Review: NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

Basketball Jones

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It’s like boom 

I put it in the hoop

Like slam 

I heard the crowd screaming out jam 

I swear that I’m telling you the facts

‘Cause that’s how I beat Shaq

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 review

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One [reviewed], Windows)
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: 2K
MSRP: $29.99 (plus $9.99 fee to unlock all players)
Release Date: October 15, 2018

After playing Playgrounds 2 for a few hours, my biggest question was “why does this exist?” I was trying to remember back to my time with the first game (which is no longer available for purchase) and deduce what was new in the sequel. Well, the microtransactions have definitely been ramped up, that’s unmistakable. So I went on the official website. I guess the draw here is the expanded roster (that is still missing Patrick Ewing) and…new stages? I eventually came across my answer:

This sequel exists to make money.

I was looking back at my review for the first game. I made it a big point, even bolded the line, to mention that there were no launch microtransactions in NBA Playgrounds. That could not be further from the truth here. We are now in two currency territory, though both can be earned in-game. Everything just screams “give us more money:” 2K is now prominently in the title, two versions of in-game currency, and the early-goings are a slog to entice players to spend an extra $10.

Earning players works the same way as the original, except now everything goes through an in-game currency. Players earn a currency that allows them to purchase card packs (like buying trading cards in real life) which contain a random array of players. Earning this felt a lot slower than the original game, though I will admit it has been a while. Unlocking players for a specific team becomes frustrating, which normally wouldn’t matter because it is possible to mix and match players when playing a game. Unless you’re playing Season Mode. 

Season Mode lets you play a 15 game NBA season (and potentially playoffs afterward) as any team. Players must select two players from that team, and if two players from that team are not unlocked yet, the game will gift two random (maybe?) players. Finishing a season unlocks an all-star from that team that cannot be earned through packs, even the “unlock everyone” micro-transaction. Well, I guess it’s a macro-transaction because it’s $10. The issue is that without a slew of players to pick from, this is just 15 exhibition games playing the same damn players each time. It’s absolutely boring, and often unfair as your characters are ass and each opponent is going to have a legend or someone else great.

So eventually I caved. I used the code the publisher provided and unlocked the full roster. If I had to pay ten dollars, after already paying thirty, I may have simply stopped playing Season Mode for a while. It is unfortunate, but I will say that the game felt infinitely better after owning all the characters. This is exactly what they want!

There are three rarities of player packs (gold, silver, and bronze), each has a higher chance of unlocking higher ranking players. Normally it would take about ten-ish games to unlock enough currency for a single gold pack if you are completing challenges for players and playing well. Each game has three minutes on the clock, so when you consider clock stoppage, choosing players, and loading in, we’ll say five minutes per game. So it will take about an hour to unlock a single pack of five player cards at best. In reality, it will likely take more than that.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 review

For all intents and purposes, this is a $40 game. That is double the price of the original game!  Playing to unlock everything without paying extra is absolutely not worth it. So let’s try and justify the price increase. The improvements made to the original post-launch are here, like the shot meter. I originally complained about the first Playgrounds because easy layups and open jump shots would miss; well now there’s a visual red bar with a green section to perfectly aim each shot. Except even nailing the green section does not guarantee success. It all depends on a player’s stats.

To an extent, this makes sense: having Shaq shoot a 3-pointer should always rarely result in success, even if I nail the green section. BUT! If literally, anyone goes in for an undefended dunk, I should have a 99% chance to score, not 68. My guy is literally all alone and soaring into the sky, only to come down and doink it off the rim. The same goes with missing the green section, which always results in a 0% chance of success. This feels way too punishing. There’s no gradient to the colors or percentage — if you miss by a pixel, you’re missing the shot and I hope your other player is a tall rebounder. 

Mechanically, the game is the same. Everything is dictated by a stamina bar, doing crazy stuff earns “lottery picks” which act as random bonuses to the team, and everything in general is over-the-top. At its core, it is still an enjoyable 2-on-2 basketball game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just that now that is surrounded by an absolute mess of a currency and unlock system. 

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 review

Oh! I haven’t even mentioned why there are two currencies yet. Well, obviously it’s to convolute and confuse, but also because there are now pieces of clothing that can only be unlocked using the gold currency. Gold currency can be bought with real money, but there is also a chance to earn a paltry amount via standard card packs. So yes, you could earn 5000 gold currency (the cost of unlocking the entire roster) by playing. But even if you earned 100 gold currency per pack (not likely), you’re looking at roughly 40-50 hours of playtime to do so. And by then, you will have unlocked approximately 150 – 200 players depending on your luck, so the overall value of unlocking everyone goes down. 

Damn, I got sidetracked again. Okay, so players are earned through packs using non-gold currency, and aesthetic items like pants, shirts, and costumes are earned through gold currency which can be occasionally earned from player packs (instead of a player, mind you) or bought with real money. The aesthetic items are literally just to play dress-up. I actually like this aspect on principal (it adds to the zaniness of the game), but the idea of enticing players to pay money for the chance to dress up Kristapz Porzingis like a pumpkin makes me cringe.

This is a game that does absolutely not need to exist but does for the sheer fact that the original game had no way of raking in the dough. I don’t expect this game to become a yearly title, because NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is now set up to appropriately gouge the players for money for years to come. Unless maybe that doesn’t work, in which case you can look forward to NBA 2K Playgrounds 3 brought to you by FanDuel to release in 11 months. 

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. I was also provided a code to unlock the full roster, but played without using it for a few hours to experience the game as-is.]

Below Average
Have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.

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Patrick Hancock
During the day, he teaches high school kids about history. At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike. Disclosure: I've personally backed Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Dead State, SPORTSFRIENDS, Torment: Tides of Numera, STRAFE, and The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. I have previously written for and continue to support them whenever possible (like HumbleBundle).