With each new iteration of the NBA 2K franchise comes a litany of vague gameplay features that do more to shake up the series than fix the core issues. After previewing NBA 2K23 gameplay, I have a feeling things might be different this time around. Through a series of more focused changes, such as the addition of attributes like launch height and AI changes focused on game plans and decision-making, NBA 2K23 seems more concerned with building on a foundation than adding. new and extravagant features.
There are a lot of exciting changes to the gameplay in NBA 2K23, but what really stands out to me are the new signature attributes of jump shots. For years, scouts have drooled over players who can shoot with as little interference as possible. As we’ve learned through players like Luca Doncic, this can take shape in a number of different ways. Shot speed, shot height, defensive immunity, and impact over time are attributes that have been added to signature jump shots. This means that not all shooting animations are of equal value, and some may suit certain playstyles better than others. It should be a lot of fun to play with.
While there wasn’t much information about MyPLAYER during the game preview, the developers did note that purchased animations are now account-bound rather than tied to specific save files. This means that it is now possible to transfer animations from one player to another. A small but welcome change for those of us who are regularly disappointed with NBA 2K’s focus on monetization through microtransactions.
Another change highlighted by Visual Concepts, the developers behind NBA 2K23, was an overhaul of the AI. Although I couldn’t test it myself, Visual Concepts insists that the line between human and CPU players will become more blurred than ever. The AI now has the ability to adjust its gameplay based on what works and what doesn’t. There’s also an increased focus on taking advantage of player attributes and skill sets, with a new “first strike” priority system. More than in previous titles, the AI will seize opportunities when they present themselves.
Many of these changes will become more apparent depending on the difficulty players choose. Visual Concepts emphasized how accessible the reworked Rookie difficulty is and the stark contrast that exists between Rookie (the easiest difficulty setting) and Hall of Fame (the hardest setting). In general, the emphasis is on the skill gap between someone playing for the first time and someone who has mastered the controls and schemes available in NBA 2K23.
Control-wise, perhaps the most significant change coming to NBA 2K23 is the reworked “Pro Stick,” with new dunk and dribble gestures. For example, you can now hold down the speed trigger and move the right stick down twice to grab the edge and hang it. I didn’t get a good look at how this works in action, but the input looks simple and satisfying enough. These new controls also change the way lane contact works, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo having the ability to weave their way through traffic with extra layup packs. All of these moves are initiated through an “adrenaline rush,” of which each offensive player gets three per possession.
Visual Concepts wasn’t entirely clear on what this would look like in action. It worries me that every player seems to have exactly three drives, especially when there are notable examples throughout the NBA of players seemingly never running out of energy. Conversely, there are plenty of examples of players who can string together a powerful flurry, but are usually missing action in the next possession or two. All in all, it should be a positive change that players can no longer sporadically dribble around the court until they find an opening.
There were several changes to the shot meter that I’m also excited about, the first being that you can now customize your shot meter. For years, I’ve complained about the ever-changing appearance of the shot meter, a change that always felt unnecessary and often a step back from a previous iteration. Sadly though, there will only be five shot meters available to choose from at launch and an additional 15 through Seasons, NBA 2K’s version of a battle pass. One small tweak that I really appreciate is that the green animation that follows a successful shot meter use now doesn’t appear until after the ball reaches the rim. This should only serve to add to the tension and drama that comes with each shot.
Defense got a lot of attention last year, so the focus on offense for NBA 2K23 makes sense. One change that particularly impressed me is the new shading mechanic that divides each defender with the ball into three zones: Left Shadow, Right Shadow, and Center Shadow. If a player attacks the shadowed defensive position, it will quickly stall. This seems like a simple switch, but I think it adds a lot of strategy and complexity to every defensive situation. If I notice my opponent constantly moving to the left of him, I should be able to hide him in a way that forces him to crash into my wall or change tactics. It’s that kind of cat-and-mouse game that has always been so great in the NBA 2K franchise, and I really hope this builds on that.
Another concern that appears to have been addressed is that the blocking system has been revamped to behave more realistically, so chasing blocks from smaller players will be much less common. The development team also discussed how fumbles and 50/50 plays have been realigned so there is more urgency from the offense and defense to keep the play alive. This is something else that I think I’ll have to see before I believe, but this has been a decade-long problem that has plagued the franchise. So if it really does get fixed, that’s another step towards cleaning up the systemic issues that have plagued the franchise for so long.
While I’m impressed with the attention to detail in the game preview, I still have a few concerns about NBA 2K23 in general. There is little to no evidence that the intense focus on microtransactions has gone anywhere, though it seems the game team is aware of how frustrating it can be not saving progress when creating a new MyPLAYER. And while Visual Concepts has promised significant changes to the AI, I really think it’s something I’d have to get my hands on before I can properly praise it.
If nothing else, this preview is a promising start. There is a focus on the details, specifically in areas that the NBA 2K community has been asking for year after year. All of the changes seem to exist with a singular idea in mind: to make NBA 2K23 a more polished experience than its predecessors. For now, I’m excited to get my hands on NBA 2K23 and feel the changes myself.