year your career mode sees you getting scouted from a street game. The storyline is enjoyable, with just enough 2K cringe added in for entertainment. And the game has included a Neighbourhood Hub for all your multiplayer and cosmetic requirements which I liked in other titles and it works well here too.
Unfortunately, this is where the positives stop. The beloved character creation feature didn’t make much sense this year and was highly limited compared to previous years where you had full range of creating whatever type of basketball player you wanted to be.
In NBA 2K18 players are limited to two game style choices: defence or offence. This added a major trade off not seen before in the 2K series. If you create a very good defensive player your offence suffers dramatically and vice versa. This made character creation extremely limiting. It has been further limited too based on the choice in player characteristics you select, and the extremes are not forgiving, effectively forcing you to have a “one trick pony” player. This is an odd choice because not only is the trade-off not fun, but it’s not even representative of the dynamic skill of many professional NBA players.
As someone who is 6’6 in real life I like making my character’s “personal” stats the same as my real life stats. But when I do that as an offensive player I’m already on the back foot in terms of ability on the court because NBA 2K18 presumes that my height and weight aren’t good in terms of a player archetype. For the first time in as many years as I can remember, my career character didn’t have my real life height and weight entered into the game. I was quite sad about this, and it’s still unclear why 2K did this. It’s an unlikely representation of the NBA and the players that play in the league.
As a character that starts off with base 60 stats, the street games you start off in can be a challenge to those unfamiliar with the intricate controls required to play effectively in NBA 2K18. Shots, layups and dribble moves are tied into timing and character positioning, and playing as a 60 base character against league level players makes for a teeth crunching experience as you watch yourself fail 2 pointers consistently with no control over the improvement so early in the game. Not to mention how savage the hall of fame CPU is with centres blocking your weak shots when you play your debut games in the league! I’ve never had such a difficult time starting out as a rookie playing NBA 2K.
I predominately played my first few games in the season un-drafted. I’m a seasoned veteran in this game so I knew all I had to do was bank up a lot of assists and the game would let me join my team of choice. This wasn’t an easy feat with 60 base stats, but I achieved it and joined my favourite team. In hindsight It was a mistake to join the Golden States as a point guard though. With players like Curry, Green, Durant and Thomas as their big point shooters, I was in a world of grind to get even a few minutes of game time during my debut which made collecting Virtual Currency (VC) for stat increases very very difficult. And given the very low amount rewarded to you in NBA 2K18, I felt like I needed to purchase VC to improve – this is where a lot of the backlash against NBA 2K18 currently exists. It’s just far too hard to start out. I believe this would isolate a lot of new players leaving them wondering why they paid full price for this game in the first place.
“…to obtain important badges which contributed to your improved gameplay is an absolutely unnecessary grind”
Overall I found the game’s rewards system extremely punishing. Obtaining important and highly required badges which contributed to your improved gameplay is an absolutely unnecessary grind. The number of points you get toward completing the bronze, silver and gold stages of the badges per game are so low that you could finish an entire season (68+ games) and not complete some of them. Furthermore, the VC rewards you get at the end of the game, or from endorsements (which has been highly controversial), are so minimal it makes it almost impossible to have an impact right from the start (which you need to be successful in NBA 2K18). 2K have also limited cosmetic sharing across accounts and have made cosmetic enhancements highly expensive leaving me disinterested in the expectation set by 2K to achieve the 99 stat rating I previously enjoyed achieving.
Now I’m not a hater of in-game currency, nor am I against microtransactions (so long as they’re for cosmetic purposes only). I think if a game deserves support then the best way to show a little bit of extra support is to purchase in-game currency. But if you’ve built a game which forces players to feel like they need to purchase in-game currency to complete the main storyline then you should be marketing your game on the iTunes app store as the next Game of War.
I will say that NBA 2K18 has a lot going for it as the franchise keeps up with the changes and announcements made in the real NBA league. For example the beloved Kyrie Irving, a key member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was recently traded to the Boston Celtics. This update made its way to NBA 2K18 very soon after the announcement. I love this attention to detail. 2K are also known for uploading official news stories, interviews and game coverage as part of the load screen in NBA 2K which I also love, but this is all meaningless if the game isn’t fun to play. I plan on grinding through my career with NBA 2K18 but I don’t think it will maintain my attention anywhere near as much as previous NBA 2K games have.
The Bottom Line
The performance of NBA 2K18 on the Nintendo switch is acceptable – it’s not the 4K experience you can get on the PS4 or PC but I like the mobility available to my favourite game series. When the Switch is docked there’s a clear improvement in graphics and performance in game play compared to handheld, but it’s not a dramatic leap. 2K may have made a major mistake tuning the game towards microtransactions and the responses from fans is clear – they’re not happy. 2K has made a grave mistake and taken a pricing model which was previously acceptable and turned it into gaming taboo. The difficulty this causes gameplay and advancement makes NBA 2K18 too grindy, and even the hardcore grinders who’ve banked hundreds of hours already are saying the struggle is real.