Over the last couple months, we’ve reviewed several aspects of Diamond Dynasty in MLB The Show 22. We looked at content and discussed card art, card types, and much more. We took a look at the program structure including Monthly Awards, featured programs and the rest. Most recently, we looked at the game modes within Diamond Dynasty and talked about how the offline suite in DD really needs some work.
This time around, we’re going to focus on what I consider to be the most crucial ingredient in the overall Show experience: gameplay.
DD Year In Review: Gameplay
I’ve been playing Diamond Dynasty since 2019, which means I dodged the universally despised 2018 version of the game. Between the Immortals grind and the actual gameplay, I’ve heard enough horror stories to believe that it was an awful experience. But since then, every single release of The Show has had its “thing.” Meaning, each version of the game has had some kind of gameplay issue that succinctly defines the experience that year. To SDS’ credit, those issues were addressed to some degree in each subsequent release, which improved the gameplay experience until the next “thing” reared its ugly head.
The Show 19 featured the dreaded HR/9 attribute affecting power. The number of hard hit balls that just died due to a pitcher’s HR/9 rating led to many low scoring games. As a Show rookie, I wasn’t yet familiar with the typical trappings of the game, and it wasn’t until I got 70+ games into Ranked Seasons that I began to see them. Lineouts galore began to dampen every single game as it felt like your best inputs were punished more often than rewarded.
The Show 20 debuted in a time of need, right as the Covid-19 pandemic locked down the globe and prevented the MLB season from starting on time. In lieu of actual Major League Baseball, we were treated to the Player’s League that featured MLB players facing off against each other in The Show. That stage displayed the absolutely horrific fielding that launched with the game. Players would run face first into line drives and stand directly under fly balls, watching the ball drop and hit them directly on the forehead. This eventually got cleaned up, but MLB 20 was also plagued by “blackhole meatballs.” No matter how good of a pitcher you were using or how perfect your controller input was, pitches would just magically float down the middle and get absolutely torched.
The Show 21 introduced pinpoint pitching, which significantly increased my enjoyment with the game. I felt like I was actually in control of my pitching now, which allowed me to avoid the random meatballs and dominate opposing batters if I hit my spots. Hitting was a little rough to begin the year, but eventually I felt like the overall gameplay experience balanced out after some patches in the summer. I loved MLB The Show 21‘s gameplay despite it not being perfect. I felt like there was a tolerable balance in online gameplay that kept me playing until a month before ’22.
Somehow, MLB The Show 22 combined the worst of the aforementioned games and resulted in the worst gameplay experience I’ve had since I started playing Diamond Dynasty.
Diamond Dynasty Pitching
As mentioned above, pinpoint pitching was implemented in MLB The Show 21. Quickly becoming the go-to option for competitive players, pinpoint changed the game figuratively and literally. There was an outcry last year that pinpoint was too powerful, as pitchers like Nolan Ryan were painting with precision every single pitch. That obviously didn’t realistically represent Ryan and pitchers like him, so SDS made some subtle changes to pinpoint pitching in ’22. There was a slight adjustment on the timing window that affected the number of “perfect” release pitches.
This made it a bit more difficult to paint every pitch and certainly created more user error. I think this change was fine despite not really having a problem with the mechanic in ’21. However, anecdotally it did feel like pitches were floating toward the middle of the plate more. Obviously, the PAR region can clip the middle of the plate when aimed on a corner, so it’s within the realm of expectation. But in this year’s game, it definitely felt like more perfectly released pitches were drifting towards the middle versus missing off the plate like I was intending.
The biggest change to pitching this year came in the form of dynamic PAR. PAR stands for Perfect Accuracy Region and represents the possible landing spot for a perfectly released pitch. This change appeared to be an attempt from SDS to reduce the viability of high sinkers. In short, sinkers being thrown high has been a meta strategy for the last couple years. The way sinkers release out of the pitcher’s hand makes it look like an off-speed pitch, which is clearly a problem when it ends up being 97 mph in on your hands. Veterans of The Show have long adjusted to this by now, but it’s still a prevalent competitive pitch. The biggest complaint is that it obviously doesn’t properly reflect real baseball, as sinkers are more effective down in the zone (most of the time). That’s where dynamic PAR came into the picture.
Sinkers and off-speed pitches aimed above the middle of the plate would vastly increase the PAR circle. Theoretically, that meant it was more difficult to throw those pitches effectively up in the zone. It was definitely more challenging this year with sinkers, but it didn’t really stomp out the high-sinker meta. The pitch simply moves so fast and breaks so much that it will always be effective unless SDS actually tunes the pitch itself. If anything, I’d argue it made that pitch more effective because there was more variance to the actual location. Meaning, in ’21 you could pretty much park your PCI in the same spot up-and-in and blast any sinker thrown in that area. Pinpoint was so effective that you could pretty much dot it to the exact pixel, which experienced players knew how to counter. With the increased PAR, those sinkers were still landing in the zone for strikes but there was simply more variance. This might seem like too cute of an observation, but to me it was notable and didn’t really make sinkers less effective.
It did affect off-speed, however, and trying to throw any off-speed up in the zone was far more dangerous this year. That’s a good thing since changeups and sliders up in the zone should usually be blasted. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try to mix things up with those pitches, it simply means you need to be more selective when you throw them and you better hit your spot.
Outside of the usual addition of new animations, fielding wasn’t drastically altered in this year’s game. The one big addition was the ability to make perfect throws to every single base. This might seem like a simple addition, but anything that enables a real skill gap between players makes the game more competitive in the best way. If you nail a perfect throw to any base, you’re putting yourself in the absolute best position you can be in to produce an out. SDS said perfect throws generate better animations for tags, which can obviously be the deciding factor on a close play. I think there’s still some wiggle room here for SDS to make things more competitive but this was a good start.
Something that bugs me is perfect throws from an infielder can still result in a ball one-hopping the 1B. Despite the perfect throw, you still get a fairly ugly animation, and if the throw is perfect, why is my 1B digging the ball out of the dirt? I’d love for the animations to actually reflect where the release on the meter ended up. For example, a perfect throw released slightly left moves the 1B’s glove to the right and vice versa. Really, just trying to connect the actual input with the result to make everything feel more fluid and realistic.
Also, can we please get rid of common and bronze fielders getting auto-dives? Make that a staple of diamond fielders and that could actually create some uniqueness in the cards. Right now, there’s really nothing special about a fielder’s attributes for infielders, and it’s basically just eye candy. If you put Pete Alonso at 1B, you’re doing it for his bat and not because of his fielding. Yet, time and time again within Diamond Dynasty you’ll see someone like Alonso absolutely smother a ball that most 1B wouldn’t get to. Frank Thomas diving up the line to snag every single grounder is not my idea of a realistic experience. If auto-dives were exclusively for diamond fielders, you might actually consider choosing that player over an Alonso or Thomas.
In the hands of a skilled player, lesser skilled fielders can still be deadly, but it requires skill from the player.
Diamond Dynasty Hitting
Perhaps the biggest sore spot in the Diamond Dynasty community every year is hitting. In a game like The Show, it’s an impossible endeavor for SDS to keep every single player in the community happy with everything. With more and more players entering the community, SDS has to adapt and do what they can to make the game as engaging as possible.
But in MLB The Show 22 I feel like SDS watered hitting down far too much, and it resulted in terrible hitting. There’s a lot to be said, but simply put, hitting was just inconsistent and senseless this year. Take a look at the above screenshot. That sweeping curve was thrown exactly where I aimed with a perfect pinpoint release and generated a bad swing like I wanted. Except it wasn’t a bad swing as their Jose Altuve got the late, jammed swing animation and blooped the ball over my shortstop for a 2-run single. That was even after I switched to a fresh pitcher, so the usual pitcher confidence goofiness was not in effect there.
A swing that bad on a pitch in that location that was perfectly executed by the pitcher should not be a hit. I don’t care if bloops and bleeders happen in real baseball. This is where I draw the line because this is a video game. There needs to be a skill gap. There needs to be a differentiation between a good player and someone who isn’t as skilled. Yes, I’ve benefitted from bad swings plenty of times over the years, but I don’t want charity hits. I don’t want the game to bail me out. I want my input to matter just as much as I want my opponent’s input to matter. That screenshot is a microcosm of the hitting woes this year: nothing makes sense!
We’ve been dealing with non-PCI home runs and hits for years. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun that it’s a visual glitch, that it’s network related, and everything in between. So the feedback works some of the time but not all the time? I’ve said before that in and of itself is a huge issue that SDS needs to fix. But I don’t buy the visual glitch talk. I think the hitting engine has always worked as intended and that this stuff is just a byproduct.
SDS has released community hitting stats and has a dedicated section on their site for them. They’ve said repeatedly that they’re happy where hitting is but…why? Why are we happy with feedback that doesn’t make sense? Why are we happy with optimal inputs producing negative outcomes, only to see a negative input have a positive outcome on the very next pitch? You can tell me That’s Baseball™ but I’ll tell you that’s an excuse.
This type of hitting is more suitable for the offline experience in franchise. Yes, in that world I want things to be as realistic as possible. I want every nuance of this amazing game to be present there. But in Diamond Dynasty I want skill to matter. That doesn’t mean every perfect/perfect needs to be a home run. But I damn sure don’t need to see perfect/perfect swings result in foul balls. That’s some of the most asinine randomness I’ve seen in this game that’s full of random, quirky stuff that never ceases to amaze me.
I loathed the online gameplay this year in Diamond Dynasty. Hitting was my biggest complaint and I still think a positive step is a more competitive playlist for those of us who want true competitive play. But overall, I think the true solution is a completely revamped and rebuilt engine that takes advantage of the newest generation of consoles. Until and unless that happens, I don’t see any way that the hitting experience ever truly improves.
Sure, SDS introduced PCI anchor and dynamic PCI this year. The dynamic PCI actually sounded like an incredible addition that could limit these awful hits. In the Tech Test, the PCI significantly shrunk when outside the strike zone. That implied less foul balls and less goofy hits on well-placed pitches. But with the final version of the game, that dynamic shrinking was almost non-existent. You can still see the change visually, but it didn’t have a positive effect on gameplay at all in my opinion. Foul balls are still far too excessive and just another example of “bail outs” that keep at-bats going and give hitters too many chances. It’s just another canned aspect of the Diamond Dynasty gameplay experience to keep lesser-skilled players in the game.
PCI anchor is a fun tool for those who choose to use it. I didn’t particularly care for it and didn’t experiment with it enough to change my mind. I like having the ability to move my PCI around to get my own rhythm going and often change where I sit my PCI. The anchor doesn’t prevent this, it just changes where your PCI snaps to when you let go of the stick. Still, I think this was a cool enough addition to the game and wouldn’t mind seeing what SDS might do to expand on this.
I love MLB The Show and everything I write is the result of my combined passion for baseball and gaming. There’s plenty that SDS gets right, but gameplay is where we ultimately spend our time in Diamond Dynasty. It doesn’t matter how many packs we get for free, how sexy the card art is, or how juicy the card attributes are. At the end of the day, if the game isn’t fun to play then the experience is lacking.
SDS’ effort with The Show 22 was uninspiring. We can speculate all we want as to why, but the fact of the matter is that this year’s game felt like an absolute afterthought and didn’t get the attention it deserved. We had no significant gameplay tuning this year and even less communication than usual. Across the Diamond Dynasty community, it felt like the excitement dried up shortly after the All-Star break and there was no momentum that ever swung back the other way. That’s what happens when the gameplay is lackluster at best and developers are telling us we should be enjoying it anyway.
As we move toward the release of MLB The Show 23, I sincerely hope that SDS unveils a brand-new engine with new mechanics and a whole new feel. At this point it’s not just a want for the Diamond Dynasty community, it’s a need.
That wraps up our Year In Review series for MLB The Show 22. How did you feel about gameplay this year?