We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a recap of my experiences vying for The Long Game Trophy by playing all four years of a college career in The Long Shadow, NBA 2K21 Next Gen’s MyCAREER story.
I have to say that as far as Trophies and Achievements are concerned, The Long Game is aptly named. Spending four years in college at the start of a MyCAREER game is definitely a lengthy slog! There’s no simulating – not that you’d really want to, when you’re grinding for VC and Badges – and with only nine other teams, it can be repetitive. At the same time, the idea appealed to me. Less than 1% of PlayStation 5 gamers have attained the Trophy for completing The Long Game, so it’s obviously a rare feat. I figured it would be interesting to take the road less travelled.
It’s also the first time we’ve had this opportunity in MyCAREER. Every other game that’s included a college career has seen our MyPLAYER declare for the Draft after their freshman year. Now we actually have a choice, and it’s a decision that we have to weigh up as a real player might. Is it worth taking the extra time to develop before entering the league – especially as it’s grinding against easier competition – or do you go after the big bucks (or in this case, VC) as soon as you can? To me, the choice was easy. I’ve been a one-and-done player before; now that I have the opportunity, I’m playing The Long Game! Please be advised that there are some story spoilers ahead.
The Long Shadow begins in your senior year of high school, where you’ve made the switch to basketball and are following in your late father’s footsteps. It isn’t too long before you’re in your freshman year at college. By that point, you’ve reconnected with old family friend Archie Baldwin, who becomes your advisor. You also meet your girlfriend Ellie, a football (soccer) player. In many ways, The Long Shadow is the usual tale of a young prospect that needs to develop and grow, both on and off the court. In fact, after an argument with Ellie, you can decide to quit school, or let a cooler head prevail and stay. Having some meaningful story choices was refreshing.
Since “stay in school” is a mantra burned into my brain from growing up watching the NBA in the 90s – not to mention it’d be rather hard to complete The Long Game if I dropped out of college – I chose to stick around. Four years in college would let me grind with lower stakes, against easier competition. Truth be told, dominating college opponents was a lot of fun at first. I’m not sure what they’re rated, but even as a 60 Overall I had no trouble getting 20 and 10 with my Glass-Cleaning Finisher build. Obviously I could’ve gained an immediate boost by spending the pre-order bonus 100,000 VC, but I wanted to hold onto that in case I opted for a second build.
The only really challenging opponent was Hendrix Cobb, your childhood friend that is frequently touted as the top prospect. He certainly acts like a traditional video game boss whenever you match up with him, so he doesn’t scale with your player; he’s already way ahead if you’re taking the slow path. At the same time, you can outplay him and hold your own if you know what you’re doing, and you’ve been able to make a few upgrades. It’s also during your freshman year that you meet Alex Williams. Alex is a powerful personality in sports media, and although she appears friendly, she clearly delights in making and breaking careers through her coverage of players.
She didn’t have much of an opportunity to write or say anything bad about Junior in that freshman year, as I guided him and the Florida Gators to the championship. After that, a meeting with the coach presented the option of continuing Junior’s college career, or entering the NBA Draft. It was tempting to speed up the story and enter the Draft, leaving The Long Game for another time. However, I figured that with any other builds I create, I’ll take the G League path or skip the story altogether. And so, I committed to returning to Florida for a sophomore season. I knew that it would soon become repetitive, but I also fancied the prospect of a UCLA-like string of titles.
Heading into the second season, I could already feel The Long Game beginning to drag. Although we’ve complained about the lack of choice with previous stories being on rails, there’s clearly a reason why the tales have seen us declare for the Draft as soon as we possibly can. Although there are only eight games in a season with ten minute halves – nine if you make it to the championship game – it all adds up. A full four year college career with four titles consists of 36 games. In other words, almost half of an NBA season playing on five minute quarters. For someone trying to move away from the MyCAREER experience, it certainly draws you back in.
Sophomore year was also when Alex Williams demonstrated how nasty she could be. After Arch took it upon himself to demand she treat Junior fairly, Alex slammed them both, and talked trash after every game. After I had Junior erupt for over 50 points in a blowout victory, she had the audacity to describe it as “another poor showing”, and suggested that Junior wasn’t a legit NBA prospect. I’ll admit that I was genuinely annoyed by that! It was a very effective bit of storytelling that made me empathise with Junior. She’d revealed her true pettiness in the way she wielded influence, and I was eager to prove her wrong. Again, I liked that the story pushed my buttons.
With that being said, when I was presented with the option of declining an interview with her and Hendrix Cobb, I chickened out and accepted. It felt like a moment where Junior should swallow his pride and “play the game” for the sake of PR. Lo and behold, suddenly Alex was acting much warmer to him again! As someone who has their gripes with the way so many talking heads influence basketball discussions these days, I actually really enjoyed Alex Williams’ character. It’s an apt portrayal of the personality or critic whose ego is simultaneously massive and fragile, which leads to their demands that everyone suck up to them if they don’t want their image tarnished.
Mind you, it would’ve been difficult to keep up the negative takes when Junior won a second straight college championship. Alex’s tune was noticeably very cordial during the post-game interview, and in Junior’s exuberance, it seemed as though all had been forgiven. Watching from behind the fourth wall, I was still hoping for an opportunity to bring her down a peg! Once again I was presented with the option of entering the Draft, and once again, it was tempting to give up on The Long Game. It didn’t make Arch particularly happy, but I stuck to the plan and opted for a junior season for Junior. After all, I was already halfway to getting the Trophy at that point.
Junior picked up a triple-double in the first game of his junior year, a by-product of the goal to tally at least eight rebounds and eight assists. At this point, the gameplay and story dissonance was becoming silly. Everyone, including Alex, was questioning Junior’s decision to stay in college and his ability to succeed in the NBA. Even though I’d been putting up some ridiculous numbers with him, on route to undefeated seasons and two straight college championships, the word was that Junior hadn’t improved or looked impressive at all. It emphasised that while there were more choices in The Long Shadow, gameplay still didn’t have much of an effect on the story beats.
On the other hand, it was incentive to go out there and dominate as much as possible, meeting as many goals as I could along the way. It was a way to keep the games interesting, and the fact that The Long Shadow continued past freshman year made it a worthwhile tale. With that being said, junior year seemed to have much fewer story cutscenes compared to freshman and sophomore year, as well as the early stages set in high school. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it did streamline the experience, but as the season progressed, the gameplay was unquestionably starting to feel very repetitive. I’d have actually welcomed more off-court drama as a distraction!
Another undefeated season was capped off with Junior’s third consecutive college championship. Interestingly, although the in-game social media feed began touting Junior as a future star and the real deal – even Alex was offering up some kind words – on the court, I had trouble playing up to the hype he was receiving. Not because it was more difficult, mind you, but because calling for passes was less effective than it had been, reducing the number of scoring opportunities. It’s almost as if Junior was being phased out as the star, knowing he might be bound for the NBA soon. Maybe it was just my imagination, but teammates seemed less willing to pass on cue in junior year.
I also noticed that contrary to the previous two seasons, Alex Williams wasn’t present to interview Junior during the championship cutscene. She did have plenty to say in the wake of his decision to return to Florida for his senior year, also seeming to walk back on her praise and suggesting that he might’ve gone undrafted anyway had he declared. Alex is quietly one of the best antagonists we’ve had in a MyCAREER story, right up there with Marcus Young and Zack Coleman in NBA 2K19’s tale of AI. She definitely seemed to be messing with Junior with her critical takes. Mind you, with the numbers he was getting, in reality she wouldn’t have had much credibility!
Entering senior year, I’d raised Junior’s Overall Rating to 69, and unlocked 12 Badge upgrades: six for Finishing, one for Playmaking (which I couldn’t use yet as none of Junior’s ratings were high enough to qualify), and five for Defense/Rebounding. I figured there was a decent chance of reaching 70 Overall before the season was over, without dipping into the 100,000 VC I was keeping in reserve. A couple more Badges also seemed to be a possibility. All things considered, The Long Game wasn’t doing as much to help with the long grind as I’d hoped that it would. If nothing else, it should’ve been a shorter road from 60 Overall to somewhere in the low 70s at least.
My goal was to enjoy the final year of Junior’s college career. Fatigue was definitely setting in by that point, but I didn’t want to just rush through all the games with a “let’s just get it over and done with” attitude. That’s not having an enjoyable experience, and that’s what playing video games should be all about. Of course, it’s also a reflection of how the annual grind in MyCAREER has become more about work than having fun. Nevertheless, I resolved to get enjoyment out of every game, aiming for the goals and trying out different moves so that it wasn’t the same wash, rinse, repeat to grind Badge points. I will say that dynamic/build-specific goals would’ve been a lot better here.
Oddly, the story seemed slightly of sync with the schedule. With more than half a season left, there was a cutscene where Arch was discussing Junior’s Draft stock with him, and the Mock Draft screen mentioned four days remaining until the Draft. Since I haven’t played through the Current Gen version of The Long Shadow, I’m guessing that spreading the story out over four years has led to some inconsistencies, and is also probably the reason for the lack of cutscenes as the years go by. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does demonstrate a common issue with MyCAREER stories: they’re incredibly detailed, before fading irrelevantly into the background.
As the end of senior year and the attainment of The Long Game loomed, I couldn’t help reflecting on a paranoid thought that had been nagging at me for some time. What if there was a bug that prevented me from attaining the Trophy upon finishing the year? What if the fact I’d briefly visited Rookieville to check it out, or some obscure combination of factors such as my choice of college team and other story branching options, would be responsible for a rare glitch? I figured there wasn’t much I could do except press on to the end, while also thinking there was no way that I was playing through all four years again. Once was fun, but twice would be too repetitive.
I actually had a scare in the penultimate game of Junior’s senior year, as it looked as though Hendrix Cobb and the Michigan State Spartans would get the win and knock the Gators out of the tournament. It took 42 points from Junior and a couple of late stops to get the job done, but I managed to get through to the championship game for the fourth straight year. After a close battle in the first half, Junior and the Gators ran away with the game in the second, cutting down the nets one more time. During the cutscenes between the final college game and the Draft, the Trophy notification popped up. The Long Shadow was almost over, and I’d completed The Long Game!
The Draft & Ending
The post-college story packed a punch, and I found myself genuinely conflicted as I stepped into Junior’s shoes. The meeting with Harper Dell, the experienced NBA agent, convinced me to sign with her. However, the cutscenes with Arch in the diner, where he preached loyalty and finishing what the two of them started, did tug at the heartstrings somewhat. I honestly felt some guilt at the choice I was going to make, so I have to give credit to the writing and acting here. However, throughout the story, I couldn’t shake the feeling Arch was overstepping his bounds. A line in the diner scene also hinted at him trying to live vicariously through Junior’s journey and success.
And so, despite being given a chance to reconsider my choice, I opted for Harper Dell. The scene was heartbreaking, especially when a pop-up notified me that fan support had been reduced by one; Arch, obviously. Considering that in previous games, fans have been gained and lost for rather arbitrary dialogue choices, this one actually hit home. I actually felt somewhat guilty about the choice, though I also resented Arch a little. It seemed that while he did genuinely care for Junior, he was also using him to become a big shot. I couldn’t opt to cut Vic loose in NBA 2K16, but this time I had a choice. Life is about tough decisions, even on the virtual hardwood!
By the end of college, I’d managed to increase Junior’s Overall Rating to 70, while unlocking 7 Finishing Badges, 1 Playmaking Badge, and 7 Defense/Rebounding Badges. The Draft Combine brought on some interesting story beats, role-playing options, and gameplay. I was confused by a cutscene with Damian Lillard after what seemed like a successful workout with the Bulls – I won the 2-on-2 game – in which Junior talked about performing poorly. I opted not to play against Zion Williamson, and was pleasantly surprised not to be railroaded into doing something risky right before the Draft that tanked Junior’s stock, or saddled him with an injury.
Draft Day brought an interesting twist. Selecting the Bulls as my preferred team gave them the top two picks in the Draft; they chose Hendrix Cobb first overall, and then Junior second, making them teammates. Considering that Cobb plays the same position as Junior, this seemed like a bad idea for the NBA portion of MyCAREER, but given that they grew up together in Newark, it’s kind of a storybook ending. All in all, I’d have to say that The Long Shadow is one of the best stories 2K has done, and playing The Long Game made it even more interesting; even if it was a lengthy slog with a timeline that didn’t always sync up, and some gaps where nothing happened.
For a couple of years now, it’s been my goal to move away from MyCAREER. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the mode, but there are other experiences in NBA 2K that I’d like to spend more time with, and MyCAREER (along with its connected modes) demands a lot of time. The online scene has also lost its appeal, and while I would like to see what it’s like on Next Gen, I believe that sticking with offline play will result in more fun for me, though perhaps not in MyCAREER. I’ve already played through seasons in multiple games, reaching the Hall of Fame in NBA 2K19. At this point, the process is getting a little stale and repetitive, and it’s no longer fun to jump online for a break.
I’ll probably use a second build to check out the G League path at some point, if only to nab that Trophy and see all there is to see of The Long Shadow. As for The Long Game, I’m glad I played through it. It was almost like having a college basketball game with its own career mode, which was refreshing. As I mentioned though, it does get repetitive with only nine possible opponents, and I can see why previous games have chosen to limit the pre-NBA portion of the story. It’s nice having the option to enter the Draft at the end of each year – or skip the story at any time – but it also feels rewarding to get The Long Game Trophy, and finish what you start at college.
The G League path would also be interesting to play through, probably while skipping through the cutscenes I’ve already seen earlier on in the story, and perhaps choosing a couple of different story-branching options. Even though it recycles elements of some of the earlier stories, I do think The Long Shadow is one of the best-written tales. It avoids the pitfall of having a protagonist that’s arrogant or naive, in part thanks to our control over the story. It has some characters that push buttons, and that immerses you in the narrative. It’s not perfect and there is some amount of railroading, but I’d say that my prediction on the NLSC Podcast was correct. There’s even some replay value!
In the long run, I’ll probably be spending more time with a MyNBA game that I’ve recently started, as well as MyTEAM. It’s been nice to actually play with the cards I’m collecting, and prepare for a return to the franchise experience. Giving up on The Rec after some truly disastrous games on Current Gen was also the right move. However, The Long Shadow was worth playing through, and vying for The Long Game Trophy squeezed the most out of it. If you’re on Next Gen and MyCAREER is your thing, I’d recommend committing to a four year college career at least once. Others will be in the NBA and perhaps The City quicker, but there’s value in playing The Long Game.