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I find NBA 2K frustrating in the extreme. Every year it's the same story: It's an amazing and ambitious basketball sim that is light years ahead of its competition in many ways. But at its core, it's also a flawed series, and NBA 2K18 is no different.
Its problems center around Virtual Currency—specifically in MyCareer mode. In building an online infrastructure that ties into every one of its modes, Visual Concepts has violated one of the first rules of design: don't tie monetization into your fundamental gameplay.
This has been the case for several years now, and there's no reason to suppose that it will change given how much money Visual Concepts makes from it. It typically works like this: You create a character and start playing through the story. Sometimes you get drafted, sometimes you don't, but your goal is to become an NBA superstar over the course of several seasons.
Growth is accomplished via Virtual Currency, which can be earned by playing any of NBA 2K's various modes, or simply purchased in bulk. VC is used not just for character development, but for buying items like clothing; and if you get enough of it, you can buy your own team in MyGM.
You also develop by earning Badges, which are earned by completing a variety of in-game challenges. Happily, these aren't directly tied to VC, but earning them is still a pretty decent grind; and it's easier to get them if you're at a higher level (which is where VC comes in).
Here are some of my biggest problems with VC:
- It makes your MyCareer player artificially weak (usually around 60 OVR), forcing you to grind heavily to advance to the point where you're not bricking easy jumpers or missing layups.
- It encourages people to drop a bunch of money on VC so they can level up as quickly as possible, making the online Pro-Am courts all but inaccessible to non-monetizers in the early going.
- It forces you to be online to enjoy MyCareer, putting you at the mercy of often finicky servers (NBA 2K players constantly lament the post-Christmas rush that inevitably knocks every server offline).
- Major glitches can result in the loss of Virtual Currency and cause a great deal of frustration, as we're seeing right now.
I'm not the only one who's frustrated by the emphasis on VC:
Look, Virtual Currency is nothing new in NBA 2K. It's been around for as long as I remember. But with all these glitches, I feel like I'm at the end of my rope. It's especially noticeable now that I'm playing regularly on the Nintendo Switch. The Switch version is quite remarkable in many respects: a beautiful port that only really suffers in the framerate department (which honestly isn't all that noticeable on the handheld). But the online hooks are painfully noticeable in a version that I'm frequently playing offline.
When playing offline, MyCareer is neutered into a barely recognizable mode in which you only play through a regular NBA schedule. All the story hooks vanish, as does the customization and the attractive hubs. It's incredibly disappointing in light of what should be the perfect portable mode—an addictive loop in which you rapidly move from game to game while slowly building up your character.
And why is MyCareer basically online only? Because of Virtual Currency.
In making VC such a fundamental part of their experience, Visual Concepts crosses a line that even monetization happy EA won't go near. True, Ultimate Team is primarily built on spending money, but it's mostly compartmentalized in its own mode. You can either choose to engage with it, or you can play single-player modes like Longshot and Be a Manager without thinking about it twice.
Tying Virtual Currency so closely to MyCareer utterly compromises NBA 2K18's flagship mode. What should be a perfectly enjoyable single-player experience is inextricably entwined with online multiplayer. People who could not care less about Pro-Am—like me—are completely at the mercy of the people who want to level up quickly so they can compete.
In effect, Visual Concepts is holding an entire mode hostage by leaning so heavily on VC. It's the worst of both worlds.
The only real way to mitigate the frustration of VC is to make an identical version of MyCareer that is available offline, and doesn't include any form monetization. If they want to retain the convenience of being able to grind for Pro-Am in MyCareer, then they should retain an online version as well. Just don't force solo players into a grind heavy experience solely for the benefit of squeezing some extra profits out of the players.
Sadly, I'm pretty much screaming into the void on this one. MyCareer is simply too lucrative for Visual Concepts to ignore; and in the quest for more money, they will do their utmost to railroad players into having to use VC.
I recognize the reality of the situation, but that doesn't make NBA 2K18 immune from criticism. It's just too bad that it's hurting what is an otherwise amazing game.
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