NBA 2K23 Review: Holding Back Greatness

There's a general understanding that sports games don't change much year to year because it gets pretty difficult to iterate on a real life sport after over 20 years. However, there is always room to improve and find ways to please your players and NBA 2K23 is an example of that, even if it's not perfect. It has a lot of baggage, but when it does things right, it helps solidify a pretty valuable package.

For starters, NBA 2K23 is probably the least forgiving 2K game in recent memory and while some people may see that as a negative, it is a valid attempt at switching things up. Far too often in NBA 2K22 could you get extremely lucky and drain a shot when you shouldn't have or drive the ball in without getting rightfully destroyed. While that isn't completely gone from this year's entry, there's a focus on skill over luck. 2K23's shot meter has been refined in a way to make it so you need to green every shot in order for it to go in. There are exceptions to this, but the overwhelming majority of the shots the player takes needs to be absolutely perfect or it's going to bounce off the rim. This level of precision can be frustrating, but helps you actually hone your craft as opposed to taking every single shot. It wants you to be good and not simply rely on luck. If you know you're not going to green it, the game wants you to pass to a teammate. 

Anyone who has been abusing the game's mechanics in recent years will rightfully struggle in NBA 2K23 and I am speaking from experience. However, this also highlights one of 2K's long running and most egregious flaws: microtransactions. This is about as pay-to-win as it gets in a big AAA game that charges players a $69.99 entry fee. On day one, there were players in online modes such as Rec that had overall stats in the high 80s and low 90s. That's because you can buy in-game currency to upgrade your character, making them faster, better shooters or dunkers, top-tier defenders, and so on. It's akin to letting a college basketball player buy PEDs that make them worthy of being an NBA 2K cover athlete on their first day in the league.

(Photo: 2K)

When you're just starting out, your character has an overall rating somewhere in the 60s and this puts you at a massive disadvantage when playing against those who buy a ton of VC. Some versions of the game even give players a bunch of VC, granting them a drastic boost just because they could afford to spend more. The version of the game I reviewed came with over 100k VC and when I started pouring it into my character, I could notice a significant difference in performance. I split my time between the Xbox Series X and Xbox One versions of the game, which share VC, and I poured most of the VC into the Series X version. When I played on Xbox One with a character that was more "average," it was crushing. 

It creates a frustrating experience that makes you not want to play. Your choices to hold your own are to grind the game or drop wads of cash into an already expensive game that only has a lifespan of about 12 months. It doesn't really seem fair and it has to change. Of course, if you don't play MyCareer, this probably isn't going to impact you as much.

There are a lot of other modes you can play that are void of microtransactions. NBA 2K23 is one of the most content-complete games in the series with a big story mode, various online modes, a fleshed out version of MyTeam that's well worth exploring, and much more. One of the highlights of NBA 2K23 is the Jordan challenges which allow you to revisit pivotal moments in Michael Jordan's career. These challenges are complete with era-specific filters, broadcast graphics, animations that reflect iconic Michael Jordan gestures, and various sports figures being interviewed about why this moment was important to Jordan's career. From a gameplay level, it's largely a normal game of basketball with some challenges (score X amount of points, get X amount of assists) that earn you stars for rewards. It's a well-made mode with a high level of detail that serves as a fun distraction from the rest of the game.


When it comes to MyCareer's story mode, depending on your platform, it is either the most annoying thing this game could've done or just fine. On Xbox One/PS4, you can largely just spam the A/X button to skip the cutscenes and dialogue choices and get into the game. Not a ton is lost by doing this, but if you want to watch the story, it's very streamlined and presented in a way that is tolerable. On the current-gen version, it is the most cumbersome thing I've ever seen in a sports game. There is a giant open-world called The City filled with quests, stores, and other things to discover. On paper, it's cool to have such an environment to roam around in. In execution, it's dreadful. Your character is slow despite being a basketball player who runs up and down the court for a living and the skateboard they provide to make mobility faster is stiff and dull. 

You can earn things like go-karts that are faster, but the lack of such a vehicle can make things hellish in the early hours. There's far too much RPG in this basketball game. You are running around town talking to agents, press, managers, coaches, marketing people, and fans more than you are playing actual basketball. A lot of this is also mandatory, meaning you can't just skip through it. It is exhausting and makes the aforementioned grind to make your character worthy of competing with in online play a nightmare. Given it's either this or buying microtransactions, it may annoy a lot of players.

NBA 2K23 is bogged down in a lot of problems courtesy of predatory monetization and an overzealous RPG game taking priority over the actual basketball-ing, but it does have great qualities as well. There is plenty of content ensuring there's something for everyone to play and the game leans into its simulation aspects in a risky, but effective way. If the series can hone these good qualities and leave behind its outdated monetization schemes, 2K could garner another level of respect and become something that rises above the other sports games.

Rating: 3 out of 5

A review code for NBA 2K23 was provided for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One. This review was primarily conducted on Xbox Series X.