MLB The Show 19: One of Modern Gaming's Finest RPGs
As a tea-drinking, crumpet-eating Brit, my first peek into the world of baseball was through a crack in mainstream gaming with Mario Superstar Baseball on the Nintendo Gamecube.
Britain barely plays baseball or has much interest in the sport at all. So, despite my experience with MSB, the flame that initially grew so bright eventually flickered and died.
Since then, no baseball game has made me want to dust off my cleats and take to the diamond. As someone who only vaguely understood the rules of baseball and had no real-life experience with the sport, baseball games always seemed pretty uninviting outside of that singular experience.
The RBI Baseball series felt like a daunting simulator, and even MLB games under the usually approachable 2K banner gave off the same impression.
That all changed with MLB The Show.
Though the series as a whole only offered vague appeal in recent years, MLB The Show 19 changed all of that. Sony's latest has enough luster and shine to tug at my purse strings, though it’s done far more than just that. In no small way has it reignited my love of the sport and propelled me into fanaticism — even an ocean away.
As I’ll go on to explain, MLB The Show 19 is clearly the years-long culmination of steady improvement by Sony’s San Diego studio.
Conquest mode was added to the series in 2016; the 2017 installment made great strides in modernizing Franchise and Diamond Dynasty; and MLB The Show 18 played a significant role in making Road to the Show what it is today.
But MLB The Show 19 has packaged everything together, wrapped it up neatly, and delicately placed a shiny bow on top. In essence, MLB The Show 19 is a game with the power to appeal to a much larger crowd than those in the United States. It casts a net far wider than just baseball fans, too.
With 2019’s MLB playoffs stepping up to the plate this week, we’ll have a perfect storm of new interest in the sport — and The Show 19 will be there to meet the demand, especially as one of the free game's for PlayStation Plus in October.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
You can clearly see the appeal in MLB The Show 19’s newest mode, March to October, which streamlines baseball’s marathon seasons into sprints for playoff success. It’s the perfect way to make 160+ matches of baseball palatable to a casual crowd, but the real star of the show is still the ever-popular Road to the Show mode.
On the surface, Road to the Show might look like any other sports game’s create-a-player campaign mode. You start by customizing your player, selecting your playing position and strengths, and working your way through the minor leagues. Mostly, you have to start somewhere, and the first few seasons you play won’t be for the big-name MLB teams you’ve heard of.
No one gets plucked out of high school and starts pitching for the Yankees the next day. You need to show your worth against weaker competition before you get a shot with the big boys.
Now that I’ve made the mode sound sufficiently grueling and arduous, let me explain why it’s the most engaging, fundamentally intriguing campaign mode I’ve ever seen in a sports title.
You see, lurking beneath the leathery surface of this baseball title is ...
A Well-Disguised Western RPG
You aren’t just taking your budding superstar through a monotonous series of matches, going yard and throwing fireballs until your fingers fall off. You have control over your character’s personality and their relationships; you face trials and complete minigames that diversify your playing experience and keep the gameplay feeling fresh.
This is particularly evident from one of the newest features: dynamic challenges.
Throughout otherwise run-of-the-mill matches, challenges pop up that allow you to earn bonus experience to improve your player. You’re usually given the choice of three similar tasks that get progressively harder but will offer more reward in return.
These range from “don’t let the other team score during this inning” to “hit a home run off the next pitch,” and they can trigger at just about any time. This revitalizes your interest in the game moment to moment, continually giving you new reasons to push forward.
And you do it all while steadily improving various stats based on your playstyle, giving you increased autonomy of your player’s abilities. Even during your training sessions, you’re given multiple options of which stats to prioritize as well as the occasional accompanying minigame to bolster your performance.
As for the social aspects, they aren’t precisely Mass Effect-level decisions that have rippling repercussions throughout your player’s story, but there’s more depth there than I was expecting. You’re given control over select conversations with your teammates, managers, or agents, and can choose responses that will further one of four personality archetypes.
By antagonizing the opposition, you can pursue a Maverick persona, or you can spur on your teammates and keep a cool head if you want to earn points towards the Captain perks.
That’s right, Road to the Show has a skill tree and perks that affect your playing style. These offer bonuses like stronger home-field advantage or more lenient umpires that can boost your on-field performance.
You’re left with a surprising level of control over your player’s path to the Bigs, and by the time you get there, you’ll be hungry to make a name for yourself and prove you’ve earned that spot.
It certainly helped that I’d had a previous interest in baseball, however minor it may have been. Still, I genuinely believe MLB The Show 19 can be enjoyed by everyday gamers and non-sports fans around the world.
While there's standard play, a strategy game in Conquest mode, and a card game in Diamond Dynasty to draw in even more players from outside the sports genre, The Show's most compelling aspect is its surprisingly deep RPG elements.
If you’ve never touched a sports game in your life and you despise the genre, this version still might not be for you. But if you’ve never tried a baseball title before or haven't stepped up to bat in a season or three, now might be the perfect time to build your own field of dreams.
For a deeper dive into MLB The Show 19, head over to our official review.