Authors Note: This is a draft version of an article I wrote in early 2019. I am posting it for posterity’s sake and to fill up the newly launched site.
I find with sports games you’re either a hardcore who plays every year, or you try one out and forget they exist for a decade or two. I am the latter. But with the basketball craze sweeping Canada as the Raptors were in their first-ever finals appearance, I wanted to pick up the rock and shoot some virtual threes. I was not ready for what I had discovered.
Back to the court
The last basketball game I’ve played for more than 10 minutes was NBA Inside Drive 2004 for the original Xbox, and quite frankly I don’t remember doing much more than constantly replaying the tutorial. So when I picked up NBA2k19, the latest entry into the long-running basketball ‘simulation’ series, I didn’t know what to expect.
After a little trial and tribulation getting used to the camera angles and controls, I actually discovered a genre-bending RPG experience that I’ve been waiting my entire life for.
One of 2K19’s game modes is my career, where you create your own star and play through season after season and carve out your own personal spot in this virtual NBA world. This is pretty standard stuff for sports games, but none that I’ve played in the past have truly engrossed me in the experience. But once I got past the “prelude” story, I realized that it’s more than just a basketball game, it’s a true to life sports MMO-RPG.
Let’s compare NBA 2K19 to the MMORPG’s of yore like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the umpteenth others.
The Hub World
One thing almost every MMO has is a hub world. A central location you go to gather your party, trade goods, and go AFK to refuel your provisions. In NBA 2K, this is The Neighborhood. In the Neighborhood you can head to the G-Fuel Center and recharge your stamina, go to stores and get new clothing for on and off the court, and squad up with your friends. There are even some basketball courts where you and friends or randoms can play pickup basketball games against other realtime players, which you could compare to spares and duels in many MMO games.
Class System & Character Progression
Now, this isn’t something that’s just for MMO’s, or the RPG genre in general. Many games have instituted a class system like COD and Battlefield, but nine times out of ten when you hear someone ask “what class are you” they going to respond with an RPG class like a warrior, paladin, or monk.
In 2K19, your position is your class and archetype. When you’re creating your character you pick your spot on the court, be it a point guard or shooting guard, along with your archetype. Archetypes are two areas of expertise for your character. These, along with the height and weight you choose, dictate stat caps and the badges you can earn with that character. As I was creating my future NBA Hall of Famer, I had flashbacks to Skyrim where I was creating my Redguard warrior, and trying to think of what combination of characteristics would work best with how I wanted to play the game. A feeling no simple sports game has ever achieved before.
This one is a sore spot for some, but it’s the reality we live in. Microtransactions have been something in gaming for a long time and MMO players know this well. Back when I played Lord of The Rings Online I remember logging in and getting a different ad for purchasing currency with my real dollars and NBA does it very similarly.
Every time you go to the Neighborhood (see subhead #1) you’re brought to a screen that features the latest deals and ongoing events (more on that later). Like many MMO’s you can use the games virtual currency, known as VC, to upgrade your character’s stats, purchase new clothing, or customize your character at many of the vendors.
While some may say that MMOs are different as a majority are free-to-play, the NBA doesn’t require you to purchase any. It is more of a grind, but I haven’t felt the need to purchase one to be able to be better at the game. I’ve considered it, but through playing the game and completing daily challenges, I get enough.
Finally, we get to community events. 2K19 has a TON of community events, sometimes multiple a day. While I haven’t had the chance to participate in a lot the few I was able to have shown the diversity that is offered. One had you and two others face off against AI legends of real athletes, another saw teams try and get the longest winning streak, and my personal favourite saw you running around the street playing dodgeball.
This is exactly what MMOs do to encourage users to log in on the daily. Community events, daily quests, and time-sensitive raids give players an incentive to hop back on and keep the adventure going. Going back to LOTRO, I remember every few weeks they’d have an in-game festival that featured fun quests that rewarded you with fireworks… but it doesn’t compare to basketball dodgeball.
While there are definitly differences that separate NBA2K from the World of Warcraft’s and Skyrim’s but I love seeing developers get creative on how to bring a new spin to a game and cross-genres. The end result was a game that I’ve fallen in love with and didn’t even know existed. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to log in and score some dunks with my three-pointing paladin.
Have you ever found a genre-bending game you’ve fallen in love with? Let us know in the comments below!