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Monday Tip-Off: Returning to Ultimate Team in NBA Live 18

LeBron James on the Bulls in Ultimate Team (NBA Live 18)

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 few thoughts as I finally get stuck into Ultimate Team in NBA Live 18.

Since the reboot of the series with NBA Live 14, Ultimate Team has arguably been my favourite game mode. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, the franchise modes in the last few NBA Live games haven’t been as deep as I’d like, which limits their appeal. Having dedicated a lot of time to MyCAREER and 2K Pro-Am in recent NBA 2K games, I also haven’t felt inclined to double up with the career modes in NBA Live. Second, upon trying out Ultimate Team, I found the concept more appealing than I ever thought I would. As someone who collected basketball trading cards back in the 90s, it’s felt quite nostalgic, and has been fun to play.

So far, I’ve spent most of my time with NBA Live 18 playing through the early stages of The One, several LIVE Events, and some Play Now games here and there. I’ve wanted to get back into Ultimate Team though, and looking at some of the lineups that my fellow gamers have been sharing here in the Forum, my eagerness to put together my own super squad has been growing. Since everyone on the NLSC 2K Pro-Am squad has lost their enthusiasm for the mode, I instead chose to spend a few hours last Friday evening playing Ultimate Team. I’ve got a long way to go in terms of building my lineup, but I’m already reminded of what drew me to the mode.

Ultimate Team was definitely a lower priority than The One in NBA Live 18, but that’s not to say that the mode hasn’t received some attention. For a start, I like that you’re given a full set of team artwork based on your favourite team setting. That’s something I commented on when I first got the game, and I definitely prefer that approach to simply getting the logo, and having to earn or buy the court, jerseys, and coach. The James Harden pre-order card has been serving me well in the early going, though it’s quickly running out of games. I also have short term LeBron James and Stephen Curry cards, which I’m currently trying to put to good use.

Ultimate Team Lineup (NBA Live 18)

In NBA Live 16, I had a tendency to hoard short term player cards, and I’ve done the same thing with Free Agent cards in NBA 2K’s MyTEAM, too. It’s a habit that I’ve been trying to break. Granted, it’s best not to waste the limited amount of games on those cards in challenges where they’re not needed, but if they always remain stashed in my collection, they can’t do any good at all. Some time back, I came to realise that I was doing the same thing with unique weapons in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Instead of taking advantage of them, I kept them locked away in my safe house. Items like that are meant to be used, so this year, the short term cards are coming out.

When I picked up where I left off in Ultimate Team last Friday, I’d only played two games. As such, I have a lot of challenges open, and a lineup that’s a far cry from the ones I’ve been enviously eying in the aforementioned Forum topic. With Bronze cards surrounding the pre-order Harden card, I was leaning heavily on this year’s cover player to put points on the board. After earning some coins, I headed to the Auction House and picked up Taj Gibson at a bargain price. For the next couple of games, the former Bull was one of my most effective players. Likewise, 69 Overall Cole Aldrich impressed me, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a blowout victory.

It’s painfully obvious that my team isn’t ready for tougher challenges, though. Even after stacking my lineup with my short term LeBron and Curry cards – the former from the free Christmas pack, the latter from the Warriors’ Training Camp challenge that I completed months ago – I came up short in my attempt at the Orlando Magic Legends challenge. Admittedly, I played poorly until the fourth quarter, forcing too many threes with Curry in an attempt to counteract Tracy McGrady’s athletic forays to the basket. I played like a novice, and I paid the price, losing precious games from my short term cards, and failing to obtain the Legends reward pack in the process.

Moving forward, I need to strengthen my lineup with quality players that I can apply new contracts to, instead of leaning heavily on short term cards. I suspect that the knowledge that I’d be losing those cards after a few games forced me to play with a sense of urgency that resulted in sloppiness, both on the sticks and in my general strategy. While I’m open to spending a little real money to get an immediate boost with some packs, I’m trying to resist the temptation for the moment. Instead, I’ll keep playing through the various Fantasy Challenges. It’ll be a slower process, and I figure that I might drop a game or two, but it should feel more rewarding in the end.

Tracy McGrady in Ultimate Team (NBA Live 18)

With any luck, I’ll build an Ultimate Team squad like the one I had in NBA Live 15. In addition to a deep roster of contemporary stars, I also had a strong lineup of 90s players that included Shawn Kemp, Dikembe Mutombo, Penny Hardaway, and more. I’ll need to earn a lot more coins before I can bid for those types of cards in NBA Live 18, but I figure if I play the mode diligently, I’ll gradually be able to assemble a lineup that’s nostalgic, and a lot of fun to play with. I’d love to get a Scottie Pippen card at some point, since he’s my favourite Legend that EA Sports has licensed, and his was the one card that I desired most but couldn’t get my hands on in NBA Live 15.

In some ways, the NBA Live 16 community event I attended back in July 2015 ended up spoiling Ultimate Team for me. While testing the game at the event, I had access to all of the debug packs, which meant I was able to play with a team comprised of every single Legend that I’d ever want on my squad (except Michael Jordan, obviously). To put together a team like that in the retail game, it obviously takes a lot more effort. I’m ready to give it a try, though. Apart from The One and the connected experiences of the Pro-Am Tour and LIVE Events, Ultimate Team is the mode that I can really sink my teeth into in NBA Live 18. It’s been a refreshing and welcome return so far.

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