Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is another countdown, as I rank the MyCAREER stories from worst to best.
Through the course of many previous articles and episodes of the NLSC Podcast, I believe that I’ve made my stance on MyCAREER stories very clear. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with my view on the matter, while I can appreciate the effort that goes into them, I’m not a fan of the concept. To me, it’s felt more intrusive and annoying, rather than enhancing the experience. It’s obviously not going anywhere, so hopefully the approach can be improved upon in future games. To get an idea of how Visual Concepts may achieve that, it’s worth reflecting upon the approach they’ve taken to previous MyCAREER stories, and determining which has been the best.
We’ve had five MyCAREER stories in NBA 2K at this point, enough to rate and rank in a Friday Five countdown. In ranking the stories, I’m taking into account the overall quality of the narrative, the likeability of the characters (including the MyPLAYER protagonist), the impact on the gameplay experience, and how well the approach fits with the RPG elements of MyCAREER. As always, please keep in mind that this is just my take, and I certainly invite you to share your rankings in the comments section below. With that being said, let’s tip off the countdown with number five.
5. NBA 2K15
To its credit, the story in NBA 2K15’s MyCAREER tried to change things up. Most MyCAREER stories have started with your MyPLAYER trying to improve their Draft stock, but in NBA 2K15, you’re left undrafted and don’t get a shot at the league until teams are signing players to ten day contracts in the new year. Needless to say, it was an interesting approach, but it meant that you didn’t have much of a rookie season. With fewer games in which to earn significant minutes, it was very tough to compete for Rookie of the Year. On the other hand, having a little more control over your destiny in terms of where you started your career was a nice change of pace.
I’ve mentioned it several times before, but some of the most off-putting aspects of the story in NBA 2K15’s MyCAREER are the characters and the acting. From the moment you meet him, the protagonist is whiny, egotistical, and unlikeable. The GM of the team you end up with is an irritating mix of slimy and snobby. It was a fun idea to have real players voice themselves in scenes where they take on a mentoring role, but as pointed out in so many YouTube videos (and one Cracked article), they ended up being entertaining for all the wrong reasons. There were good ideas here, but they weren’t well-executed, making it the worst of the MyCAREER stories.
4. NBA 2K16
“Livin’ Da Dream” in NBA 2K16 featured some of the best production values that we’ve seen in the five MyCAREER stories so far. That’s not a surprise, given the involvement of acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee. That’s not to say it didn’t have its problems, though. NBA 2K obviously needs to be more family-friendly than most of Spike Lee’s fare, so “Livin’ Da Dream” came across as a bit of a corny rehash of He Got Game. It was also clearly written with some very specific characters in mind, which didn’t necessarily jell with the concept of putting yourself into the game. My pasty MyPLAYER definitely looked like a bizarre casting choice.
A big problem with “Livin’ Da Dream” is that it was basically a story on rails. You couldn’t make any meaningful decisions. There was no story branching, and with Vic’s character arc, there was definitely potential to do that. As it was, I found myself constantly frustrated with Freq’s naive and enabling attitude towards his childhood friend. I wasn’t too fond of the Frequency Vibrations nickname, either. Annoying characters aside, the biggest mistake was limiting your rookie season to eight games and simulating the rest. The experience was more about a series of cutscenes than gameplay at the end of the day, which is absolutely the wrong approach to take.
3. NBA 2K18
This one may come as a surprise, and originally, I did rank it one spot lower. After all, the story is rather cringe-worthy this year. The characters are easily some of the most obnoxious and annoying of all the MyCAREER stories to date (I’m looking at you, B Fresh!). The back story of D.J. being, well, a DJ, feels like an excuse for a product placement with the JBL partnership. Furthermore, a player who gave up on basketball only to make it to the NBA on the back of streetball tournament is a flimsy premise. A lot of user interface convenience has been sacrificed with The Neighborhood, and the issues with microtransactions and VC gouging are well-documented.
So, why am I ranking it third, and not lower? Well, in terms of the intrusiveness of the story, it’s not that bad. Aside from the unskippable cutscenes, you can largely ignore the story, and most of the tale is told on the virtual hardwood. D.J. is a little annoying at times, but he is likeable for the most part. Going undrafted and picking the team you want to play for is a better take on the concept that NBA 2K15 was aiming for. The ability to level up your MyPLAYER in 2K Pro-Am and The Playground means that if you mostly want to play those online modes, you can put your NBA career on the backburner. Weighing up the good and the bad, NBA 2K18 sits in the middle.
2. NBA 2K14
The very first MyCAREER story isn’t as deep or flashy as its successors, but it did set the tone for the new approach to the mode. In some respects, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The ironic line in the introduction about no one telling the MyPLAYER’s story but the player himself rings hollow, considering the predetermined scenarios that every user ends up experiencing. Everyone rides the bench for their first two games, gets an opportunity when a teammate is injured, suffers through their own “flu game”, and so on. It feels like much of the story has already been written, and that’s been a recurring problem since MyCAREER stories became a thing in NBA 2K.
However, there’s certainly more gameplay than in “Livin’ Da Dream”, and a lot of the time your performance on the sticks is what’s telling the story. The overarching tale of your rivalry with Jackson Ellis is a straightforward sports movie plot, but it’s fun and generally well-told. Your MyPLAYER isn’t a jerk, and you do have some control over his characterisation through the dialogue options. I’m not a fan of having all those predetermined moments that make everyone’s career play out very similarly, but compared to some of the other MyCAREER stories, it’s handled decently. If nothing else, it gave us a memorable recurring character in Jackson Ellis.
1. NBA 2K17
There are elements of NBA 2K17’s MyCAREER story that I can criticise, but I have to say that by the end of the year, they didn’t really bug me. Orange Juice and The President of Basketball are corny nicknames, but I got used to them. Pres’ back story involving his father’s passing wasn’t really to my liking, but it doesn’t have too much of an impact on any of the events. There’s a predetermined moment where you sustain an injury that I feel should come about organically (if at all), but it’s fairly minor at the end of the day. Apart from that, you’ve got a good story that is well-written and acted, characters that are likeable, and humour that adds some welcome levity.
Ultimately, the story wasn’t intrusive, and simply added a little extra flavour to the experience. That’s how all MyCAREER stories should be. For the most part, you were able to concentrate on a generally uninterrupted basketball gaming experience, with the cutscenes and off-court tasks and activities breaking up the monotony that can set in over the course of a long NBA season. The tale of Orange Juice also added the dual player control mechanics, which I found to be rather fun. In my opinion, there’s no comparison. NBA 2K17 has far and away featured the best MyCAREER story to date. Future NBA 2K games should definitely follow its lead.
Those are my rankings. How would you rank the five MyCAREER stories that we’ve seen so far in NBA 2K? What’s your take on the approach in general? It’s your turn to have your say, so be sure to let me know in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum as well. That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.