NBA 2K17 Review: This is the best franchise mode in sports video games
From expansion to the new rules and league meetings, this year's franchise mode is amazing
My favorite thing to do in any sports video game is build teams. Throw me a franchise mode in which I can shape a roster, trade for extra draft picks, and try to find the gems of each new class of youngsters coming into the league, and I'll be unavailable for hours and wondering where the day went in no time. When you end up with that drafted superstar anchoring your team, you feel like your Sam Hinkie ways of acquiring more draft picks were all worth it.
With the NBA 2K MyGM modes of the past, you've had a pretty robust franchise mode, but it has ultimately been quite repetitive. You get into a rhythm with going season to season, and once the familiar names have retired, it loses a bit of the luster. It's still a lot of fun building teams, going through free agency, and making multi-team trades to shake things up, but the repetition can leave you exiting out of the mode and firing it up with a new team because there isn't enough versatility going deep into the decades.
In NBA 2K17, 2K Sports has eliminated the monotony that can permeate into MyGM or any sports franchise mode. The league is ever-changing, the options seem endless, and no two trips through MyGM mode will be the same. The way they've accomplished this is by adding two very important elements to this mode. Let's go over those two additions in detail and then go over other things that have been upgraded or need improving moving forward:
(Note: There is also a MyLeague mode that is just like MyGM except you can control anywhere from 1-to-all NBA teams and veto decisions that happen. More on that in a bit.)
In the words of Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, "you know what is better than 30 NBA teams? Anywhere from 31-36 NBA teams." The process of overhauling the scheduling aspect of MyGM mode to allow the addition of anywhere between 1-6 teams while still having a balanced schedule, a lottery process that adjusts and doesn't skip a beat, and the proper coding in the playoffs is astonishing. But the 2K developers figured it out in order to bring about expansion to the Virtual NBA.
When you begin MyGM mode, you can either take over an existing NBA team and meet the goals and wishes of an owner tailored to the real life counterpart without using names and likeness or you can choose to create an expansion team to bring into the NBA. They have inserted 10 preset teams with name, city, uniforms, and court design already figured out for you so you can jump right into roster construction. Or building off the implementation of franchise relocation in 2K16, you can create all of the aesthetics yourself.
For me, the first time I jumped into MyGM mode I decided to save myself the time and just go with the preset team. The San Diego Surf were added to the Western Conference and the New Orleans Pelicans were shifted to the East. The league will realign as needed depending on which city you add to the association. That takes you right into a real life expansion draft like the NBA would hold if creating a new franchise to put in Seattle or St. Louis or Louisville or wherever.
In the expansion draft, every team protects eight players from their roster. You can only pick from the unprotected players and take one player from each team. Once a team has a player selected, their players are removed from the pool. This isn't much of an issue when just adding one team and controlling their expansion, but add multiple teams and that becomes a thin process.
For the Surf, Michael Beasley was the No. 1 pick of the expansion draft and then they swooped up Allen Crabbe and his new contract when Portland left him unprotected. The Surf went very young with their selection of players because they were under mandate from the owner to have an average expansion draft class of 25 years old.
Eventually, more goals from owners come to your attention. I was tasked with hiring a smart defensive coach and a smart offensive assistant coach within the next three years. I was supposed to keep the team profitable for three seasons at one point. After a couple of seasons of adding players in free agency and trading away two young prospects with three first-round picks in order to pry away the No.1 pick in a loaded 2019 draft, I was given three years to win a title. Come through on the goals and you receive the trust of your owner and more money to allocate for staff salaries, player salaries, promotions, and more.
Fail to meet your goals and not only do you lose money toward bolstering your budget, but you also lose the trust of your owner. Lose too much trust and you're fired. Some expansion owners want to win right away. Some expansion owners want to build slowly. But the fact that you can add new teams to shake up the league means a seemingly infinite number of experiences. You don't just have one time to add expansion teams either; the league can vote later on in your MyGM or MyLeague modes whether or not to expand.
That's where we get to the Rules Committee and League Meetings.
(And yes, Michael Beasley did win a title in San Diego eventually.)
2. Rules Committee/League Meetings
New to this year's NBA 2K installment is the ever-changing Rules Committee/League Meetings feature. Every offseason, your league will vote on five possible rule changes. They can span from adding an expansion team to contracting a franchise to changing goal tending/basket interference rules. In some instances they can even get more extreme with getting rid of backcourt violations, taking free throws out of the game entirely, and even abolishing the trade deadline.
The more extreme the option, the less likely it is to pass. You need 75 percent of the owners to agree to pass these rules in order for them to happen. Every offseason, your owner will present all five potential rule changes to you and you give your input on whether you agree with the rule change, don't agree, or ultimately just don't care.
For the San Diego Surf, things got tricky with roster construction because of a rule change. After getting a huge win in free agency by signing Kawhi Leonard a few years in, there were eventually trade rumors about the team adding another small forward. The stoic Defensive Player of the Year didn't like this idea and I had to promise to not add a small forward before the next trade deadline. But some poor timing interfered with this promise when the league next voted to abolish the trade deadline. This meant you could trade any time not in the postseason.
So I had an outstanding debt to Leonard in which I could never add a small forward because the next trade deadline never came and passed. This meant adding tall shooting guards to fill out the wings or risk adding a SF and Leonard deciding he wouldn't re-sign in the future.
There are little touches and situations like this that can pop up whenever. Some of the more fun ones were when the league voted to turn overtime periods into sudden death or the lottery ended up being for the first five picks instead of first three. But because you never know what will and won't pass from year-to-year, this makes your league and its construction (all of these rules get tied into the CBA and upcoming TV deal -- both every 6-10 years) a fluid concept and something ends up navigating differently every time around.
For those not thrilled with these ideas, you can play MyLeague instead of MyGM where you can veto any changes that happen, but for the most part, I highly recommend the chaos of it all in MyGM.
Things that have been upgraded
Summer Trading: A problem with the trade coding in the past was them not knowing how to get around open roster spots for a team that had a bunch of free agents that summer. That meant that you had a small window around the draft to clear cap space if you were going after a free agent later that offseason. If you had a chance at signing Kyrie Irving but fell $5 million short in cap space, you couldn't move a player in a trade during free agency to create the room. It was a frustrating byproduct of everything else from the CBA they tried to implement.
That has changed completely with them figuring out the trade logic for these situations. Three days into free agency and Al Horford is still available but you're short by $3 million? Trade away someone for a second-round pick and create that space. It's something you've wanted for years and they finally figured out how to make it happen.
Trading Draft Picks: Speaking of trading draft picks, it's now much more robust than it had been in the past. You can put pick protections on any of your picks and the computer will do it often. It's difficult to grab an unprotected first-rounder but you can find Top 3, 5, 10, or lottery protected picks in deals. You can also swap firsts or seconds, so be sure to present that to Virtual Vlade Divac before someone can advise him against it.
Jersey Retirement: It's just a little touch but the great players for franchises will end up with their jerseys retired following the end of their career. Dirk Nowitzki's No. 41 was no longer an option in Dallas. Dwight Howard was honored by Virtual Alex Martins in Orlando with the Magic retiring his No. 12. Just adds a bit more detail and celebration to the offseason.
Start Now: Start Now is a feature that will matter much more in the real regular season. By using this feature in MyGM or MyLeague, starting "now" will mean if things are going really well in real life for the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 16, you can choose to begin your league with the ratings, stats, and records of the NBA on that date and play out the rest of the season. Adds more depth to how the league can shake out.
Start in Offseason: When you begin your MyGM/MyLeague mode, you can either begin with the 2016-17 regular season or you can root for chaos and begin in the summer of 2016. That means the draft lottery is redone. The draft is redone. Free agency is redone. First time I did this, the New Orleans Pelicans won the lottery and ended up with the top pick. When we went into the draft, they inexplicably took Jamal Murray with the top pick and let Ben Simmons go No. 2 to the Philadelphia 76ers. In the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, "Life finds a way."
When we jumped into free agency for that summer, LeBron James decided his one title in Cleveland was enough and signed with the Boston Celtics. Al Horford went to the Houston Rockets. Kevin Durant stayed with the Oklahoma City Thunder. They could make a Sliding Doors sequel just on these events right here.
It's a very fun way to throw the league into utter disarray if you don't want to go with the preset of starting now like the rest of the NBA in real life.
Staff Hiring: Small touches but you no longer have set amounts and escalations you can offer coaches, CFO's, scouts, and trainers during the staff hiring process. You can customize, overpay (how do you think I convinced Steve Kerr to coach the Surf to their first title?), and offer up any year and salary commitment now.
Rotations: New to this year is not only can you set your minutes allocations for your roster in games, but you can also go one step deeper and create actual rotations and lineups. This is assuredly inspired by the Golden State Warriors and the "Death Lineup," but it's a cool touch if you're creating a certain type of roster construction and you don't want to be limited to positional traditions. If from 12 minutes in the second quarter to the 3-minute mark you want to play every small forward on your roster (assuming Kawhi lets you add one) then you can do just that.
Things that still fall a bit short
Team training: There may be plenty of people who get something out of setting the training schedule and difficulty of the training in their MyGM modes, but I'm not one of them. It's become a tedious annoyance for me when going through a franchise's future with players complaining that the training is both too hard and too easy. It's supposed to affect wear-and-tear along with injuries, but it's not something I pay attention to unless a player is complaining about it or the trainer is offering up switching things moving forward.
It would be nice to be able to opt out of the training aspect altogether or have it be more meaningful. I can't tell you how many times Boris Diaw has said we're training too hard and then I lower it and then he complains that I broke a promise by not lowering the intensity. And it's not just Boris complaining. This game is realistic but not that realistic.
Injuries: Last year, it felt like you were dealing with minor injuries left and right, and it could really affect the rhythm of going through franchise mode. You can always opt for having the coach handle these minutes and playing decisions, but that can also risk screwing up the minutes and lineup allocations you've already set for the team. You can't have too much realism when it comes to injuries because that would make the game too tedious, and 2K Sports recognizes that and lessens the injury burden.
However, they're still struggling a bit from time to time with the little consequences of minor injuries and how much that can affect your minutes allocation. It's improved but still has a little work to go in that respect. Something that is sadistically more fun is I've experienced more long-term injuries in a few days with the game than the previous year with 2K16.
Minor blips in trade logic still: I think the trade logic and free agency signings are much better this time around than some of the randomness in the past. A rebuilding team isn't going to just give you a first-round pick and the contending teams will still put pick protection on it. But you still get the occasional situation in which you're shocked how little was exchanged for acquiring someone like Derrick Favors.
Overall, this is the best franchise mode in sports video games. Better than Madden, which experienced a good facelift this year but still has some of the same problems of the past. It's more versatile than MLB: Road to the Show, which had been the best one in years. Full disclosure, I don't know FIFA well enough to know if the franchise mode is realistic, but that's mostly because the transfer window confounds me.
With NBA 2K17, repetition is gone. Versatility is saturating each experience. And it's the perfect way to wonder where the weekend has gone.
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