While the gameplay in this year's title is much cleaner and more responsive than before, the large number of bugs and expanded reliance on microtransactions takes some of the air out of the ball. Last year, NBA 2K23 tried to build on the gameplay by making defense the star of the court. This year, it's the offense's turn, with more Pro Stick skill moves and dribbles, and the option to now dunk and hang on the rim to add a little extra buzz to a slam. You're not allowed to constantly sprint any more thanks to a new adrenaline meter that gives you limited boosts of energy during a possession, like at the start of a steal or as you're approaching the bucket at the end of a fast break. It makes sense and feels more realistic, especially with players that are trying to max their minutes on the court and still have a bit more in the tank for the end of the game. Even the controversial shot mechanics have been redone once again, with more accuracy being paid to the release of the ball at the top of the jump. While this eases some of the shot meter issues (along with gaining new meters to suit a player's preferences), it's also opens up multiple problems. For one thing, created players for either the NBA or WNBA that haven't boosted their stats through the use of microtransactions, in-game currency, and the badges that come with elevated specs will find that their shots are virtually worthless. Either you'll brick off the rim or miss entirely, which means that significant investments of time and more frequently, real money, are necessary to make your players useful on any court. Secondly, even with this investment, you'll need to work on your shot timing, get an open look at the basket, and more often than not, luck during game time, but even then, a defender can render all of this useless with their proximity to your player as a shot's made. It can be infuriating to watch Devin Booker or Steph Curry take a screen, get an open look, yet still brick a shot they'd make in their sleep. It's not every shot, but it will annoy you when it happens.
Past some of these gameplay issues, there's a lot to love with NBA 2K23. The Jordan Challenge by itself is worth the price of admission, and could be a separate game by itself. With the 30 for 30-esque interviews and the broadcast presentations that feel lifted from classic VHS tapes, this mode is a love letter to both Jordan's impact on the sport, and to basketball fans in general. This has been extended to the NBA Eras mode, which feels invigorated due to its era windowed play. Want to make sure that Len Bias, Trajan Langdon, or Greg Oden aren't busts, teams don't move from their markets, or the league is expanded? All of it can be handled here, with play-by-play commentary, courts, uniforms, and broadcast visuals that evoke that time period perfectly. If you haven't checked out the franchise mode for a while, this is the year to dive back in – it's excellent, especially in picking up on some of the changes to the sport, like the tighter low post bully ball play of the 80s versus the three-point driven league of today. And while Myteam is still a large driver of microtransactions as you try to acquire the best players of today and yesterday, there's still a lot to be praised with the tweaks added to this mode, such as the addition of exhibition matches to let cards that aren't in your rotation earn you rewards. It's nice to see this be built off the grading system that was included in last year's title. And the removal of contracts (which were always a waste of time) and the inclusion of prize balls for bonus cards and single player clutch time means that if you're willing to put in the grind, you can probably earn the team you want. Another notable adjustment with this year's MyCareer is the approach to the story – it's great to have a blatant underdog story with the perspective that everyone, including your new team's fans, hate you, and you have to win them over to be considered a success. That adds a lot of motivation and a large chip on your shoulder at the start knowing that you're so hated, but it feels like it could've gone farther. The "villain" of the mode, Shep Owens, basically gets to pop off without any significant repercussions happening to him, and similarly, whether you choose to be an ego-driven Trailblazer or team focused General, there's only minor deviations to how the plot plays out. It's still one of the better stories that's been provided to this mode in years, but it could be deeper. Similarly, the City, the partially open-world environment, is deep enough that players should be able to have either an NBA or WBNA character go through this space and have their own story. But that brings up one of the last issues, which is that there are still a lot of bugs that crop up during sessions on and off the court. Whether it's camera angles that get stuck in character's heads, skateboards that disappear, missions that constantly crash, or scores and momentum meters that disappear during matches on the court, there's a lot of bugs that stand out like sore thumbs, because they're clearly built on the back of older versions of the game. If you look pact the tech flaws and increased microtransaction reliance, NBA 2K23 presents the most evolved version of basketball ever presented, and hoops fans will love stepping on the court once again this year.