Thirty minutes into MyCareer, the single-player story mode of NBA 2K18, I was bored. Not because the on-court action wasn’t exciting – 2K’s NBA series has always been excellent in that department – but rather due to the deeply flawed storyline I had been thrust into, the pushy micro-transactions plague that is threatening to become all too common among big, expensive titles, and a faux open-world that has the feeling of being a ghost town invaded by baller dudes.
Though it refrains from repeating the mistakes of NBA 2K16 (which pushed players into a narrow experience to accommodate the writing and direction of Spike Lee), NBA 2K18 has a laughable and utterly unconvincing narrative of its own. You play as DJ, a former college basketball star who ditched the opportunity to go pro for a career in music, only to regain interest and pursue the sport again.
It’s already clear from that description that DJ is entitled and unpleasant, and the game only contributes to that feeling as it goes on. From your first minutes at the Proving Ground, an amateur street-ball event that NBA scouts frequent, DJ behaves like he’s the best player in the world, despite having not played in a while.
After a few performances, mediocre or extraordinary, NBA 2K18 lets you coast into the big leagues with a contract from your favourite team, which you’d already selected at the beginning of MyCareer. It’s ludicrous to think that you could simply walk into any NBA team, especially when you’ve spent the past few years DJ-ing instead of grinding it out on the court.
For what it’s worth, the game doesn’t directly put you into the starting five, which makes sense given you start as a 60-rated player among better than 80-rated superstars. But there’s a way to get around that this year, by simply throwing more money at the game. Unlike previous iterations, NBA 2K18 has a virtual currency of its own – Virtual Coins, labelled VC in-game – which are needed for almost everything.
To encourage spending, 2K has overhauled the front-end of MyCareer to include a faux open-world that consists of two main-streets and alley-ways, with a few shops for all kinds of player customisation, and street-courts for multiplayer play. It’s also how you can access your place (including MyCourt), the team’s training area, and the neighbourhood gym. 2K has also seen fit to make other players from around the world appear in your world too, but you can’t interact with any of them.
Do you want to upgrade your player’s abilities? Use VC. Do you want to get a new haircut? Run down to the barber shop, and spend some VC. Do you want to get new shoes at Foot Locker (brand placement, obviously) or new clothes at the NBA store? That’ll cost you more VC. Until last year, player upgrades were only based on points you earned in-game, and all haircuts were part of player customisation. Now, you get only 4-5 ‘free’ options. Haircuts, shirts, and initial upgrades all start at 100 VC, and the price goes up quickly, so you’re going to need a lot of VC.
You can earn VC for playing well, practising and going to the gym, but all your efforts will combine to give you a maximum of 5,000 per game. And that’s if you’re really good, which is tough since your player is a rookie in the beginning. Or you can simply buy VC with real money – starting at $1.99 (about Rs. 130) for 5,000 VC, going all the way up to $99.99 (about Rs. 6,490) for 450,000 VC – on top of having spent a minimum of Rs. 2,499/ $60 on NBA 2K18 in the first place. Essentially, you’re looking at a long grind if you’re not willing to pay. This is a bit odd given that 2K doesn’t allow this on its other big sport title, WWE 2K18, though we should probably not be giving them any ideas.