NBA 2K21 next-gen impressions: Coming off the bench

NBA 2K21 was one of the handful of games that had a full next-gen enhancement ready to go on launch day. Adding revamped graphics, as well as several notable new features, NBA 2K21 actually seemed like a significant upgrade from its last-gen counterpart. The game even has a new cover, with Zion Williamson taking up the mantle for next-gen. However, upgrades were not free unless players purchased the $100 Mamba Edition. If not, they’d need to buy the game in full for $70. After spending a considerable amount of time with NBA 2K21 on next-gen it’s hard to say that what’s here really warrants the asking price.

As with nearly every game on the next-gen consoles, NBA 2K21 loads extremely quickly. Fans of the series have grown accustomed to picking up their phone and scrolling through social media when loading into games or swapping modes, so the quicker speeds are a nice treat. While playing on the Xbox Series X, I never had to wait longer than a few seconds to get into a game. Navigating through the MyCareer menu, hitting continue, and immediately being put on the court felt like magic.

Overall, the load speeds of the next-gen consoles make 2K21 a better experience. Hardcore players are used to marathoning games, and these snappy load times make everything simpler. Even loading into the game’s online modes, which have been notoriously slow in the past.

NBA 2K21’s graphics get a facelift in its next-gen version. Already regarded for its high-level recreation of the NBA’s biggest stars, there is a noticeable step up in quality. The lighting is better, and the faces look much more lifelike. Some of the characters in cutscenes still look a little rough, but the players themselves look better than ever.

As far as mechanics, 2K21 doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its next-gen version. However, the developers used this opportunity to add some more unique animations to the game. This includes some new animations for alley-oops, which are incredibly satisfying to pull off. I also felt like dribbling and ball movement were just smoother overall when playing on Xbox Series X.

One of the more welcome changes in next-gen 2K21 is the addition of the G League. Now, when coming out of high school, players can choose to take the traditional route to the NBA and go to college, or enter the G League. While college will provide the players with more exposure and fans, the G League will help them hone their skills faster, with increased progression on badges and abilities.

2K21 also fixes one of the frustrating issues I brought up in my review, as players can now change the camera angle in high school, college, and the G League. Despite some solid changes and additions, MyCareer still feels incredibly grindy. VC is hard to come by unless you dump a part-time job’s worth of hours into the game, or crack open your wallet. Players can now hop into The W, a mode that lets them create their own WNBA superstar. It's an awesome piece of representation to an often ignored basketball league, though the mode isn't nearly as fleshed out as 2K21's other core modes.

The City is a brand new edition in NBA 2K21 on next-gen. Composed of a bunch of smaller parks and areas, The City is practically a massive version of The Neighborhood. There’s more courts, which is nice, but the pros stop there. You still have to buy a ball for 25k VC just to play with friends on a private court, and the servers are still really shoddy.

NBA 2K21 on next-gen sees a lot of improvements to the basketball sim, but ironically only improves the areas of the game that were already really good. Looking at our review of the original release of NBA 2K21, nearly all of my cons are still present. MyCareer’s story remains shallow, the online servers are still aggressively mediocre, and microtransactions are still intrusive. When you add the fact that 2K didn’t offer free upgrades for existing owners, forcing them to either buy the $100 version or purchase it independently for $70, it’s hard to say that NBA 2K21 on next-gen is the much-needed redemption for a continuously disappointing franchise.