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NBA 2K21: Breaking Down Best New Features for This Year's Game

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard reacts to a call during the second quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

A year removed from notable gameplay improvements and the introduction of a massive feature like the inclusion of the WNBA, NBA 2K21 has some massive expectations to match. 

And ahead of the game's September 4 release date, 2K Sports has made it clear the majority of these expectation-matching efforts will come on the gameplay front. 

The fact that Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard is on the cover makes sense, then. 

Many of the gameplay feature changeups come via the Pro Stick, which is finally getting retooled and will no longer mostly function as a way for players to shoot the ball. 

The Pro Stick has evolved in 2K21 to permit the use of extensive dribble moves and even initiate size-ups. Alongside the developments, there is a refresh of shooting and layups in general, with the stick now measuring accuracy as opposed to timing. 

NBA 2K gameplay director Mike Wang explained: 

"So instead of trying to stop the shot meter when you reach the perfect release window, you adjust the Pro Stick in real time to hit the ideal center aim point. The target window resizes dynamically based on player ability, shooting range, and how well the shot is contested and can also shift to the left or right based on the shot’s degree of difficulty. If you miss the target too far to the left or right, your shot will miss in that direction."

Other features, while not strictly new, have been expanded upon. On the gameplay side, that includes the motion styles that gave the most unique players in the game their realistic flair. 

The game's goal is to straddle the accessible-competitive line even better than before with some of these changes and broader tweaks. Ideally, the gameplay is simplistic enough to keep casual new players interested right upon picking up a controller, but depth to the Pro Stick and the skill behind shot attempts creates a serious dividing factor for the more competitive elements. 

MyTeam is also getting something on the new features front simply dubbed "Seasons." It sounds similar to seasons found in other games, and especially those games-as-service online affairs.

Typically expected to last six weeks, Seasons will introduce various new rewards and more to the game while tasking players with completing daily, weekly and other objectives to earn them. While players will have to wait to see how it unfolds over the course of the game's life cycle, the chance at special themes, new challenges and rewards makes it seem promising. 

The new MyTeam Limited mode might be even more appealing to a bigger crop of players. 

Boiled down to its most basic, the new mode is a Friday-Sunday affair each week in which players compete in online five-on-five tournaments for championship rings. Sounds great on its own like that, but making things all the more interesting is the revelation the developers will introduce new restrictions each week to keep the online meta fresh. 

It doesn't stop there, either. Earning rings means building up an allotment that can be used at the end of the season to unlock the grand prize for that specific season, meaning plenty of reason for players to keep coming back for more each weekend, each season. 

Clearly, the focus here is player retention through a bit of modernization as far as online capabilities go. Weekly tuning of objectives, rewards and more within varying seasons is a cue obviously taken from other games, but on paper, it's being smartly applied in a way that makes a ton of sense for a basketball game. 

Also making a return to the game in general are badge cards and the upgradeable details within them, which makes sense for a game that is heavily emphasizing its online component. 

MyTeam Unlimited also makes a return and tasks players with winning games in extensive leagues in pursuit of a grand prize at the very top. And assisting players is a new featured dubbed "The Exchange," which gives players the agency to swap out cards they don't need. 

It all sounds like a lot—and it is. The 2K21 feature list makes it clear improved gameplay by giving the players more control and options is a goal, as is moving the game toward a fresher state more consistently via smart updates.

As far as a potential end-of-console-life-cycle feature list goes, this is about as good as it gets.