NBA 2K21 (Xbox One) Review

By Greg Giddens 24.09.2020

Review for NBA 2K21 on Xbox One

The NBA 2K franchise has been a huge success for publisher 2K and has dominated the basketball video game market for a while. At this point, they have basically no competition. However, it is a series that has struggled to evolve in recent years, and one that has run into its fair share of controversy. NBA 2K21 continues down this road, lacking value and innovation where it counts; undoubtedly still delivering excellent mechanics on the court but within an otherwise lacklustre package.

MyCareer is still the standout mode for single player in this title, allowing to create a basketball player and lead them through their career with the goal of developing a legend. This year's title follows the story of Junior, who is looking to forge his own path from beneath the shadow of his late father, a much beloved basketball player. The story begins in high school and follows Junior's progress through college and eventually the NBA, and it attempts to create drama during these formative years. However, poor and clichéd writing fails to deliver surprises and only barely keeps things moving. It very much feels like a daytime soap opera, lacking in every aspect and devoid of originality.

The poor story even hurts this title's biggest success: the action on the court. While the story is tiring, NBA 2K21 is mechanically still excellent. Moving around the court, dribbling, dodging, tackling, blocking and shooting, all feels exceptionally tight and responsive, and the player animations continue to sell the authenticity by truly making it look like the real thing. It is a brilliant control scheme and set of physics, AI and animations that really brings the game to life, with each player feeling completely different to control thanks to their stats truly being reflected in how well they play. However, during high school and college players are stuck with a fixed camera that can absolutely ruin the experience.

Screenshot for NBA 2K21 on Xbox One

Beyond that, the option MyCareer sets Junior up with draft stock that increases and decreases based on performance. This system seems like an excellent way to add consequence and tension to games. Although, when it comes down to the draft and being asked which team Junior might want to play for, the chosen team magically appears to pick him.

This title has made one tweak to the controls, namely changing the shot meter. This time a targeting system is employed, where players look to hit the centre point to achieve the ideal shot. This change will give veteran players a moment's pause as they adjust, but it soon reveals itself to be an intuitive and user-friendly system, albeit one that does not really feel like it needed changing to begin with.

Screenshot for NBA 2K21 on Xbox One

Once again, NBA 2K21 features the premium virtual currency, VC. This is earned through playing games, completing goals in MyCareer, or by purchasing it with real-world money. Unfortunately, as seen in previous titles, this VC is heavily relied on for expanding the experience. It is used for upgrading the player, as well as purchasing new animations and clothing, which makes it the only way to grow and customise the player. Indeed, that is the issue: it is a necessity. MyCareer requires VC to upgrade Junior, meaning either paying out additional real-world money or grinding for hours across dozens of games. It is a chore.

The VC problem has plagued previous titles in the series and shows no change here. The amount of VC received for in-game actions is very low and unfair, it strongly encourages the purchase of VC with real-world money. Additionally, with VC required for player upgrades and not just cosmetics, this makes the virtual currency feel highly predatory.

Screenshot for NBA 2K21 on Xbox One

Outside of MyCareer are plenty of other modes to enjoy. Play Now has been expanded with new teams on the roster and allows for exhibition matches to be played. Meanwhile, MyTeam allows for collecting cards and building a team from them, including legendary players from across NBA history. These teams can then be taken online to truly test their mettle. Finally, MyLeague and MyGM provide the same kind of NBA management experience as last year's entry, although the WNBA is better represented in this year's title and the addition of an activity log helps with viewing transactions and moves.

An additional feature is a new beach-themed neighbourhood where interactions with other online player-created basketball players can take place and competitions in quick park games are available. However, much like in previous games in the series, the online connection here is sketchy at best. It is also possible to purchase cosmetic items in stores in the neighbourhood, certainly a neat way of purchasing new clothing but not as accessible as simply using a menu.

Screenshot for NBA 2K21 on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


NBA 2K21 is still a wonderful digital simulation of basketball, with a wealth of modes to enjoy, but the MyCareer story has become stale and the microtransactions far too prevalent. This is not the step forwards that it needed to be to keep the series fresh and engaging. In other words, this title does not provide a compelling argument to upgrade from last year's version.


Visual Concepts







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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