As we approach the end of this console life cycle, it feels like a perfect time for a year-to-year franchise like NBA 2K to take a risk and experiment with some core elements of the series. I think it's fair to say the developers behind NBA 2K20 have taken those risks with gameplay this year.
I have no doubt gameplay will be a polarizing topic this year for many people who pick up NBA 2K20, mainly because the "turbo" function has been altered this year, which has the knock-on effect of changing almost everything about player movement. Turbo is fundamental to almost every sports game, and it's a concept in basketball games you almost always rely on, sometimes even as a crutch, to help you succeed when all else fails. NBA 2K20 has taken steps to change that not by making turbo any less important than it ever has been, but rather to now treat it like the prized commodity it should be considered. Every time I press the turbo button, I now have to think of why I am doing it and what I hope to accomplish by using it.
Will I press turbo to explode away from a big man trying to stay with my guard on a switch? Will I press turbo when I notice my defender is just slightly out of position and now have a chance to get him or her on my hip? Will I hold turbo in the hopes that I can stay out ahead of the pack on the fast break and get an easy two points despite it potentially sucking up more stamina than I would like? These are moment-to-moment decisions that excite me and I appreciate, but I also realize they could frustrate others.
Visual Concepts seem to hope years and years of muscle memory can be overcome with a change like this. While I have not gone into MyPlayer as of yet, I am positive this will also be something many people online will dislike, complain about, and hope is changed. There's a good chance many will feel that their players are getting fatigued too quickly, or that the pace feels too slow. When such a "simple" change like making turbo matter can do so much to make a yearly series like this feel so different one year later, that is something that should be appreciated and explored rather than simply removed in a post-release patch.
What makes the change to turbo even more interesting is how it also makes regular movement speed more important. The pick and roll is run more than any other play in the NBA, and this is where regular movement speed can actually make or break a play in that split second where you have to make a decision. When you use turbo in NBA 2K20, you generally don't make sharp movements, but wider one. To put it another way, when you use turbo it's easier to make a "U" with your movement, but when you use regular movement, it's easier to make a "V" with your player's movements. So when you come off a pick with your guard, the easiest way to go straight downhill towards the hoop is actually avoiding turbo so you can make a sharper angled movement. Using turbo might actually hurt you in these cases because the split second your defender got caught up on the screen was wasted.
In what's become a popular trend in sports games this year, these changes to player movement are helping to accentuate the differences between the various players and positions in the NBA. There are more signature styles in NBA 2K20, so players like Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons accelerate in the open court in a different and more dangerous way than a guard like Kyle Lowry does. Players like Kemba Walker have quicker first steps and will explode from a standstill with turbo better than others, but someone like LeBron James will rely a more on power and handles in the halfcourt to get an advantage. In effect, it's important not so much to dance with the ball and try to do 20 moves, but rather read your defender, pick your best move first, and if need be, explode out of that size-up situation with turbo and coast to the hoop. Dancing in one spot while holding turbo will just short-circuit your possession before it even begins.
Defense is not left out of this either. Reading and reacting is as important as ever, as you can't use turbo to bail yourself out if you step wrong and let the player on offense get you on his or her hip. You need to have better awareness about what type of player you're guarding (shooter, driver, non-scorer, etc.) and also think about where your help defense is coming from during the possession. Bad defenders are also exploited much more easily now, which I believe ties into an even bigger focus on ratings and badges. In short, the biggest change to NBA 2K20 on the court is how you move.
The WNBA Finally Makes Its Way to NBA 2K20
These gameplay changes are accentuated by the new WNBA teams. Due to the smaller stature of the players when compared to their NBA counterparts, and also the toned down athleticism, the court feels more spaced out and allows for the difference in player types to shine even more. The WNBA has also received the same love and care from 2K in terms of nailing the look and feel of the WNBA players. Candace Parker's signature jumper are among the distinctive elements that are well-represented here.
The only major issue with the WNBA inclusion is that it is not featured enough throughout the game. While it's great that I can play with these teams in a season mode and in "play now" games, there’s no way to use these teams online, there's no way to use them in MyLeague, and there’s no way to make a female MyPlayer either.
Speaking of MyPlayer, it is going through pains the mode seems to endure each season. Server issues are the main culprit bogging things down right now. I have personally run into issues with my progression and badge progress not being counted, as well as loading times being incredibly long at points just when trying to update my attributes (close to 90 seconds for some loading times). Within the community, things like players getting corrupted and being unusable, and games randomly disconnecting are just some of the issues out there. This is not a new trend for the launch of an NBA 2K title, but it’s especially rough this season. Of course, all this matters more because at worst it means some people are spending money on their players and then are not able to even use that player.
If there's a bright side to any of this, it's that the microtransactions are not as invasive this season within MyPlayer. The new "pie chart" system is not the revolution 2K tried to make it out to be pre-release, but it is a different take on archetypes. One of its highlights is that it does allow you to better scale your player to focus on the things you want while ignoring other attributes. This means you need fewer attribute points to get your player to the level you want. The grind is still real and treacherous if you don't want to spend money to speed up your progression, it’s just slightly less arduous than it was last season.
In addition, there is a new MyCareer story where you take on the persona of "Che" in your quest to get to the NBA. The story initially tries to focus on making your player out as someone who cares about more than just basketball and money, but the story never really gets going. It even betrays those good intentions early on because it's still an extended tutorial more than anything. Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson are two of the big names involved in this story, but both have relatively limited roles.
Worse, a key decision by Che does not feel genuine to the character 2K is trying to portray, and it brought me back to realizing that, again, this is just a way for the game to introduce you to everything you will be doing. So really the focus is just on being drafted and learning to cut your hair, buy clothes, get endorsements and boost your attributes. The story that happens along the way is just window dressing in this journey to getting you into the flow of doing all the activities 2K has lined up for you.
MyTeam has fared better than MyCareer in terms of the improvements made year over year. To put it simply, there's just more to do than last year. There are now things like daily login prizes; you can "evolve" certain cards to an upgraded version by completing certain goals, and there’s a better selection of cards to try and snag than there were at this point last year. In terms of the "card collecting" sub-genre within the sports genre, MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty is the only one I would put above MyTeam at this point. But of course, the problem is that the mode is not always fully functional because of disconnects.
It's ultimately these server issues that are the true drag on the whole experience. I have zero hesitation writing the gameplay in NBA 2K20 is the best it has been all generation. I also have zero hesitation writing that these server issues are the worst they have been in years. This is a franchise that nails incredibly small details like capturing Magic Johnson’s unique dribble walk up and detailing Andre Drummond’s bountiful shoulder hair, but the developers just can't seem to find a way to make the game stable and consistent around launch. While I am sure many of these problems will be solved in the coming weeks, it doesn't change the fact that NBA 2K20 only works some of the time right now. And as good as it is in other areas, that's just too much of a drawback to ignore.
Want to know more about NBA 2K20? Check out guides to NBA 2K20 locker codes and more.
NBA 2K20's presentation is unparalleled, but beneath its shiny exterior are continued problems with its online infrastructure and some pretty odious microtransactions. The latter are a bit less punishing than last year, but the former is worse than ever, and it affects almost every aspect of the game. These elements, which seemingly come up every year, unfortunately overshadow what should be an amazing sports sim.