With MLB The Show 18 nearing the end of its first month in the wild, players are finally settling in and figuring out the meta for this year’s version. While some changes have affected gameplay more than others, each aspect of the digital diamond has been touched upon in one way or another. How much each of these changes has affected the game is still being discovered but here are my thoughts so far.
One of the biggest mechanic changes has been to the PCI. It’s now larger and positioning actually affects where the ball travels more. Lining up the ball to the left of side of the PCI will influence balls to go to left field, getting under a ball induces fly balls more often, and so on. Combined with the updated physics to hitting players now have more control over where a ball goes. The PCI size has now been updated to only account for contact rating and plate vision, as opposed to last season where power was also included in the equation. This makes contact hitters theoretically more valuable, and indeed I have seen players like Trea Turner get on base more often than last year because it’s easier to put the bat on the ball. The trade off is that the PCI doesn’t go quite as far out of the zone so going after low pitches and elevating them has become more difficult.
Unfortunately there are issues with the hitting changes, as many in the competitive community think the PCI is too large this year, which actually ends up helping power hitters more in the long run. To top that off, the PCI will glitch out at times and jump around to different positions that don’t reflect the player input. I was able to replicate this multiple times using zone hitting and, even leaving the left stick in neutral, the PCI would randomly move to the top of the strike zone or down in the corner. This should be fixed as the developers are aware of this issue. Lastly, power swinging is the new Diamond Dynasty meta. Players like Ryan Schimpf and Joey Gallo are tearing up online play because the power swing is so much more effective this season. It’s not uncommon to see teams that are filled with bronze or silver powerhouses rolling over competition because their PCIs are larger than they should be due to the new formula.
Another aspect of the new gameplay that has affected strategy and divided the community is pitch speed. Multiple competitive players have done videos on the difference in pitch speeds between MLB The Show 18 and last year’s game. It boils down to speeds being slower by about 1/12 of a second. It doesn’t seem like much on paper but it has greatly increased my ability to read pitches and determine where my PCI needs to be. I was a good hitter in ’17, but this year I’m raking consistently online and off. On the one hand, it makes me feel as if I’m good at the game, but on the other hand I can see the argument for having lowered the skill gap between casuals and competitive players. The developers have also addressed this in a live stream and I trust that their solution will help alleviate the divide.
Also changed in the pitching game is the ability to locate. More important than ever is the control rating for each pitch. Players with overwhelming velocity but middling control will see pitches that get away from them a bit. Meanwhile, control freaks will be able to paint corners like Picasso. Along with the slower pitch speeds, this has changed last year’s strategy of velocity being king. There where times last season where throwing cutters and sinkers up in the zone was a good strategy, but now it seems that hard sliders and knuckle curves are more viable. Fastballs are still a useful pitch and velocity is still important, but now having someone with dominant control can be a very effective way to win games.
Perhaps more than ever, fielding ratings matter. More than that, how you play the ball in the field matters. Never before have angles, flight paths and defensive animations made as much of a difference. Even more than PCI size and pitch speeds, the changes to the defensive aspects of MLB The Show 18 have players divided. I’m of the opinion that I like the defensive changes and it has forced me to think more in the field. No longer do I run full speed at a low line drives to the outfield. Instead, I have forced myself to occasionally concede the base hit so that I don’t go for a ball unrealistically and have it roll all the way to the wall. The same goes for playing people out of position as there is a penalty for doing so. This has me thinking about fielding far more than I ever had before and I feel it adds to the realism in the game. Another wonderful touch is catchers getting to the ball with more urgency and the new tagging system. Both continue to enhance the experience and cut down on frustration from last year.
One thing that does counteract that realism is the artificial lack of urgency from position players at times. Fielders with low reaction or fielding ratings will sometimes stand idly despite me using the sticks to go for the ball, or once fielded will hold the ball for far too long before throwing. The most egregious instance of this imperfect solution to fielding is when my player will sprint towards where a ball is going and then slow down to a trot before going full tilt again, despite my input being consistent. This is where RNG tends to happen the most and can be the most frustrating online for competitive players. It’s brought up a fascinating conversation among the community, largely led by OS’ own Millennium, about how much a dice roll should be a factor in competitive play. How it plays out between the community and the developers remains to be seen, but it’s obvious to me that certain changes need to be made.
MLB The Show 18 is all about the gameplay. All aspects of the game have been adjusted and refined to varying degrees, and it largely works. This is without a doubt the closest depiction of baseball I’ve seen in video games. Not everything works as intended and there is a definite divide between competitive players and the casual community, but San Diego Studios is always working hard to address issues within the game. Beyond the nitpicking, contact hitters and power hitters are distinct and important to strategy. The new PCI and pitch speed make hitting easier to control and improve upon. Pitching control has been buffed to the point of being more important than flame throwers, and fielding is now something that needs to be thought about as opposed to being an automatic. Adjustments need to be made to address problems with the game online in a user versus user setting, but offline is where the changes to the game really shine.