Well, I made it out alive. For the benefit of those unwilling to make the commitment, I braved through March to October to investigate the twists, turns and perks for the curious franchise mode hybrid.
All told, each regular season month takes roughly an hour depending on mission difficulty and how the games turn out. Variety is king, and that is where the mode shines the brightest. Sure, the full-on condensed game scenarios are fine, but it was much more fun to be thrown into the seventh inning player locked as Gerrit Cole gunning for the no-hitter. Mixing player lock scenarios (such as performing well in a single game as a single player for a season-long boost) with real scenarios (such as closing out the top of the ninth with a one run lead and a man already on second) also work well together in the mode.
If you win or achieve the goals from the key moments, your team gets a boost in performance in games that are simulated. For the most part, the season is manageable — albeit time consuming. You can exit the mode between each game, but there is no way to save during a game, and the game warns you about rage quits (you get zero rewards at the end if you quit). Outside of games where you are not player locked, there are zero managerial aspects until July.
When July hits, the trade mechanic kicks in. While a fun idea to break up the action, its execution is somewhat of a letdown. In line with the mode’s lack of managerial options, there is no way to change players involved or tweak the team’s needs. The Astros were met with curious trade packages that forced me to trade away Joe Smith, A.J. Reed and Framber Valdez for the likes of Josh Harrison, Nicholas Castellanos or Dee Gordon. I would have loved the option to acquire an extra left-handed reliever, but I was stuck with the pre-chosen options. I suppose this would be more welcome if March to October took a fraction of the time to complete that it does, but I wound up skipping the lone trade entirely as no deal presented a positive gain for the team.
The season is simmed to the playoffs once you clinch your division, but the playoffs get the key moments treatment as well. Instead of, say, starting a game 0-0 with quick counts on, I was down 0-1 in the fifth inning. This was very welcome when the randomized score score was in my favor, but as the playoffs progressed, this became terrifying when it was the other way around.
And the playoffs is where the mode took a turn for the peculiar. Each series wound up the same way: cruising to a 2-0 lead, a dramatic increase in difficulty over the next few games, and a suddenly surprisingly easy must-win series clincher. The jump in difficulty was otherworldly and tangible. Extraordinarily nerfed hitting made the playoffs downright unpleasant to grind through. Lineouts and flyouts were constant regardless of count and timing. It felt impossible to squeak a single run across home plate even after squaring up hanging breaking balls.
I became petrified towards the end of the campaign as I did not want to come all this way and have spent so much time just to get bounced out of the playoffs on a random difficulty spike. Too many mid-series games were skunked as 2-0 losses. The next game? I threw a no-hitter with Justin Verlander while the offense tagged the Giants for 11 hits. The difficulty swings killed the experience at times and make it difficult to recommend in some respects. Make no bones about it: March to October is a grind for Diamond Dynasty rewards. I was thrilled to see the Team Affinity rewards at the end of my successful run to the World Series, but I can’t imagine I would have ever played the mode again if I had been booted in the ALDS by the overpowered AI.
On top of that, if I had known for sure that I was going to win the World Series, I would have really enjoyed the back-and-forth of some of the more stressful playoff games. But the idea of burning eight-plus hours just to lose in the very end has certainly discouraged me from an additional playthrough. Randomly impossible difficulty and the fear of being able to slog out a Game 7 just to keep your progress alive is a colossal repellent. Obviously, the random spikes in difficulty are problematic altogether, let alone in a mode that does not allow players to continue if they lose. With that being said, potentially extending a second or third chance to losing players via some sort of retry could encourage more participation — at least until the random swings in difficulty are remedied.
Increasing the amount and quality of rewards is always nice, but it is not the go-to plan here. March to October still feels like a basic franchise mode regardless of the bounty that awaits at the end of October. Perhaps that is the best answer to making this mode more interesting: moving key moments into Franchise Mode, allowing players to make managerial changes, and maybe some difficulty-based DD rewards from franchise mode accomplishments. Sony would have to lock in some safeguards to prevent exploits, but fusing March to October with next year’s franchise mode may altogether be the best solution going forward.