A year ago, NBA 2K22 released to widespread praise. That's because the first iteration of the series fully geared toward next-generation consoles impressed on the court.
Now, it's NBA 2K23's job to one-up that effort and keep the ascending theme going, this time with Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker gracing the standard covers.
To accomplish this task, developer Visual Concepts has dialed in on balancing out the gameplay after last year's upgrades gave perimeter players a major advantage, something reflected in the state of online play for the entirety of the game's lifecycle.
One of the big talking points so far is the upgraded pro stick, which allows multiple flicks of the stick to enable things like switchbacks, giving players more fluid control over moves like hop-steps and euro-steps as they slash to the basket. Expanded, specific dunking controls mean no longer accidentally putting up an unexpected skill dunk that goes awry, too.
Granted, this sort of emphasis requires balance, too, so 2K23 has tweaked the energy system. Stamina drains at a greater rate than in the past when using complex moves, and with each possession, players get three adrenaline boosts, with one depleted each time a player begins a sprint.
Not that perimeter players go without goodies, too. There are five new shot meters to choose from and completely new stats to consider for signature jump shots (shot speed, release height, etc.), as well as a brand-new feedback system, per the game's developer diary:
"You’ll also notice a subtle change to how shot feedback works this year. We use shot arcs to help indicate whether you’re early (high arc), late (flat arc), or on time (ideal arc), so by paying attention you can easily tell right away if your release is off. Also, with Shot Feedback enabled, we’re delaying the timing/coverage overlay and green release animations from coming up until the ball hits the basket."
The game also plans for opponent A.I. to attack more aggressively than in years past, leaning into this same suite of upgrades.
Also notable is the inclusion of a new “Semi-Pro” difficulty that wedges between "Rookie" and "Pro" tiers. The goal is a smoother onboarding process for new players, with developers judging the jump between the two mentioned difficulties to be too high. Also fitting with this theme is an overhauled "Rookie" mode.
Outside of general gameplay, Visual Concepts has also zeroed in on some of the issues with the badge system found in game modes such as MyPLAYER. After seeing players stack the best upgrades early on an annual basis, 2K23 will be the first with a tiered badge system that requires players to use a set number of lower-tiered badges first. That sounds like a setback for the game's most immersive modes, but it has the potential to make things more realistic, which should be the goal.
Speaking of MyPLAYER and other modes, little has been made public so far. But IGN's Ben Vollmer captured an interesting nugget from developers: "While there wasn’t a lot of information on MyPLAYER during the gameplay preview, the developers did note that purchased animations are now account-bound rather than being tied to specific save files. This means that it’s now possible to carry over animations from one player to the next."
This could end up being a much bigger deal than hinted on first pass. In the past, these little inner workings of MyPLAYER fed into the microtransactions system, so it seems to be at least a small admission of the frustration players who wanted to create multiple characters felt.
And while much of the rest of the game remains a mystery before release, the stunning next-gen upgrades to presentation last year, such as real-life PA announcers for each stadium, will return alongside additional upgrades.
Ditto for the massive suite of game modes, some of which could function as their own separate release. MyCAREER, The W, MyTeam and all the rest will return to provide an in-depth mode for each type of player who picks up the release.
Regardless of which mode a player chooses, the real meat of the 2K23 experience seems to be the on-court upgrades that impact things at every level. If nothing else, bringing upgraded gameplay to a release is a good way for the series to keep some stellar next-gen momentum going.