It seems that a few people already have their hands on the full version of NBA 2K19, but for most of us, we’ve still got a short wait. The 20th Anniversary Edition will be out on September 7th while the Standard Edition drops next week on the 11th, but in the meantime, we’ve been able to get a taste of this year’s game from Visual Concepts via NBA 2K19 The Prelude. I’ve already shared some impressions of The Prelude in Episode #261 of the NLSC Podcast, but for those who prefer text to audio content, I thought that I’d offer a write-up as I did for the NBA Live 19 demo.
As in previous years, the latest version of The Prelude is exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It offers a chance for us to make a head start on MyCAREER by creating a player and playing through the preliminary stages of the mode, as well as sample some 5v5 gameplay through a ten minute game in 2KU. To that end, it’s a very brief glimpse of what’s on offer in NBA 2K19, but it’s enough to give us some insight into what to expect in terms of MyPLAYER Archetypes, the tone of the story, and the gameplay in general. Read on for my impressions!
Following the same format as my write-up on the NBA Live 19 demo, I’m splitting my impressions up into three categories: positives, negatives, and further thoughts as I look beyond The Prelude to the release of the full version of NBA 2K19.
Positives in NBA 2K19 The Prelude
- The game remains very fluid and responsive on the sticks. The controls are very familiar, so if you’ve been playing NBA 2K in recent years, you won’t have any trouble picking it up and playing it.
- CPU teammates seem a lot smarter this year in terms of moving without the ball and getting into position; NBA 2K18 felt like a step back in that regard. I noticed players making smart cuts and picking gaps when their defenders committed to a double team or otherwise gave them an open path to the hoop.
- Shooting mechanics seem a lot better, moving away from the concept of Good releases being harshly nerfed Excellent releases, and thus lower percentage shots than Slightly Early or Slightly Late releases. It just felt better shooting the ball with NBA players in 2KU games compared to NBA 2K18.
- MyPLAYER creation is much more informative and transparent. More details could stand to be shown (and some of them will be displayed in the full game), but it looks like we’ll be able to make a more informed choice when it comes to the effects of choosing specific combinations of Primary and Secondary Archetypes, as well as height, weight, and wingspan.
- More hairstyles are available at the beginning, along with the new Create-a-Player features such as customisable hair length. Facial hair options are also available when initially creating your player, whereas last year you had to get to The Neighborhood first. Along with haircuts being free this year, this is a welcome change in approach, and definitely the right way to go.
- This year’s story already seems like it will be a lot better. The fact that we’ll be able to skip cutscenes (and the entire Prelude on subsequent playthroughs) is definitely welcome, but the narrative and the characters are far better written this time around. The tone, the humour, and their overall characterisation and performance, should make the story far more tolerable at the very least.
- XP (now called MyPOINTS) seems to be earned a little quicker if you put up numbers, and it looks like it’ll be a little easier to make progress on all Badges without as much tedious grinding. It remains to be seen how progress will be made outside of the preliminary stages of MyCAREER and in training drills, but it’s promising.
- Likewise, Virtual Currency rewards seemed like they’d been beefed up a bit. The Road to 99 is still going to be quite a journey, upgrades do of course get more expensive, and there will be items for sale in The Neighborhood that will require you to budget your VC. However, I’m cautiously optimistic that VC rewards will be somewhat fairer this year, and again, the mode less of a grind.
- Many more of the basic animations are freely available this year (or at least, they are in The Prelude). It would be more convenient to have all of these animations by default instead of having to go to the store and purchase them all for 0 VC, but I do like that a lot of basic animations aren’t behind a paywall as they were in NBA 2K18.
- Steals feel a little less canned. I’d compare them favourably to NBA 2K17, where good timing allowed you to poke balls loose when locking down the ballhandler. The scramble to scoop up the loose ball makes the system a lot more organic as well. Canned fouls are still an issue, but not quite as much as last year.
- Body blocks are reduced. I noticed some great hand-on-Spalding animations where a well-timed block attempt resulted in the defender’s hand making contact with the basketball and swatting it away.
- The part of the story where you play an abbreviated game of “NBA 2K8” using the 2008 Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets was a nice touch. I liked how they even disabled right stick dribbling, which along with the lower resolution and old score overlay, made it feel like an authentic retro gaming experience within a much newer game.
- Outside of a Green release, free throw shooting seems to be determined by ratings rather than a percentage, as was the case last year. As such, it feels like competent free throw shooters will hit a reasonable amount of foul shots, even without a perfect release.
- Absolute is now the default setting for most of the Pro Stick controls. Beluba solicited feedback on the matter via a Twitter poll and Absolute controls won, so I’m glad to see the change implemented. Gamers who prefer the Camera Relative setting can still choose it if desired.
Negatives in NBA 2K19 The Prelude
- The new motion system still doesn’t look right. While the game is responsive on the sticks and isn’t riddled by bad player animations, there is still a ton of skating. Players glide along the floor as though they’re on ice, and often warp or snap into position following weird speed boosts.
- As noted above, there is still an issue of canned fouls on steal attempts. Even though steals do feel better, there are moments when a single press of the button at a fairly intuitive moment will result in your player wildly slapping at the ball or grabbing the defender. That should only happen on button mashing.
- I encountered some elbow blocks which left me feeling a little concerned that certain cheesy builds are going to get a lot of cheap rejections once again in Pro-Am this year. It might not be quite as bad, but is still potentially an issue.
- Despite assurances that Archetypes will be more balanced this year, it seems as though there will still be overpowered and underpowered builds. The point guard builds once again have some harsh trade-offs, and there are still builds that do not have Hall of Fame level Badges. Hopefully, NBA 2K19 won’t have a trophy/achievement for getting a Badge to Hall of Fame level as NBA 2K18 did. Otherwise, you’ll need a second playthrough, or to avoid certain builds.
- It would appear that the MyCAREER story will once again include a bunch of predetermined moments, meaningless quick time events, and inconsequential choices. Stuff like that drives home the scripted nature of the mode under the story-driven approach, and just feels rather pointless.
- In regards to The Prelude itself, the brevity and lack of depth do unfortunately make it somewhat of an unsatisfactory glimpse of NBA 2K19. It’s handy to get a head start and there are things we can glean from it, but three brief games from the early stages of MyCAREER and ten minutes of 5v5 gameplay that’s constantly being interrupted by tutorial videos doesn’t make for a great demo with any kind of replay value as we wait for the full version.
- Instant replay controls are still clunky. They’re a bit freer than previous years, but the free camera still wants to snap to certain angles, and won’t maintain an adjusted height when the play is in motion.
- There are some weird and clunky animations, like the “push” layup that halts your player dead in their tracks. It looked and felt awkward last year, and I was disappointed to see it in there again this year.
- The face scanning functionality in MyNBA2K19 hasn’t improved. It’s still vastly inferior to NBA Live’s face scanning with the process feeling far more cumbersome than it should be. As it turned out, my scan failed to render and the app crashed, then it couldn’t access the camera upon relaunch. Feeling frustrated, I gave up and used one of the generic faces. On the bright side, it looked a lot like Eminem by default, so that gave me an amusing idea for a MyPLAYER character; especially with the big name actors in the mode.
- Although we can skip the MyCAREER cutscenes, there are still moments in gameplay where skipping through certain presentation elements takes a long time, or results in everyone just standing around (such as before a free throw). It seems that once again, gameplay won’t be quite as streamlined as it could (and arguably should) be.
- Once again, audio is disabled during video capture on PlayStation 4. I do have an Elgato capture card, and I also have Bandicam for the PC version, but it’s still a bit inconvenient for content creators, as well as anyone else who wants to keep their favourite replays and cutscenes.
Looking Ahead to the Full Version
- Even though it was brief and I would’ve at least liked to have had a short Play Now game with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers instead of just the 2KU tutorial, I did have fun with The Prelude. MyCAREER is going to be a lower priority for me this year – at least, that’s my intention – but I did enjoy that part of The Prelude as well.
- VC earnings and the prices of both upgrades and cosmetic items are going to be critical this year. NBA 2K18’s approach was downright anti-consumer, doing its utmost to push gamers towards microtransactions in order to have an enjoyable experience. The Prelude suggests NBA 2K19 will be better in this regard, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it remains to be seen.
- There’s obviously a lot more to NBA 2K19 than is shown in The Prelude, so if MyCAREER isn’t your thing, or you feel like taking a break from it, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. I’m still eyeing MyLEAGUE, personally.
- Mike Wang has mentioned that shooting won’t be nearly as easy in the full version. This is a little concerning, as while it is important to tune the game for realistic results, last year’s approach was contrived and felt artificially difficult at times. Ideally, The Prelude should give us a good idea of what to expect in the full game as well, so I’m hoping it won’t turn out to be a deceptive demo.
- As always, balance will be crucial. Last year, it felt like all the focus was on making a game for the NBA 2K League, with the offline experience leaving much to be desired (and the Pro-Am experience wasn’t that much better, in my opinion). I don’t want to see a lot of tweaks to the point where the game feels different week-to-week, but if something needs fixing, I hope it does get fixed.
- The situation with the motion system is an interesting one. It doesn’t feel like it got any better in terms of skating and warping, so I’m not sure how long 2K will end up sticking with it. I assume when the next generation arrives, they’ll have a new engine/motion system in place.
Those are my impressions of NBA 2K19 The Prelude; what did you think of it? Will you be picking up the full version of NBA 2K19? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, and join in the discussion here in the NLSC Forum! Our coverage of the full version will obviously commence soon, but for the moment, I’ll leave you with an assortment of screenshots from The Prelude.