My Adventures As A Different Kind Of RPG Wizard

My Adventures As A Different Kind Of RPG Wizard
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing a very different kind of RPG. There aren’t any Paladins, or orcs, or castles, or magic, or even potions. There are just ten sweaty men doing battle in an arena. It’s one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

The game I’m talking about is NBA2K15, which you may argue is not an RPG. And if all you’re going to do is play against other people, or shoot around with an existing team, it’s not! It’s a sports game, and a pretty good one at that.

But if you fire up the game’s MyCareer mode, it’s no longer just a sports game. It’s role-playing in the very strictest sense of the term, only instead of unleashing special attacks, you’re dunking on people. This is exactly what I want from an RPG these days.

I got playing NBA2K15 so late in the season (it was released back in October) for two reasons: one, I’ve been getting back into watching the NBA after a decade or so away from the league, and two, I’d been told by someone I trust that it basically answered the prayers I was throwing up in this post from 2014.

They were right.

My problem with so many RPGs these days is that I’m suffering from “universe fatigue.” For a genre that’s supposed to let you assume the role of anyone, anywhere, the fact RPGs generally limit you to a European Fantasy world, deep space, or a dystopian future bums me out. I know, there are differences to be had within those contexts (Dragon Age is not Skyrim), but when placed alongside the entire spectrum of human achievement, history and imagination, it’s still a depressingly limited selection of worlds to inhabit.

It’s why I like the Yakuza series. Why I’m looking forward to Kingdom Come. These games offer a different kind of RPG experience, one where I’m not going to be running into goblins in every forest, a world where I can heal myself with Japanese soda instead of magic potions.

It’s the same deal with NBA2K15’s MyCareer mode, in which you assume the role of a single NBA player and guide him through an entire career, from fighting through training camp to earning a spot in the starting lineup to, all things going to plan, becoming one of the all-time greats.

You do all the requisite RPG things: you pick a name, you agonise over building a face, choose a position (i.e. class), a team (i.e. faction) and then go into combat. The more you play (i.e. fight), and the more you win (i.e. complete quests), the more gold you’ll earn (NBA2K15 actually gives you gold coins) which you can then use to improve your statistics.

Other sports games do something similar, from Madden to FIFA, but they’re always lacking a human touch. Your progress through their versions of MyCareer are dry, abstract affairs, lacking in any real sense of progression or communication from the game as to what you’re doing right (or wrong).

What makes NBA2K15‘s take so endearing is that it goes all in on the presentation. Really, it’s 110%. You’re not just playing as a random scrub player, you’re taking on the role of a character, one whose chosen nickname is shouted by commentators, and who more importantly appears in endless cutscenes, some of which are just there to increase the immersion, others which feature BioWare-style dialogue options that can affect your relationship with teammates and your bosses.

Here, let me show you what I’m talking about.

Here’s my guy. World, meet DeMarcus Covington, a name that means “I literally combined the names of two existing NBA players so the commentator would say my name” in Australian.

This being an RPG, I made him a Wizard. With a beard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This RPG has an intro, which sets the scene: you are an arsehole basketball player with an even bigger arsehole of an agent. Draft day has come and gone and you didn’t get picked. Your agent promises to get you a trial with a team, and so it’s off to training camp in an attempt to get noticed.

You get noticed. Even playing terribly, I got noticed. I’d like to think it was because of my skills, but it may have just been my fabulous hair.

So it’s off to the NBA! Or, the NBA’s bench, since as an undrafted rookie you’re only playing around 6 minutes a game. Enough time to screw up a few passes, not enough time to make amends and actually do anything useful. This is NBA2K15‘s “kill rats in the sewer” phase.

Tolerate the grind, however, and soon enough you’ll have earned a contract from another of the game’s arseholes, your team’s General Manager. With a guaranteed season in the NBA ahead of you, and a range of new options and features at your disposal, this is the game’s “leave the opening city and head into the wilderness for the first time” phase.

This screen greets you at the end of every game. It’s NBA2K15’s “party status” menu, keeping you up to date on your progress, only it also has a fake Twitter feed.

If you thought the fact the NBA has uniforms means you can’t customise your character, nope. You can customise your character and then some. Look at that zebra shirt!

Keep playing well and winning and soon enough your agent introduces you to other NBA players. This is DeMarcus meeting Australia’s own Dante Exum, and within five seconds all three men are being arseholes to each other. People being arseholes is a running theme in NBA2k15.

This is me/DeMarcus after being promoted to the Wizards’ starting lineup. I’m suspecting the game is secretly levelling up my slouch as I improve my shooting and passing.

A promotion to the starting lineup is not without its perks. This lady, for instance, wants to know what music I’d like played when I run into the court. A Tribe Called Quest will do nicely, thank you.

As a growing star in the NBA, I’m now also attending press releases. And, based on this pose, I am attending as a human vessel to The Great Architect, who speaks through me to His human dominion.

Here is a gameplay screen, since all I’ve been showing you so far are cutscenes and menus. Just to remind you that there’s stuff to play here, not just watch.

Soon enough, your stats are buffed enough and you’re familiar enough with the controls that you’re winning “Player of the Game” awards. In which you’re treated to a sweet cinematic highlight reel of your most badass moves from the game. This is the “slow-mo Fallout headshot” ego-boosting part of the game.

Note my new haircut. I didn’t have to pay for this, or re-roll anything. I could change it in the middle of the game for free, which was nice.

You might scoff that, because it’s a sports game so long as you’re on the court, not an RPG. That’s crap! Skyrim is an RPG, and Final Fantasy is an RPG, and their “action” sequences couldn’t be more different. What you do in a role-playing game doesn’t define it, RPGs are about building, assuming a role and controlling a character’s destiny.

Yes, I like basketball, so I’ve found actually playing the basketball parts of this game enjoyable. I’d imagine that, conversely, for a lot of people that would be a problem. But I think if you like RPGs, and would like to try something other than swinging a sword, this game is worth a loo.k (Note that gameplay can be simplified and toned down to the point where even newcomers are running around like Hall of Famers within a few minutes!)

There’s enough dialogue, customisation, feedback, and “story” here to make this an RPG worth sinking some time into.Though sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, these Wizards don’t seem very magical…


  • I’ve always been a big fan of the nba2k career mode, every year I probably put 50-100 hours in to the game. My biggest problem though is I end up make 10 different players because I want to play every position and every style. You should try and get traded/sign with the hornets though just for Al Jefferson’s amazing vocal work in the cut scenes.

    • Ha Ha yeah, there is some terrible voice work going on in a lot of the teams.

      I also suffer from the… must make a player for every position and play for every team syndrome. I usually have 1 or 2 mains and then just a bucket load of others to goof around with.

      • Dion Waiters has some good voice work too, I’m convinced they had a bowl of gobstoppers on the table and he did the recordings in the middle of a contest to see who could fit the most in their mouth.

  • Ohhhhh the hours I have lost to 2k my player.

    People can bash yearly released sports games all they want, but 2k is a must buy for me each year and have yet to be let down !!!!

    Disclaimer, I play and watch a lot of Basketball, other peoples mileage may vary !!!

  • So is 2K15’s myCareer Mode better than 2K14’s myCareer mode? Because by the end of the 2nd year of myCareer 2K14 Blake Griffin was basically benched as I was hitting 36’s with 14 Assists and 12 Rebounds a game

    • You’ll still be better than stars in a season or two unless you up the difficulty. That’s another of my gripes, by play offs time in my rookie season I’m scoring 50 point games at will and the higher difficulties tend to gimp you by making your team mates bad or having the opposition cheese rather than making the game harder. This years was a bit better for that though. Overall though (server issues aside) I thought this years career mode was much better than previous years, 2k14 on next gen was easily the worst 2k I’ve ever played and was worse than the pc/360 version.

  • Great article, but now it has triggered my Agent Orange rage about this game and basketball in general (I’m a recovering baller with deep-seeded, power forward under appreciatedness (not a real word) and lower extremity joint hurtiness (also not a real word)).

    – The thing you’ll find yourself pretty much all the time in the early parts of the game (if not the whole game)—”Give me the f*$king rock!”
    – While it’s good to hear Dante’s Aussie accent adding flavour to all the Americanese, the boy needs to put some more emotion into his performance.
    – While you do have conversation options in the between game scenes, this isn’t Mass Effect. It’s a very binary “gee shucks, I’ll try harder next time” or “step off, dawg, before I get all Gilbert Arenas up in here and pull my 9!”
    – “Just give me the f&*king rock!!!”
    – For anyone who wants to know the way to grind in a basketball game where your skills or the game won’t let you be that good, set screens. Yep, all you have to do is stand still in the right place and you will get a little bit of pay off. Aside from that, move the ball, rebound and make other people score so you don’t get blamed for the misses. Okay, this game just turned into a sim because it’s so true to life.
    – When you make a super-awesome cut to the basket and you’re wide open and call for the ball, and then you get the little pop-up that says ‘Call for pass ignored’, try not to throw your controller out the window. Instead, tweet the real life NBA player whose avatar didn’t pass you the ball and call them a blackhole (it’s astronomical, not racial).
    – “For the love of God, give me the rock or I will dance with you in a 7-sided circle of fire!!!”
    – I don’t know if it’s by design or just coincidental game design, but just like real life, all of a sudden the computer will switch your defensive coverage from the guy 1m away from you to the guy in the opposite corner who is magically open and then knocks down a 3. You weren’t needing that XP anyway.
    – Yes, like MMOs, there are clearly the rockstar and scrubber positions/classes. Volume-shooting SGs are big damage blasters/scrappers; pass first PGs are your buffers; and Shaq-like Cs are your titans/tanks. If want really challenging experience, play a poor FT shooting, defensive-minded, undersized PF. SFs are just cheat characters who do everything.
    – “Oh, you finally gave me the rock… 1 step before I cross the halfway line and now it’s a backcourt violation. F&*k you, 2k15, f&*k you very much.”

    TL;DR—ballin’ makes me feel good.

    • After afew games they pass whenever you call if you get the team chemistry up. Also you need to time screens now, there’s allot more offensict fouls called if you set an improper screen ir time it wrong

  • I got back into 2K14 and have only played MyCareer mode and nothing else. I didn’t get 2K15 because I thought it would just be more of the same and after 90+ games it was starting to get a bit stale especially because I was basically untouchable once I’d maxed my stats.
    Is 2K15 much different? Do you actually get to choose your team in 2K15?

    • Yeah, its pretty much the same as 2k14. I preferred the set up of 14 with the whole draft thing more than the 2k15 undrafted way. You can choose which teams to try out for right at the start (a selection of about 15 or so I think) with a certain grade needed for each team (eg shit teams = low grade C- etc, big/good teams = good grade A+ etc)

      to avoid the whole “I am a god thing” I just play on the highest difficulty right from the start. It is really painful to begin with and it hurts your stat line (you get a modifier for difficulty to offset that). Then when you are good enough to start really balling and owning the opposition I usually have a lot of opposition to get payback on (scoring 50+ on Kobe when he has been killing me previousely feels kinda good) and I am usually around season 2 or 3 and can start to sim from there until finals and just to get to hall of fame.

      Seems to be a bit more realistic if played on the harder difficulties, you better learn to run plays though or you will be a no show in the first few seasons !!

  • I’d be curious to know what kind of minutes people play. By that I mean – do you set the game for 12 min quarters or less? I set it for full 12 min quarters which means an entire season of 82 games, playing avg of 39 mins, (judging by stats not actual time), once I became the starter on my team – takes forever!! I am yet to retire to the Hall of Fame for a single 2K player I have created purely because of the need to get at least 3 seasons in to get enough out of 10 to get hall of fame status.
    I did retire someone the season after he got MVP – basically season 3, funny reaction.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!