Next-gen hoops have arrived, and while most issues have been addressed, grinding for levels and other glitches take their place, making it a good, but not perfect game. NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is built on the bones of the title released back in September 2020. That version got some things right, such as introducing seasonal play to MyTeam with daily and time-based goals to the overall goal of creating your favorite fantasy squad. Fortunately, the work you've done in the current gen version has carried over to this version, so you haven't lost any ground. That progress doesn't carry over to MyCareer, but for good reason. Instead of an outdated character with pre-made restrictions, you now get to create an athlete that plays the way you want from a sliding scale of potential stats. That means that if you choose to skimp on your points at the free throw line in favor of being a low post player, don't be mad when the opposing team goes all "Hack-A-Shaq" on your character and watches you flail at the charity stripe. This gives a much wider range of customization, especially when paired together with primary and secondary takeover skills that fit your play style, like having limitless range and boosting your teammates' skill meters as well. While there should've been more choice and character interaction within the story, at least Next Gen gives players the option to skip college and enter the G League directly, giving you a taste of the minor league pro life. For vets of MyCareer from previous years, you'll see some familiar faces on your squad, which is a nice narrative touch.
Technically, NBA 2K21 Next-Gen is amazing. Games load in seconds, and the visuals look phenomenal. The PS5's haptic feedback provides a nice touch to detecting exhaustion or how much effort you're putting out during a game (The Xbox controller responds similarly, but without the same intensity to its vibration.) For the most part, players look great – stars look very lifelike and close to their real-world counterparts, while some coaches and bench riding players aren't as impressive. Shooting issues have been refined, so you can actually be somewhat successful, assuming that you've put in practice to get your timing down. But the game still has some gaps. The WNBA career mode feels half baked. There's no real story here, simply giving players a text based option to promote things like the league or themselves, with results playing out in social media posts. Another issue is that you're automatically in the starting lineup of the team you choose instead of proving why you deserve playing time, which just feels unrealistic. Also, while the City is a gigantic leap forward with playable areas, hidden quests, and new courts thanks to the return of team affiliations, the space just seems empty. There are lots of storefronts and buildings that can't be interacted with, and the number of people in the City at any time feels limited compared to its size. Perhaps this is tied to the level grinding that you have to do to gain access to this area, which is problematic. Having this feature gated when players have been used to exploring, buying gear, and training their characters in The Neighborhood in older games just feels unbalanced. This is intensified by the technical hitches, lag, and disconnections during games that often pop up in online matches in Next Gen, proving that while NBA 2K21 looks incredible, some older issues are still lingering on the court in this vastly improved game.