After skipping 2016, EA Sports returns to the court later this year with NBA Live 18. The next installment in the venerable basketball franchise revolves around a single-player mode dubbed The One, which players can try out via a demo that’s out today. Last week, Game Rant visited the studio for a preview of what’s in store.

While the likes of FIFA and Madden have gravitated toward story modes that focus on a character created for the player, NBA Live 18 is all about the avatar players create for themselves. A robust character creation suite with Game Face support is the first thing you’ll see upon diving into The One.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of physical appearance. Upgrading this character’s skills and abilities is a big part of the NBA Live 18 experience, offering up the kind of long-term progression that will keep players glued to the game until next year’s installment.

The first big decision to make is choosing between three broad player archetypes; guard, wing, and big. From here, players select a more specialized role — for instance, a guard can opt for a point shooter playstyle in the vein of Steph Curry, or to be a slasher along the lines of Russell Westbrook.

Each play style features its own signature ability, as well as primary and secondary skills and traits that unlock upon leveling up. Gaining levels is all about racking up experience, which can be earned by performing well on the court, as well as completing other activities like conversations that play out on your character’s smartphone.

Experience isn’t the only in-game currency to keep an eye on. There’s also Hype, which unlocks new events and offers up access to better crates in the store, and Reward Points that can be used to purchase crates and items that can be used to customize your character further.

Yes, there’s a crate system in NBA Live 18. Cracking open a crate yields new gear of varying different rarity levels. It’s not unlike the engram system in Destiny — and in fact, it’s surprising just how many cues EA Tiburon has taken from Bungie’s shooter when it comes to The One.

While the core gameplay will be very familiar to longtime fans of the series, it’s wrapped up in a package that’s basically a light RPG, between conversations with NPCs and the constant pursuit of experience points.

The method of storytelling is completely different to the likes of FIFA’s The Journey and Madden’s Longshot, too. Instead of lengthy cutscenes featuring your character, there’s a lot of slickly edited video with evocative voice-over and an entertaining cameo from broadcasters Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman.

The One tells a story about a talented player battling back from a humbling injury, but it does so in a way that allows full customization of the protagonist’s role on the court. Between the main plot, bite-size limited time events, and the pursuit of crates and character leveling, there’s a lot going on in The One.

This is a different take on single-player content than we’re seeing from other EA Sports franchises, and its rich blend of diverse influences married with its tried-and-tested on-court gameplay makes for an experience that’s fresh and compelling.

NBA Live 18 releases for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 15.

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