In short, the whole look of NBA 2K has a much more holistic feel compared to the current-gen versions. 2K Studio Art Director Anton Dawson told me that the team has a brand-new set of tools to scan player faces and capture arena lighting, and they’ve been working on the next-gen version since midway through 2K20’s development. In short, just about everything about the way players are brought into the game and then rendered and lit has changed, and you can see the results on the screen.Outside of the simulation, NBA 2K21 next-gen’s big new idea is The City. It’s billed as the next step after Neighborhood, and it is an actual open-world where you can walk around, join one of the four affiliations, and compete in one-on-one (or bigger team) events. You get around it on foot, skateboard, or bike. There are shops, pickup courts, and more. There’s even a FourSquare-esque feature that allows you to run for mayor of each district, complete with in-game polling places to vote at every six weeks when new elections are held. The four mayors then get to curate matchup soundtracks, design their affiliation’s courts, and customize the look of their district. Hundreds of players will walk around at a given time, though when I jumped into the preview build, only a couple of QA testers were milling about. Still, it’s a fascinating feature if Visual Concepts can pull it off.
The new 2K also doubles down on its WNBA integration. You’ve got a full MyPlayer career mode available now, plus a full online league option. I played a bit as the Phoenix Mercury, aka my only Arizona pro sports team actually capable of winning a championship, and sure enough these women move differently and play differently compared to the men, as they should. Visual Concepts’ quest for authenticity here seems genuine, which 2K says is owed to the women and men on the team who are big WNBA fans themselves.And back on the men’s side, MyCareer offers a new story mode called Long Shadow, which introduces the G League as another big career path option alongside college. Humorously, various nemeses from MyCareer modes in previous years return here as teammates on your G League squad, complete with plenty of off-court drama that’s bound to follow.
It’ll be interesting to see how NBA 2K21’s fresh start on next-gen comes together. My hour or so of hands-on time was very encouraging, but things like The City will need to be experienced with a full and active community of real-life players. NBA 2K21 will be out on Xbox Series X on November 10 and on PS5 on November 12.