Here are some quick impressions of the three main modes in MLB 12:The Show: the new Diamond Dynasty, the always deep Franchise and the dynamic Road to the Show.
Diamond Dynasty is the newest, and arguably most complex, mode in the game. Despite some innovative concepts, it is hampered a bit by some frustrating problems -- most stemming from the fact that this is primarily an online mode.
Before touching on those issues, here’s a brief primer. In DD, players are given a team of players; some are real MLB players, most are generic fictional players. Once a team is created -- including uniforms, logos and locations -- it can compete against players or the CPU for “budget.”
Budget can be used to buy more cards, or train your existing players. Training is simply spending money to up stats, similar to the mechanic found in Road to the Show. The only limit to how much a player can train is the available funds.
However, a few variables effect how quickly a player can be trained. First, the higher a player’s aptitude (essentially his potential), the cheaper it is to train him. Secondly, skills essential for a player’s position are a bit more costly to improve, as are ratings that are already high. Training too much in a short period of time will cost you more as well.
This system works well enough, since it is important to decide what player gets what training in what skill set. However, I really would have liked to see something more interactive, with more elements of unpredictability. The inclusion of the training games would have been interesting as an option. As it stands now, this aspect of the game is simply a budgeting game.
Maintaining a team requires just as much thought, though, as players have limited contracts that (as far as I can tell) can’t be extended. Cards that aren’t played on a team can be sold or “recycled,” essentially cashing in cards for a random one of similar value. I really wish there was a trade option, since trading baseball cards is a staple of many a childhood.
From there, it’s all about playing games. And that’s where the problems start.
Since this is a online mode, its quality is greatly shaped by the quality of online play. In my first few games, I experienced quite a bit of lag. It wasn’t unplayable, but the ball sort of disappeared as it entered the strike zone. I couldn’t tell the quality of my swing until the ball was already in play.
Secondly, I (as well as a number of OS users) have been on the wrong end of a number of “rage quits” or, while that is frustrating in itself, when someone quits you don’t get any funds and the game counts in terms of contract statuses. This seems to be true for traffic-related disconnects as well. This makes challenging another user a real risk.
Playing the computer is fun enough, and good for quite a bit of funds if you win, but it won’t increase your online rank.
Online issues aside, this mode does have a lot to like. First, the team customization options are very welcome. The logo editor can be a bit daunting, but is reasonably flexible. I would have liked a bit more uniform options, but there’s enough here to create a unique look. More impressive is how every generic player is editable.
I also like how there is an incentive to not use MLB players. In DD, real stars are used as mercenaries of sorts: their contracts are extremely limited and they can’t be upgraded. So, as in the real MLB, grabbing a hired gun might help in the short term, but might eventually leave a team without young talent.
Also, unlike most of EA’s Ultimate Team modes, there is no bonus for running with a full team of real teammates. There are rewards for collecting MLB cards, but this seems a bit tacked on to me, artificially increasing the value of MLB cards.
Finally, since this is an online mode, it will be organic in its evolution. Perhaps there will be a strong market for the MLB cards. Or perhaps the community will just avoid that aspect of the mode, and focus on developing the cheaper generic players. My online opponents have included very few MLB stars in their lineups.
In any case, this is a promising mode that I’ve spent a good deal of time in, but primarily playing the CPU. Hopefully the online issues get fixed (including penalizing quitters), and Diamond Dynasty will fulfill its potential.
The improvements to Franchise mode, like many of The Show’s refinements, are small but effective.
First, the trade system has been tweaked to allow teams to better follow their internal strategies. For instance, I was able to pry some big names away from rebuilding teams by offering younger, cheaper talent. Ratings-wise, I usually could come out on top, but at the expense of my budget and minor league system. Conversely, it seems a little harder to get teams to give you low-rated, high-potential players, especially if they are in “rebuilding” mode.
The trade screen itself has been adjusted. You might get a very basic message explaining why the trade isn’t happening; it’s also easier to see what a potential partner is looking for.
The developers also tout a more realistic line-up option, and so far, my generated and opposing line-ups have looked ok. Granted, I didn’t sim years ahead to see if errors pop up, but I saw no red flags in my time with this mode. I will say that it looks like contact is the first skill considered over speed; I would probably bat a high speed/contact guy closer to the top, whereas the CPU seems to like that player in the three-hole. That’s a minor quibble though, and certainly open to subjective interpretation.
Player generation and pitcher repertoire have also been adjusted, but, for me, will take more time and a greater sample size to see how these work over the course of multiple seasons.
There also seems to be a lot of new commentary within the franchise mode, most reflecting on season or past season stats. It seems just as I thought, "Boy, this commentary seems stale," the team would drop a new line on me, or at the least, make a very astute and timely comment. For instance, in my White Sox franchise, Konerko hit his 400th home run. Not only did Matt Vasgersian note that it was a milestone home run, he seamlessly included the new score and that it was his 4th homer of the season. None of these lines might be new, but together they sure are effective.
Basically, if you’ve spent a great deal of time in this mode in the past, it’s not going to feel tremendously different. That may be discouraging, but keep in mind, this is one of the deepest franchise modes available. If you find yourself growing understandably tired with it, be sure to explore every aspect of the mode.
For instance, I’m going to try to take a more hands-on approach to finances this year. I also plan to jump in to more minor league games. The point is, I can’t really complain too much about no major additions, since I don’t really use all that’s there to begin with.
I don’t want to sound like I’m defending the fact that there aren’t any major improvements; I’d love a true Expansion mode. However, before I can complain, I need to exploit all of the mode’s wealth of options. If you’ve already done that over multiple seasons, than you may be more disappointed than I was.
Road to the Show
Like Franchise, the changes here are minimal, but have the potential to change how you play.
The biggest change comes at the start of a generated player’s career. Perhaps taking a cue from MLB2K’s My Player, you don’t quite start as low on the positional ladder as in the past. You get more points from the outset to develop your player, and you begin as a starter in AA.
The game also introduces a few more ways to watch games play out, but frankly, with such a long season, I can’t imagine watching every pitch of a career mode. Of course, a philosophy of The Show seems to be including -- not removing -- options, so if you want to do that, you can.
Perhaps the improvement I like the most is reduced load times, probably due to an optional 10GB install offered during the initial play. I don’t recall this being in the game last year, and using completely non-scientific analysis, load times seem dramatically improved.
Again, this mode is tremendously deep and time consuming, but hasn’t seen the upgrades some might expect. Of all of the modes, I plan on spending the least amount of time with Road to the Show.
My dream for this mode would be one that could be integrated with Franchise. On any given day you could play your team and player’s games. Or, even better, live “look-in’s” on your player’s progression. Maybe next year...
The Show’s modes are as deep as ever, and Diamond Dynasty gives you a third way to enjoy the stellar gameplay. This mode, while perhaps not as innovative as touted, is indeed interesting. But, it will ultimately be dependent on the quality of online play and players.
I sound like a broken record, but the improvements to the existing modes are subtle; anyone looking for some groundbreaking new feature will probably be disappointed. That said, if you’ve liked The Show in the past, the improved gameplay should be enough to hook you again.