NBA 2K19 has the best career mode ever … except for one thing

Image credit: 2K (via YouTube)
Image credit: 2K (via YouTube) /

This year’s MyCareer mode is the best one of its kind in any sports game ever for the first few hours, but it stalls out later on.

Except for maybe wine at an Italian restaurant, as Billy Joel once famously reminded us, nothing is as much a matter of personal taste in sports games as the narrative-based career mode. Some gamers love them, others can’t be bothered, but there’s clearly an audience for them as devs keep putting time into making them more elaborate. It’s with that in mind that its possible to say that the MyCareer mode in NBA 2K19 is the best of its type ever to be seen in any sports game, right up until the moment that it stops being that good.

Disclosure: was provided with a free copy of NBA 2K19 20th Anniversary Edition for the purposes of this review.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Yes, MyCareer is thirsty for microtransactions. The much debated, sometimes despised Virtual Currency is back, and once again, it plays a prime role in the life of your MyCareer created player. There’s no getting around that, though there are more ways to earn VC than ever before. In fact, if you also play MyTeam mode (this game’s equivalent to the ubiquitous EA Sports Ultimate Team variations), you’ll find that they complement each other very well in terms of productive grinding. Still, playing enough to progress in MyCareer and MyTeam would require a lot of time if you choose not to buy any VC, so it almost feels like one of those old time movies where a bank robber says, “Your money or your life.”

If you choose to grind, you’ll discover that mentality is baked into “The Road Back” theme of this year’s MyCareer story. You play as A.I. (even though that nickname was already taken at the NBA level, ahem), a college star who unwisely leaves school too early, a fact reinforced by agonizing draft night flashbacks. Your dream put on hold, the only choices are to give up or to do whatever it takes to try to figure out a path to the Association.

You likely already know from commercials and general reviews that said path includes stops in both China and the G-League. Along the way, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting sucked into A.I.’s journey thanks to details both small (the Mandarin announce team in China) and large (a stellar voice cast that includes the likes of Anthony Mackie and Michael Rapaport). The story is kind of like someone threw all the cliches from your favorite sports movies into a blender and turned that sucker up to full power, but it’s all the more glorious for the way it leans into its melodrama. And even playing within a bunch of character stereotypes, there are just enough twists you won’t see coming.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that you do eventually make it to the NBA, which is where the bulk of your MyCareer time will be spent. NBA 2K19 brings back the Neighborhood as a hub for all the things you could be doing with your created player when not slogging through the NBA schedule, though it feels slightly less emphasized this time around. If you’re in it for the multiplayer, there are more ways than ever to scratch that itch there.

There are also some fun flourishes that carry over to your pro playing days, as references to a notable incident from your China experience are incorporated into the commentary. Overall, though, the story kind of stops, leaving you to simply play games of whatever form you wish to play them. Since the on-court action is once again best in class, that’s not a bad thing, but if NBA 2K19 was a movie, we’d be saying it’s incredible but has a pacing problem.

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A blanket recommendation of NBA 2K19 MyCareer mode is tricky because just like we discussed at the top, it’s only going to appeal to a certain subsection of the overall audience for the game. It’s incredibly entertaining and immersive, and ambitious in a way that other similar modes in other sports titles usually aren’t. At the very least, if you were going to buy this year’s game anyway, it’s worth trying just to see if you want to devote yourself to it for the long haul.