There's a new coat of paint on this year's installment of basketball, but it misses more shots than it makes. By far, the largest change to NBA 2K21 is to the MyTeam mode, where players pit their fantasy team against a wide variety of challenges. Including seasonal goals adds a larger incentive to return every single day and gain experience with your squads, and adding Limited events on weekends gives you a payoff for the weekly grind that you'll put into enhancing your players, outfitting them with badges, shoes, and better teammates. The same can be said for the Exchange, which lets you trade away the low-ranking players riding the bench for quality athletes you want or need in your starting lineup. It's also great that you have the option to choose the evolution of your players, tailoring their stats to fit your play style. There's still a push for buying players -- in fact, unless you're incredibly lucky when opening packs, or you got the more expensive version of the game with bonus VC (credits), or you sink dozens of hours on the court, you'll have to pay cash to get the players for certain challenges or even to enter the Limited events. The amount of depth here, and the fact that your progress will carry over to next-gen systems, is a huge selling point.
By contrast, the MyCareer mode is a shadow of itself in former years. The few choices that pop up during the prologue never feel like they have weight or a major impact in the tale. Virtually all cutscenes are eliminated as soon as the prologue is over. What's worse, your athlete is wildly outmatched compared to his rival, who's clearly a better athlete and overshadows you much more than your dad ever did. But even that rivalry is tossed aside, making any drama here disappointing. A lot of technical glitches and network disconnect issues have carried over from last year's title. But perhaps the biggest (and most controversial) issue with NBA 2K21, which affects all game modes, is the redesign of the shot meter, which takes aim at the basket, player skill, shot coverage, and other factors into consideration to determine the success of your shot. There's a positive element here, because it forces you to learn the hot and cold zones for a shooter, and makes you spend a lot of time on the court to get comfortable with this meter. But even with practice, there are still way too many air balls or misses that happen, regardless of difficulty level, and the aiming mechanic is so wildly insensitive that it's better turned off than left on -- the slightest stick adjustment will send the ball veering from the rim, even if you're wide open with an accurate shooter. Plus, the shot meter is so small that it can be hard to tell what the difference is between a release that's slightly early or slightly late. The end result is that scoring becomes a bit more dependent on luck rather than skill. There's already been a fix released for shooting, but hopefully it can be further patched and fixed, because right now, NBA 2K21 could use more time in the gym.