Since its release in August of last year, one of the best things that PGA Tour 2K21 has had going for it is the fact that it really doesn’t have a lot of serious competition within the realm of golf video games. With the market theirs to claim for domination, any perceived shortcomings are bound to be easier to overlook when there simply aren’t any other titles to compare the game against and help determine its true worth. But the fact that PGA Tour 2K21 didn’t actually secure an exclusive license to use the PGA Tour name and all of its connected entities always meant the door was still wide open for other games to enter the fray and stake their claim to some of the same territory the makers of PGA Tour 2K21 have been taking for granted while being the only golf game on the block. In other words, this is where an EA golf game comes into play.
After all, those days will be coming to an end soon for PGA Tour 2K21 with other golf video games slated to be released in both the near and distant future. This started with Mario Golf: Super Rush, though that game is not necessarily trying to attract all that many fans of PGA Tour 2K21 by virtue of being a more cartoonish version of the sport than what 2K’s simulation has to offer. But who knows? Maybe that kind of counter-programming is exactly what people are looking for when it comes to virtual golf right now. On top of that, there are modes in Mario Golf that are not dissimilar to the BR-style Divot Derby mode within PGA 2K.
EA Golf Vs. PGA Tour 2K
The biggest threat though to the reign of PGA Tour 2K21 has to be considered the recent announcements regarding the return of EA’s dormant PGA Tour golf series that hasn’t released a new entry since Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour back in 2015. The news that EA would be returning with a new golf game sometime in 2022 has been made even more exciting by the subsequent details that EA had also renewed its partnership with the PGA and would be including events like The Masters and the US Open in the game. For its part, PGA Tour 2K21 has attempted to counter all of the developments coming out of EA’s camp by announcing a partnership with Tiger Woods, a shrewd move that secures the likeness of the sport’s most recognizable star and the former lucrative cover athlete of EA’s old golf games.
The big question on everyone’s minds is what can EA do to set its new game apart from PGA Tour 2K21 in order make a triumphant return to the virtual links? The simple answer to this question would be by having the new game improve upon any weaknesses in the 2K title and providing options that are currently lacking elsewhere. In short, EA can thrive by choosing to zig where PGA Tour 2K21 has instead decided to zag. PGA Tour 2K21 developers at HB Studios still have plenty of time to attempt to address what’s missing in their current game to beat EA to the punch, but they’ll need to move quickly and attempt to decipher what EA’s focus is likely to be. Such is life in the ongoing “Golf Wars” that these companies now wage.
If you’re wondering about the limitations in PGA Tour 2K21 that EA is most likely to exploit and use to its advantage when developing its own golf game, I thought I would lay out some key areas that the developers would probably be most inclined to target while carving out their own healthy piece of the marketplace. While there are bound to also be plenty of similarities between the two games at the end of the day, these are the biggest ways that EA’s golf game can set itself apart from PGA Tour 2K21 as the company prepares to release EA Sports PGA Tour next year.
One of the things you’re bound to notice when creating a golfer in PGA Tour 2K21 is that you can make (and purchase) cosmetic changes to the physical appearance of your golfer and his or her equipment, but there are no options to adjust any attributes of your actual game on the course because all golfers in the game are essentially created equal. Considering the fact that it’s readily apparent how no two real golfers are completely the same, this is a component that EA’s game will probably remedy by including different attributes (think skills like power or accuracy) or archetypes that will cause the golfers people create to have their own separate strengths and weaknesses.
This would then allow EA to implement some sort of progression system that, for better or worse, is not currently a part of PGA Tour 2K21. Some people might prefer how everyone is on a level playing field in PGA Tour 2K21 — it certainly helps from a competitive standpoint and avoiding microtransactions — but it does mean that rewards for playing rounds are limited entirely to those cosmetic items that won’t make your game any better. EA may decide to go a different route entirely by having you instead unlock various upgrades to your golfers’ attributes (or maybe something like NBA 2K‘s badges system if EA wants to go down that dark path).
Play As The Pros
Perhaps the biggest complaint that gets leveled at PGA Tour 2K21 is that there’s no way to currently play as anyone other than your created golfer. So even though you can compete against other pros within the career mode, you can’t actually take control of any of those pros to perhaps play as your own favorite golfer on the PGA Tour. This is clearly a byproduct of the fact that the golfers in the game have no individual attributes, and therefore there’s no way that any golfers would be able to play in the game as they do in real life since they don’t have any unique skills to set them apart from each other.
If EA simply decides to utilize attributes to differentiate the styles of real-life pros, it should be easy then for people to be able to assume control of their favorite golfers and use them in rounds rather than only those that you create. That way people who prefer to use someone who regularly delivers monster drives can select a golfer like Bryson DeChambeau, while others who perhaps favor more of a precision game can instead maybe hit the courses with a golfer like Jon Rahm. Of course, none of these golfers are perfect, so be prepared to sacrifice one part of your game for another, and deal with the same strengths and weaknesses that the real pros are forced to contend with when they play every event.
Improve Online Content
Though PGA Tour 2K21 does include quite a few options to play the game online against other players, that doesn’t mean there isn’t ample room for improvement in both what kinds of modes people can play online and how those are presented. That starts with the group of head-to-head playlists that allow you to compete against up to three other people whether in stroke play or skins. Right now, they don’t really provide much in the way of rewards or progression. If you’re even able to get to the end of a match without other players disconnecting first, you might be able to collect some coins for your achievements, but it’d be nice to have some greater rewards for collecting a certain number of victories within a playlist to keep you coming back for more.
An easy way that EA’s golf game could give PGA Tour 2K21 a run for its money in this regard would be by refining the matchmaking so that you’re regularly facing players who are at least close to your own skill level. By introducing some sort of skill tiers like those in online modes of many other sports games (EA already does this in its Madden, FIFA and NHL games), there could be better rewards depending on what tier you’re playing on, and it would create a desire to play online so you can level up and claim those superior rewards. Even Online Societies in PGA Tour 2K21, where players can create their own events and play in them against others, could use some refinement to allow for more customization within a society and more opportunities for society members to compete head-to-head against each other (a match play society where you can essentially create a golf league with friends would be amazing).
Make Career Mode More Exciting
The single player career mode in PGA Tour 2K21 does a decent enough job of letting you feel like you’re competing against other real pros, but there’s also plenty of room for improvement if you’re EA and planning something similar for your own game. It’s hard to feel all that immersed in your career within PGA Tour 2K21 because you’re likely to find that it’s always the same few names at the top of the leaderboard in each event, leading to very little suspense or excitement when you’re vying for the top spot.
To make matters worse, there’s no tiebreaker at the end of events to determine an actual winner should you end up deadlocked with another golfer, depriving you of a thrilling chance to break that tie and become the sole champion to hoist that trophy.
EA might be well advised to spend some time focusing on the presentation of events and making them play as closely as possible to what you see on TV broadcasts of golf, which is something that EA often attempts to do with its games anyway. This would hopefully include more updates on how other golfers at the top of the leaderboard are doing (it should be said that PGA Tour 2K21 does provide a few of these) and perhaps some situational commentary that lays out where things stand as events unfold and then start to wind down. If the developers can also make sure to have tiebreaker holes at the end of events so a winner is definitively declared, that would also really go a long way in emphasizing realism while also creating some truly tense and exhilarating moments at the end of events.
Return To Arcade Roots
Anyone who remembers playing the old EA Tiger Woods games in the past may have a memory of them being golf simulations, but there was also a healthy dose of arcade play in those games that made them fun — even if it did sacrifice some realism in the process. Though much about experiencing those games from the fairly distant past has been lost to time, there’s a distinct memory of how making an effective approach shot often involved mashing a button while the ball was in mid-air in order to apply backspin to your shot when it eventually landed. Making any adjustments to a shot while your ball is flying towards the hole is obviously inherently ridiculous and absolutely impossible in real life. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable in a video game.
With EA having to decide what kind of balance it is seeking to strike between simulation and arcade styles of play, the developers may choose to lean more on the latter when looking at their competition. After all, PGA Tour 2K21 has clearly made the call to go the other way with its gameplay by attempting to ensure that nearly everything plays true to life (except for those event tiebreakers), so it would make some sense for EA to go in a slightly different direction, if not even just committing fully to more of an arcade aesthetic. Whether this means more button mashing to control a ball that is already high in the sky will need to be determined, but that kind of sensibility could serve to be more of a feature than a bug among those who played and loved the EA golf games in the past.