Making a great sports game and making a great online sports game are two very different endeavors. Though some might assume that taking an amazing offline sports game online is a fairly straightforward process, there are a lot of decisions both big and small that go into optimizing that online experience, and these can be crucial to making the game as enjoyable as possible. We often take for granted the kinds of variables that many series have spent a lot of time over the years getting right, and these are integral things like the length of the quarters or periods in games or the default difficulty, especially considering how many team sports will involve some amount of AI players.
PGA Tour 2K21 Online Evolution
That’s what makes things a little harder for a new series and a game like PGA Tour 2K21. Yes, it’s actually a sort of natural extension of The Golf Club series (which had three titles of its own) since it has the same developers in HB, so you might think they’d have a better grasp of how to handle online modes by this point, but the new game and series have been revamped in such a way that present some unique challenges. PGA Tour 2K21 has definitely done some things right and improved in some ways when compared to The Golf Club’s online capabilities, but I also want to look at some of the issues that still need to be addressed, and the ways that both developers and other third parties are helping to create the ideal balance between competition and realism on the links.
To begin with, it’s best to look more closely at the jump from The Golf Club to PGA Tour 2K21 to see exactly how things have changed online. While PGA Tour 2K21 has five different preset difficulties that you can play on — not to mention plenty of customization within those individual difficulties — the game’s direct predecessor (The Golf Club ’19) had no difficulty settings at all. Instead, players chose from three distinct sets of clubs — beginner, pro and master — that had their separate pros and cons. Beginner clubs made it easy to hit straight but you couldn’t hit very far, while master clubs made accuracy a challenge but gave you more distance, and pro split the difference between those two extremes. It was hardly a perfect system, as a rough day with those challenging master clubs could easily end with you being beat by a newbie with beginner clubs who needed very little skill at all to perform well, but it was largely serviceable.
So the introduction of those five different difficulties in PGA Tour 2K21 naturally presented some hurdles to overcome that weren’t even a consideration in the previous Golf Club series. The first decision that the game needed to make was which difficulty would become the default online setting. The developers went with the most obvious choice and selected pro difficulty, which is right smack dab in the middle of those five difficulties. Though this makes a lot of sense on the surface and certainly seems like the right call, there are some underlying problems with the decision that warrant some closer scrutiny.
Putt Preview Issue
For one thing, the default difficulty of pro includes aids like a distance meter and is somewhat inexplicably accompanied by the ability to use three putt previews over the course of a round. These putt previews allow you to essentially simulate a putt, which obviously gives you better idea of how the ball will break on its way to the hole. This clearly is not realistic in the slightest and flies in the face of the spirit of fair competition. Can you imagine Dustin Johnson saying to Brooks Koepka during an event, “This isn’t my real putt. This is just my putt preview so I can read the break better.” No, of course not. This aid seems even sillier when you happen to be playing one of the online modes that involves playing only 3 holes against your opponent, as then you both have a putt preview per hole at your disposal.
Easy To Find A Game
Online matchmaking has seen some improvement and progress since the game’s release, as there are now quite a few queues available to anyone looking to see how they stack up against the competition. These feature a nice range of rotating options too, including 1-vs-1, 2-vs-2, stroke play, match play, alt shot, scramble and skins. Depending how much time you have, some of these are formatted as 3-hole contests while others involve playing 9 holes. In my experience in recent days, it also hasn’t taken all that long to find both opponents and teammates in all of the formats through the game’s matchmaking.
No Punishment For Quitting
But there are some changes that could be made with how these online matches function from a competitive standpoint. Perhaps the biggest complaint from people involves the way people often quit in the middle of matches without any fear of consequences. There have been plenty of instances of opponents dropping out, often when they are losing, but no wins or losses are even awarded, rendering the rankings on the game’s leaderboard all but meaningless. This becomes an even greater problem when playing skins matches for coins (especially in the High Rollers queue where buy-in is 1,500 coins) and the proper amount of coins aren’t awarded when someone decides to quit right in the middle of a hole they are clearly about to lose. Should you even get to the end of a match though, there’s also no tiebreaker holes in online matches, which deprives players of the excitement of a playoff hole and leaves them with the hollow feeling of a tie.
Online Societies And TGC Tours
Thankfully, there are other ways to compete online with more realistic and challenging settings, though most of these don’t involve competing head-to-head against anyone outside of custom matches. Online Societies instead allow you to play against other real people in tournaments by having the score that you earn — completing rounds at your own leisure — be compared to other users. These societies allow you to set your own customized difficulty across the entire society and individual events should you ever want to mix things up a bit. Players accumulate points in events over the course of a season based on how they finish, and you can even schedule more important events like Championships and Majors.
Of course, anyone looking for the most immersive and challenging experience they can possibly have with PGA Tour 2K21 should definitely check out TGC Tours, the website that has been providing the best virtual golf career experience available since early in the Golf Club days. People compete there on different flights based on their own individual skill levels, and the site does an admirable job compiling stats and organizing events at handpicked courses, some of which have been lovingly created (or re-created when it comes to real-life courses) by members within the active TGC Tours community.
For a site that had grown accustomed to the way the difficulty settings worked previously in all of The Golf Club games, the revamped difficulties in PGA Tour 2K21 caused them to make a slight pivot.
“Once we realized how much customization was available in PGA 2K21, we knew we’d have a hard time being everything to everyone like we tried to be in previous seasons,” said the Tournament Director for TGC Tours, Scott Doyley, via e-mail. “Ultimately, we decided to focus on being a competitive site where the best players could come and be challenged.”
After some initial testing with the game, Doyley said it became apparent pretty quickly that master difficulty — one difficulty above pro — would be the ideal competitive one for TGC Tours.
“I had a good feel for what conditions I wanted to use after three weeks of early release access. As the general public got the game and started to play, I kept a close eye on our forums for feedback,” he said. “I had posted some suggested settings and we used a few different variations in some exhibition events. As most people got familiar with the game (three weeks in), I felt confident that we could make master swing difficulty work.”
But Doyley points to the customization that the game allows and the new difficulty settings as being more of a feature than a bug of PGA Tour 2K21, allowing people to play the game however they want. He doesn’t even see a problem with the game’s default online difficulty being pro rather than master.
“As long as everyone playing is using the same settings, healthy competition can be had,” he said. “Personally, I feel like the people joining TGC Tours are looking for fair competition, as well as a challenging golf experience, and I don’t think putt previews and distance meters are something the majority of our members would want. This is the beauty of the new game — with all the customization you can find a slice of PGA Tour 2K21 that suits your tastes and enjoy the game as you want it to be played.”
Doyley even sees some similarities in how PGA Tour 2K21 was developed and how TGC Tours has evolved into a more competitive environment.
“Much like TGC Tours, HB had to pick a lane and stick to it, and they chose one that would appeal to as many customers as they could,” he said. “I understand why and would only have an issue with it if it was the only way to play the game online.”
As for whether the transition from The Golf Club ’19 to PGA Tour 2K21 has overall been a positive one, Doyley believes it has been a big step in the right direction, citing how the switch has only made things more competitive and kept the top scores from being quite as ridiculous as they had been in the past.
“With the added difficulty, it’s brought par back into play more often,” he said. “That allows more people to be competitive as they don’t have to birdie every hole to keep up. This may not be as applicable on our highest tour (Platinum) as there are always a few who are able to score well no matter what settings you put in front of them. For the majority of our members, it should feel like making the cut is a viable goal every time you tee it up for a new event.”