With every new iteration of the NBA 2K franchise comes a litany of vague gameplay features that do more to shake up the series than they do to fix core issues. After an early preview of NBA 2K23’s gameplay, I get the feeling that things could be different this time around. Through a series of more focused changes, such as the addition of attributes like release height, and AI changes focused on gameplans and decision making, NBA 2K23 seems more concerned with building upon a foundation than it does tacking on new, extravagant features.
There are a lot of exciting changes to NBA 2K23’s gameplay, but what really stands out to me are the new signature jump shot attributes. For years, scouts have drooled over players who are able to get their shot up with as little interference as possible. As we’ve come to learn through players like Luca Doncic, this can take form in a handful of different ways. Shot speed, release height, defensive immunity, and timing impact are all attributes that have been added to signature jump shots. This means that not every shooting animation has equal value, and some may suit certain playstyles better than others. It should be a lot of fun to tinker with.
While there wasn’t a lot of information on MyPLAYER during the gameplay preview, the developers did note that purchased animations are now account-bound rather than being tied to specific save files. This means that it’s now possible to carry over animations from one player to the next. A small change, but a welcome one for those of us who are regularly disappointed with NBA 2K’s focus on monetization through microtransactions.
Another change that Visual Concepts, the developers behind NBA 2K23, emphasized was an AI overhaul. Although I didn’t go to test it for myself, Visual Concepts is adamant that the line between human and CPU players will become more blurred than ever. The AI now has the ability to adjust their gameplay based on what is working and what isn’t. There is also a greater focus on taking advantage of player attributes and skill sets, with a new “first attack” priority system. Moreso than in previous titles, the AI will take advantage of opportunities when they are presented.
Many of these changes will be most apparent depending on the difficulty players choose. Visual Concepts emphasized how approachable the reworked Rookie difficulty is, and what a large contrast there is between Rookie (the easiest difficulty setting) and Hall of Fame (the most difficult setting). In general, there is an emphasis on the skill gap between someone playing for the first time and someone who has mastered the controls and scheming available in NBA 2K23.
Regarding controls, perhaps the most significant change coming to NBA 2K23 is the reworked “Pro Stick,” with brand new dunk and dribbling gestures. For instance, you can now hold the sprint trigger and flick the right stick down twice to grab the rim and hang on it. I didn’t get a great look at how this works in action, but the input seems simple and satisfying enough. These new controls also change the way contact works in the lane, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo having the ability to bully their way through traffic with additional layup packages. These moves are all initiated through an “adrenaline boost,” of which every offensive player has three per possession.
Visual Concepts wasn’t totally clear on how this will look in action. I’m concerned that every player seems to have exactly three boosts, especially when there are notable examples throughout the NBA of players who seemingly never run out of energy. Conversely, there are plenty of examples of players who can string one powerful burst together, but are usually missing in action in the subsequent possession or two. All in all, it should be a positive change that players can no longer dribble sporadically around the court until they find an opening.
There were several changes to the shot meter that I’m excited about, too, the first being that you can now customize your shot meter. For years, I’ve complained about the constantly changing look of the shot meter – a change that always felt unnecessary and often a step back from a previous iteration. Although, disappointingly, there will only be five available shot meters 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 use of the shot meter now doesn’t show up until after the ball has gotten to the rim. This should only serve to increase the tension and drama that comes with every shot.
Defense saw a lot of attention last year, so the focus on offense for NBA 2K23 makes sense. One change I am especially impressed by is the new shading mechanic that breaks every on-ball defender down into three zones: left shade, right shade, and center shade. If a player attacks the shaded defensive position, they’ll quickly be stalled out. This seems like a simple change, but I think it adds a lot of strategy and complexity to every defensive situation. If I notice my opponent constantly going to their left, I should be able to shade them in a way that either forces them to run into my wall, or change tactics. It’s that sort of cat-and-mouse gameplay that has always been so good in the NBA 2K franchise, and I’m really hoping this will just build upon that.
Another concern that seems to have been addressed is that the block system has been revamped to behave more realistically, so chase-down blocks from smaller players will be a lot less common. The development team also discussed how loose balls and 50/50 plays have been readjusted so that 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 issue that has plagued the franchise. So if it really is fixed, that’s another step towards cleaning up the systematic issues that have plagued the franchise for so long.
While I’m impressed with the attention to detail from the gameplay preview, I’m still left with a number of concerns about NBA 2K23 at large. There is little to no evidence that the intense focus on microtransactions has gone anywhere, although it seems like the gameplay team is aware of how frustrating it can be to not have progress saved when creating a new MyPLAYER. And while Visual Concepts has promised significant changes to the AI, I really think that’s something I’d have to get my hands on before I can appropriately praise.
At the very least, this preview is a promising start. There is a focus on detail, specifically in areas the NBA 2K community has been asking for year after year. The changes all 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.