Every year, MLB The Show attempts to shore up any shortcomings and build on the successes of the product from the prior year. 2021 represents not only the first step into the new generation of consoles, but also the first time the Sony-developed franchise comes to Xbox platforms. But MLB The Show 21 doesn’t stop with those steps forward. I had a chance to see the game in action and learn about the biggest enhancements made in this year’s game.
MLB The Show 21 adds myriad improvements to make the on-the-field experience better. After you select your favorite team, you’ll be greeted by a new Gameplay Styles menu that asks you to choose between Casual, Simulation, and Competitive options. Casual is built around the pick-up-and-play style for series newcomers, complete with on-boarding experiences that give you tutorials of pitching, hitting, and fielding. Simulation focuses on the in-game ratings of players as well as your stick skills to determine the outcomes of games. Meanwhile, Competitive, which is now the default for online head-to-head play, relies on how good you are rather than player skills to decide how the games play out.
Speaking of letting your skill decide the result, a new pitching mechanic called Pinpoint Pitching gives you more control on the mound than ever before. However, it’s also more challenging. “The competitive crowd and people in general wanted a pitching method that could be more accurate, like, ‘I’m aiming to pitch here. If I hit the meter perfect, it needs to go here,'” product development communications and brand strategist Ramone Russell says. “For that to happen, you need to have a lot of levers that can’t be easy to hit or you kind of break the game. There needs to be some depth there, and that’s what Pinpoint Pitching is; we’re grading you on your gesture, we’re grading you on your gesture timing, and we’re grading you on your accuracy. If you can get all three of those things perfect, that ball is going to go basically where you put it, but it’s not that easy to get right, and there’s that balance: It’s the most difficult meter to master, however it’s also the most accurate.”
If you’re not a fan of the challenging Pinpoint Pitching, you can still select the other methods from previous games, including meter, analog, pulse, and classic settings. In fact, all of the pitching mechanics have been rebalanced, and if you’re unsure of which one is best for you, the Casual Gameplay Style mentioned above will give you a tour of every set of mechanics.
New animations also help make for a smoother experience, especially when fielding. New logic determines which animation the players go into when fielding a ball. This includes animations for off-the-wall play, off-the-wall catches, and strafing. Sony also implemented a redesigned wall indicator to help you predict the bounce, and allow you to more easily track those batters with warning-track power. If a strong breeze happens to push the ball a bit further towards the bleachers, new homerun-robbing catches make you better equipped to bring it back into the park. This year promises more fielding aids to make sure you fully understand what actions to take.
Road to the Show
Road to the Show Changes
For those who are more career-oriented with their MLB The Show playing, the 2021 edition brings several changes to the Road to the Show career mode. This year, you can take after Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani and become a two-way player, meaning you can be a pitcher and an everyday position player. This opens a host of new gameplay opportunities for players as they embark on their career.
“A lot of people create a pitcher and a position player,” Russell says. “Now you can be a two-way player and we have this new narrative feature set that talks about you being a two-way player. If you choose not to be, you don’t have to, but you have that opportunity now.”
Additionally, revamped player progression with new archetypes and perks allow you to create and develop your player the way you want to. In addition, you can use your Road to the Show player in other modes, including Diamond Dynasty, Programs, and Moments. However, for those worried that this will mean the experiences will start bleeding into each other, Sony San Diego intentionally kept them separate.
“You take that ballplayer to different modes, but the modes themselves aren’t merged; the ballplayer’s merged,” Russell says. “That Diamond Dynasty experience … that’s still an experience for the Diamond Dynasty crowd, and it doesn’t really encroach on the Road to the Show experience because we know some people play Road to the Show and that’s all they play. So you’re sharing this ballplayer everywhere, but we still have separate experiences.”
Finally, new narrative elements are joining the mode, as top MLB reporters and personalities react to how you play in a new in-game podcast. On last-gen systems, this podcast will be audio only, while new-gen consoles get a video version. As a big fan of MLB The Show’s March to October mode and its various dynamic narrative elements, this piques my interest. Unfortunately, you can’t import a past-year’s Road to the Show player into MLB The Show 21’s mode, so it’s time to start at the bottom of the food chain again.
The House That You Built
While so much about the MLB The Show 21 package is about building your team or career to become great, the new-gen versions allow you to actually construct the stadium in which your accomplishments will take place. Choosing from more than 1,000 stadium props, including foul poles, batter’s eyes, and more abstract props like dinosaur fossils, you build the home for the next great Major League Baseball dynasty.
Since baseball is the only major sport that takes place in an arena with differing dimensions, MLB The Show 21’s Stadium Creator allows you to get imaginative with your field. You can adjust the fence however you want, with different outfield-fence dimensions, wall colors, heights, and more. For stadiums like Pittsburgh’s PNC Park or Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the backdrop is important to establishing an identity. Sony San Diego knows this, therefore you can build out what lies beyond the outfield wall to create a special atmosphere.
If you manage to create the next great ballpark, you can save, share, and play in your stadium in modes like Diamond Dynasty and Franchise. Those who are in a rush but still want to leave their mark on a stadium can choose from pre-made templates that are shipped with the game to get off to a quick start, then edit them how you’d like.
With so many elements able to be incorporated, there is a cap for how many elements you can put into one stadium, and the game will let you know when you’re about to hit the max limit. Also, Sony San Diego is not commenting at this time on how you obtain the disparate Stadium Creator elements.
MLB The Show’s player base is going through an expansion year. Not only is the series coming to Xbox platforms for the first time ever, but it’s doing so with crossplay and cross-progression in tow.
“It doesn’t matter what system or what generation you’re on, you’ll take all your progression with you, and PlayStation fans can play against Xbox fans,” Russell says. “It was those two features we had to have first year being [multiplatform]: You’ve got to be able to take your progression and, doesn’t matter where you are, you need to be able to play against any other group of people.”
The new-gen version not only adds the Stadium Creator, but also 60 frames-per-second performance and higher fidelity visuals. On top of that, those who play on PlayStation 5 can enjoy 3D Audio on compatible headsets, as well as DualSense exclusive features.
MLB The Show 21 launches on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on April 20.