Each new iteration of the NBA 2K franchise comes with an array of expansive gameplay features that shake up the series more than fix core issues. After a first look at NBA 2K23 gameplay, we have a feeling things might be different this time around. Thanks to a series of more targeted changes, such as adding attributes like shot timing and AI changes focused on game plans and decision-making, NBA 2K23 seems more concerned with leaning on a foundation than tackling outlandish new features.
There are a lot of exciting gameplay changes in NBA 2K23, but what really stands out for us are the new “signature jumpshot” attributes that capture the habits and styles of NBA players with fidelity. For years, “NBA scouts” have searched for players who can shoot with as little interference as possible. As we have learned through players like Luca Doncic, this can take shape in different ways. Shot Speed, Release Timing, Defensive Immunity, and Timing Impact are all attributes that have been added to the shooting mechanic. This means that all animations are different, and some may suit certain playstyles better than others. It should be a lot of fun to craft.
While there wasn’t much information about MyPLAYER mode during the gameplay preview, the devs noted that purchased animations are now account-bound rather than tied to specific save files. . This means that it is now possible to pick up animations from player to player. A small change, but a welcome one for those of us who are regularly disappointed by NBA 2K’s emphasis on monetization through microtransactions.
Another change pointed out by Visual Concepts, the developers of NBA 2K23, was the AI overhaul. Although we couldn’t test it for ourselves, Visual Concepts is adamant that the line between human and CPU players will become blurrier than ever. The AI now has the ability to adjust its gameplay based on what works and what doesn’t. There’s also a greater focus on leveraging player attributes and skills, with a new “first attack” priority system. More than in previous titles, the AI will take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Many of these changes will be most apparent depending on the difficulty players choose. Visual Concepts highlighted how accessible the reworked Rookie difficulty is and the noticeable contrast that exists between Rookie (the easiest difficulty setting) and Hall of Fame (the hardest setting) modes. In general, the focus is on the skill gap between someone playing for the first time and someone who has mastered the controls and systems available in NBA 2K23.
When it comes to controls, perhaps the biggest change coming to NBA 2K23 is the reworked “Pro Stick,” featuring new dunk and dribble gestures. For example, you can now hold down the sprint trigger and double tap the right stick to grab the hoop and grab onto it. I didn’t quite see how it works in action, but it seems quite simple and satisfying to use. These new controls also change how in-line contact works, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo having the ability to smash their way through traffic with additional layup packages. These moves are all initiated by an “adrenaline boost”, of which each offensive player has three per possession.
Defense got a lot of work last year so the focus on offense made sense for NBA 2K23.
Visual Concepts wasn’t totally clear on how this will look in action. We’re concerned that every player seems to have exactly three boosts, especially when there are notable examples throughout the NBA of players who seemingly never run out of energy. Conversely, there are plenty of examples of players who can string together a powerful flurry, but typically miss the action on the next possession or two. Overall, it should be a positive change that players can no longer sporadically dribble around the pitch until they find an opening.
There have been several changes to the shot meter that we’re also excited about, the first being that you can now customize your shot meter. For years I’ve complained about the constantly changing look of the shot meter – a change that always felt unnecessary and often a step backwards from a previous iteration. However, unfortunately, there will only be five shot counters available at launch and an additional 15 across seasons, the NBA 2K version of a battle pass. The green animation that follows a successful use of the shot meter no longer displays until the bullet has landed in the hoop. This should only serve to heighten the tension and drama that accompanies each shot.
Defense got a lot of attention last year, so the focus on offense for NBA 2K23 makes sense. One change that particularly impresses me is the new shadow mechanic that divides each defender on the ball into three zones: left shadow, right shadow, and center shadow. If a player attacks the shaded defensive position, they will quickly be blocked. It seems like a simple change, but I think it adds a lot of strategy and complexity to every defensive situation. If I notice my opponent constantly going to their left, I should be able to shadow them in a way that either forces them to run into my wall or change tactics. It’s that kind of cat-and-mouse gameplay that’s always been so good in the NBA 2K franchise, and we really hope it builds on that.
Another concern that appears to have been addressed is the blocking system which has been revamped to behave more realistically, so 2016 LeBron-style chasedown blocks by smaller players will be much less common. The development team also discussed how stray balls and contested possessions known as 50/50 balls have been readjusted so that player involvement is maximized on these phases of play. which we’ll have to see to believe since it’s a decade-long issue that has plagued the franchise. So if it’s truly resolved, it’s another step toward cleaning up the systemic issues that have plagued the franchise for so long.
While we were impressed with the attention to detail in the gameplay preview, we do have a number of concerns with NBA 2K23 as a whole. There’s little to no evidence that the intense focus on microtransactions has gone anywhere, although it seems the gameplay team is aware of the frustration of not saving progress when creating a new one. MyPLAYER. And while Visual Concepts has promised significant changes to AI, we won’t be able to truly comment on those changes until we get our hands on the final proposal.
Besides, this preview is a promising start. The focus is on the details, especially in areas that the NBA 2K community asks for year after year. The changes all seem to exist with one singular idea in mind: to make NBA 2K23 a more polished experience than its predecessors. For now, we’re really looking forward to getting our hands on the final game and making up our own minds.