It’s an interesting time to be a basketball fan or a fan of basketball video games. Competition within sports games has been such a non-presence the past few years, and EA decided to not only come back and try again, but do so with guns blazing. But it’s tough to come back after losing a fight, to face the same opponent who already bodied you but good. We’ve reviewed both NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18 here at Cheat Code Central, and both received similarly positive scores from our respective writers. But you may be wondering what to do if you can only really dedicate time to one. Due to a number of factors, including accessibility, feature sets, and some marked controversy, things might actually be on NBA Live’s side this round.
Perhaps you’re like me and not the most experienced sports sim player. You like video games in general and are totally with me that Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is the best sports game of all time. But you’ve exhausted all your resources there and are looking for something new. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but what I’m getting at is sports sims are not generally user-friendly these days. NBA 2K is a complex game that is more about simulating basketball than making ergonomic sense the moment you pick it up for the first time.
NBA Live 18, on the other hand, is much more friendly and video game-like. Shooting is just a matter of holding the button down and releasing when the meter fills up. Defense is based on holding a button down, and visual cues help you know what to do even if it’s hard to read the player animations. There’s still plenty of hardcore depth, as NBA Live 18 still fancies itself a sim, but the basics are much more comfortable. It also introduces Streets as a more simple, almost arcade-y 5v5 mode.
Accessibility may not matter to you, in which case NBA 2K is likely the better option in terms of gameplay. It’s more realistic, better-looking, and way more in-depth. That said, NBA 2K18 also has a port on the Nintendo Switch, which is another boon, albeit more of a side attraction. The Switch version requires extra storage (not a big deal) and runs at a lower frame rate, but it’s nearly identical to the more powerful console versions otherwise.
NBA 2K18’s greatest problem facing it as of launch is its controversial microtransactions. Both games have in-game currency you can purchase with real money, to be fair. But 2K Games takes it to a super uncomfortable level, even more than previous entries in its own series did. People are not happy with this, and there’s a key reason why it differs from NBA Live 18 in this regard. In the latter, the currency is used for things like packs in the Ultimate Squad mode, and loot boxes for cosmetic items. The loot boxes especially are a bit of a downer, as EA bamboozled us a bit with much lower demo prices. In the former, 2K Games actually ties the currency to progression in the single-player campaign.
Both games let you develop your player’s skills as you move along the respective campaign mode. NBA 2K18 does its usual thing, giving you a giant list of stats and having you dump VC cash into them until your player’s overall rating improves. NBA Live 18 takes more of a light, RPG approach, with skill trees, abilities, and more that unlock as you play and level up. All for free. Again, very important detail: free. As in, you paid your money for the whole game and don’t have ugly pacing meant to manipulate you into forking over more money. Meanwhile, NBA 2K18’s costs for stats are higher than previous games. People are incredibly mad online about it, and I don’t blame them.
Finally, there’s the feature set. NBA 2K18 seems to have slightly more options overall, but NBA Live 18 deserves a shout-out here for variety. The campaign is split into two halves, each thoroughly different in terms of structure, modes of play, and more. The One being split into League and Streets play really is an inspired move. The RPG-like progression I mentioned before is also a nice hook to keep going. NBA Live 18 also has the WNBA mode, although it’s clearly a feature added late and more of a test for expansion in either DLC or other iteration of NBA Live.
So there you have it. NBA 2K18 is the game it has been, the game that has earned it the all-star reputation it has as a fully-featured, realistic basketball simulator. It has tons of modes, spot-on physics and excellent visuals. It even has a competent Switch port, making playing a AAA sports game on the go an actually enticing prospect. But the microtransaction problem is huge, and it’s a more straightforward, pure NBA experience. Meanwhile NBA Live 18 plays a little more loose and raw, with a more accessible, arcade-like approach and a much healthier variety of play. It also has a novel RPG-style system and slightly less invasive microtransactions. It’s just a more gamer-friendly game overall, if you follow me.