NBA 2K23 preview: Polish is the priority

With each new iteration of the NBA 2K franchise comes a litany of vague gameplay features that do more to rock the series than they do to fix core problems. After a first preview of NBA 2K23 gameplay, I have a feeling that things might be different this time around. Through a number of more focused tweaks, such as adding attributes like drop height and AI tweaks focusing on game plans and decision making, NBA 2K23 seems more interested in building on foundation than tackling new and extravagant functionality.

There are a lot of exciting changes to NBA 2K23 gameplay, but what really strikes me are the distinctive new attributes of the jump shot. For years, Scouts have been drooling over players who are able to shoot with as little interference as possible. As we’ve learned through players like Luca Doncic, this can take shape in a handful of different ways. Shot speed, drop height, defensive immunity, and impact on timing are all attributes that have been added to the signature jump shots. This means that not all shooting animations are of equal value and some may suit certain playstyles better than others. It should be a lot of fun to tinker with.

While there wasn’t much information about MyPLAYER when previewing the game, the developers noticed that the purchased animations are now account tied rather than tied to specific save files. This means that animations can now be transferred from one player to another. A small change, but a welcome one to those of us who are regularly disappointed with NBA 2K’s focus on monetization through microtransactions.

NBA 2K23 – Four new screenshots

Another change that Visual Concepts, the developers behind NBA 2K23, pointed out was an AI overhaul. While I haven’t had a chance to test it myself, Visual Concepts is adamant that the line between human gamers and CPUs will become blurrier than ever. The AI ​​now has the ability to adjust its gameplay based on what works and what doesn’t. There is also an increased focus on taking advantage of player attributes and skill sets, with a new “first strike” priority system. More than in previous titles, AI will take advantage of opportunities when they are presented.

Many of these changes will be more noticeable depending on the difficulty players choose. Visual Concepts pointed out how accessible the reworked Rookie difficulty is and what a great contrast there is between Rookie (the easiest difficulty setting) and Hall of Fame (the most difficult setting). Generally, there is an emphasis on the skill gap between someone playing for the first time and someone who has mastered the controls and patterns available in NBA 2K23.

As for the controls, perhaps the most significant change coming to NBA 2K23 is the reworked “Pro Stick”, with all-new dunk and dribble gestures. For example, you can now hold down the sprint trigger and slide the right stick down twice to grab the edge and hang it. I haven’t seen well how it works in action, but the input looks simple and satisfying enough. These new controls also change the way lane contact works, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo having the ability to work their way through traffic with additional layup packages. These moves are all initiated through an “adrenaline boost”, of which each offensive player has three per possession.

The defense got a lot of attention last year, so the offense focus for NBA 2K23 makes sense.

Visual Concepts wasn’t entirely clear on what it will look like in action. I’m concerned that every player seems to have exactly three power ups, especially when there are notable examples across the NBA of players who seemingly never run out of energy. Conversely, there are many examples of players who can put together a powerful flurry but usually lack action in the next possession or two. All in all, it should be a welcome change that players can no longer dribble sporadically on the pitch until they find an opening.

There have also been several changes to the shot meter that I’m excited about, the first is that you can now customize the shot meter. For years I have complained about the ever-changing appearance of the light meter, a change that has always seemed unnecessary and often a step backwards from a previous iteration. Though sadly, there will only be five shot meters available to choose from at launch and another 15 over the seasons, NBA 2K’s version of a battle pass. One small change that I really appreciate is that the green animation following a successful use of the hit meter now doesn’t show until the ball has made it to the edge. This should only serve to add to the tension and drama that comes with each shot.

The defense got a lot of attention last year, so the offense focus for NBA 2K23 makes sense. One change that particularly impressed me is the new shading mechanic that divides each defender with the ball into three zones: left shadow, right shadow, and center shadow. If a player attacks the shaded defensive position, he will quickly be blocked. It sounds like a simple change, but I think it adds a lot of strategy and complexity to any defensive situation. If I notice my opponent constantly going to the left of him, I should be able to shade him in a way that forces him to run into my wall or change tactics. It’s the kind of cat and mouse gameplay that’s always been so good in the NBA 2K franchise, and I really hope this builds on that.

Another concern that seems to have been addressed is that the block system has been revamped to behave more realistically, so blocks to be chased by smaller players will be much less common. The development team also discussed how loose balls and 50/50 plays have been readjusted so that there is more urgency from offense and defense to keep the game alive. This is something else that I think I’ll have to see before believing, but this has been a decade-long problem that has plagued the franchise. So if it’s really fixed, that’s another step towards cleaning up the systematic problems that have plagued the franchise for so long.

While I’m impressed with the game preview’s attention to detail, I’m still left with a number of concerns about NBA 2K23 in general. There is little or no evidence that the intense focus on microtransactions has gone nowhere, although it seems the gaming team is aware of how frustrating it can be not to save progress when creating a new MyPLAYER. And while Visual Concepts promised significant changes to the AI, I really think it’s something I should get my hands on before I can properly praise it.

At the very least, this preview is a promising start. There’s a focus on details, particularly in the areas the NBA 2K community has been asking for year after year. The changes seem to exist with a singular idea in mind: to make NBA 2K23 a more refined experience than its predecessors. For now, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on NBA 2K23 and hearing the changes myself.

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