NBA Live 19 marks the second yearly release for the series following a hiatus in 2016, and this year’s Live seems even more assured of its own identity than last year’s. Whether it’s an identity that basketball fans actually enjoy is a separate question entirely, but it’s hard to deny that NBA Live 19 is a complete, unique basketball game, even if it doesn’t get as much attention and resources as its fellow EA Sports games.
The biggest overhaul to this year’s Live comes in the form of The One. Last year’s The One provided a stark contrast to NBA 2K’s MyCareer mode by making players actually work to raise their created character’s attributes and skills, and NBA Live 19 continues that trend. This year’s The One once again divides the main “career” mode into The League and The Streets, with The Streets seeing the biggest leap forward in terms of content.
Live 19’s The Streets World Tour takes you, well, on a world tour, sampling iconic outdoor courts from around the world like Quai 54 in Paris, France and Parque do Rio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as hitting popular American courts like Dyckman Park in NYC. On each court, you’ll play three tournament games, a bonus game with a unique rule change, and a “Throwback” game against a legendary NBA player or WNBA player from that region. The change of scenery for each court does a good job of giving each particular tournament a different vibe, cutting down on some of the monotony of the actual tourney structure. Each tournament has 15 sub-objectives to complete, and doing so will unlock a unique reward, giving a nice incentive to replay games.
The best part about Live 19’s The Streets is that you aren’t just leveling up your own character but also building your own personal basketball squad. You’ll recruit at least one new player from each Streets tournament you play in, which lets you develop and organize a specialized roster around your created player. This gives you more control over how your team performs and helps lift up your created character, and it plays into Live 19’s new mode, Court Battles, an asymmetrical multiplayer mode similar to Metal Gear Solid V’s F.O.B.s or Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s Social Conquest mode. In Court Battles, you’ll play against other players’ recruited rosters to take control of their courts while leaving your own team at home to defend against other players. As you progress through the mode, you’ll unlock new strategies for your defenders and nerfs against attackers that will help your AI-controlled defenders keep control of your own court. It’s a surprisingly deep mode that adds some significance to the act of recruiting new players from The Streets and a welcome addition to the overall package of The One.
The disparity between this year’s The Streets and The League is also a welcome addition. Last year, it was possible to simply jump straight into The League, and while you can do that again in Live 19, you’ll have a much tougher time. The overall meta-narrative of earning your cred (i.e. actual player attributes) on The Streets before entering The League is more pronounced, since your overall competition is much better than you starting out. Eventually, when I participated in the NBA Combine match, I got Jumbo Dirtbag drafted number 1 by the Suns, but that was after putting some work in on The Streets. Having time spent pay off like that was deeply rewarding. You’ll usually level up one attribute after every match, until you get to the 80s and it takes two skill points to unlock a skill’s next level, but raising my character’s attributes never felt like a grind. The constant rewards kept me going.
The other modes seems largely untouched. Franchise is pretty much exactly the same as last year, though with all of the work put into The One, it’s hard to blame the developers for maybe skimping there. As far as Live Ultimate Team, I didn’t even get to try it. When I tried to load up my first matches, it told me two of the players on my team were incompatible, so I had to dump them. Unfortunately, that left me with 10 players, and a full 12-man team roster is required to play Ultimate Team challenges, so unless I paid for more players, I was pretty much out of luck. I honestly don’t know if what happened was my own fault or a weird bug with the game, but getting locked out of an entire mode unless I paid to get in was frustrating to say the least. Thankfully, The One more than made up for it, and not having to pay to upgrade my character as you do in the other NBA game is more important to me than playing some dumb card-based pay-to-win mode. EA’s overall Ultimate Team strategy might be as greedy as 2K’s Virtual Currency, but at least Live 19 offers a compelling, fun, and rewarding single-player mode without charging an extra dime for it.
As far as the core gameplay is concerned, this is where players will either love or hate NBA Live 19 based entirely on personal preference. Like the other EA Sports games coming out this year, Live 19 introduces “Real Player Motion.” In practical terms, this means that players have a little more momentum and heft than last year, which felt snappy and weightless by comparison. This might sound similar to changes made in NBA 2K19, but Real Player Motion doesn’t really have the same effect of creating a more defensive and strategic basketball game in Live 19. In fact, the disparity between the simulation style of NBA 2K19 and NBA Live 19’s more arcade-y playstyle seems even more obvious. Personally, while I respect NBA 2K19’s more strategic approach, I enjoy Live 19’s more over-the-top action. Playing as a big man in both games, it was much more fun to push off my defender and break for the rim in Live 19than it was to constantly post up in 2K19.
That’s not to say the gameplay is perfect. It’s still a little too easy to drive to the rim in Live 19, and passing is still a little too forgiving. You can be a little more careless in Live 19 and get away with it, but so can your opponents, meaning some matches will devolve into seeing who can get the most layups in traffic the fastest. Likewise, friendly AI will too often drop their coverage and bunch up. Playcalling isn’t super useful or intuitive in Live 19, but you’ll still feel more empowered on an individual level. Like I said, I enjoy NBA Live 19’s more casual approach to basketball games, but it won’t be for everyone, and it could still use some work to boot.
Overall presentation could also use a lot of attention. I don’t know if the developers just don’t have the resources, but Live 19’s play-by-play and color commentary seems stuck in the past. Whereas 2K19’s play-by-play flows naturally, more accurately reflecting a TV broadcast, it feels like EA Tiburon spent all of a half-hour recording every line you’ll hear in Live 19. Color commentary doesn’t even seem specific to any players or teams, with the announcer just throwing out general platitudes most of the time. Compared to other sports games, it’s laughably bad, and gives off the impression that NBA Live 19 is a budget-bin sports title, despite the fact that it’s partnered with ESPN.
I don’t know what EA’s plans for NBA Live as a whole are, especially considering it’s consistently beaten out in the sales charts by the 2K franchise, but I hope they keep it going. NBA Live 19 cuts out most of the microtransactions and trades them in for a compelling, extensive The One mode and gameplay that feels better and more distinct than ever. Once again, it might not have all the bells and whistles of the competition, but the fact that it can make EA look like the lesser of two evils when it comes to microtransactions and pay-to-win practices is a testament to its quality and value.
NBA Live 19 fully expands on its The One mode while adding a little more weight and momentum to its actual gameplay. While its in-game presentation and distinct style of gameplay might turn off players looking for a strict basketball sim, NBA Live 19 consistently rewards players for actually playing without trying to gouge them for more money.
E – Everyone
|NBA Live 19 is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.