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MLB The Show 18’s Road to the Show gets its biggest overhaul in ages

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Your favorite mode will be very different this year

A video from Sony explaining the changes to Road to the Show in MLB The Show 18.

Road to the Show is perennially the most popular mode in Sony’s beloved MLB The Show series of simulation baseball video games. The basic flow of Road to the Show has changed little since the mode’s inception over a decade ago, in MLB 07: The Show: Create a player and start out in the minor leagues, partake in games and training sessions to earn experience points, put the points into whichever attributes you want to improve, and build up your skills and stats with the aim of getting called up to the big leagues.

For MLB The Show 18 this year, developer Sony San Diego has revamped one of the key elements of Road to the Show: its progression system. After listening to feedback from players and professional athletes, the studio has excised microtransactions from the mode completely, eliminating the controversial pay-to-win option in which you could buy training points as a PED-like shortcut to building an All-Star player.

In fact, you no longer allocate training points yourself, and you can’t simply raise all of your player’s ratings all the way up to 99. Instead, your performance on the field is what primarily determines the rise and fall of your player’s attributes.

Archetype architect

“We want you to focus on playing the game, and making your guy better by what you do on the field,” said Ramone Russell, game designer and senior community specialist at Sony San Diego, in a phone interview with Polygon earlier this week.

MLB 18’s Road to the Show mode begins with creating a player, if you choose to start from scratch rather than import one from MLB The Show 17 or take after an existing MLB athlete. The developers have said they spent a lot of time to deliver more choices, and more realistic choices — particularly in the area of hairstyles and facial hair. Improving skin tones to make players look more lifelike was another area of focus.

One of the biggest changes appears after the creation process. Taking a page out of NBA 2K’s MyCareer playbook, Sony San Diego has introduced player archetypes to Road to the Show. As you can see in the trailer and screenshots here, there’s a wide variety of them available — six for infielders, five for outfielders, three for starting pitchers and two for closers, for a total of 15 — and your choice is an expression of the kind of baseball player you’re trying to be.

The selection screen helpfully offers background information on each archetype, including its pros and cons as well as examples of real-life players in that mold. A Ball Hawk in the outfield (Kenny Lofton, Dee Gordon) may not hit for power, but they’ll make their presence felt with great speed and defense. The equivalent in the infield is Mr. Wizard (Ozzie Smith, Jose Altuve). Most archetypes are suited for certain primary and secondary positions, and if you play somewhere else, your ratings will take a hit. If you want more options, you might want to choose Mr. Reliable (Cal Ripken Jr., Dustin Pedroia), which is well-suited for any spot on the field with his strong arm and ability to make contact.

MLB The Show 18 - choosing a pitcher archetype in Road to the Show
Fireballer? Junkballer? The choice is yours.
SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

You’ll have to take stock of those details. Each archetype has two strengths and one weakness. They all tie into the progression system’s new attribute caps — the archetype you pick will determine the starting point and the initial limit for each of your player’s ratings.

For attributes tied to your strengths, you’ll see high caps or no caps at all. For instance, a player in the Mr. Reliable archetype can get their contact and plate vision all the way up to 99. But your weak area puts relatively low caps on related ratings: The Wizard is limited to just 40 in power versus lefties and righties (and both attributes start out at a measly 10). Equipment is the only way to get around these hard caps. MLB The Show has offered equipment-based boosts since 2015. So if you’ve got a diamond-level pair of cleats with, say, +14 speed, the shoes will boost the attribute above its limit.

MLB 18 will apply this system if you import a career mode from last year. You’ll choose an archetype after importing your player, but it won’t immediately change your attributes. So if you come in with 99s in every category, you’ll play that way at the start. But over time, you’ll see your attributes drop to that archetype’s caps — and from that point forward, you’ll only be able to maintain the ratings at those upper bounds.

MLB The Show 18 - runner on first base in Road to the Show
Joe Random just hit an RBI single off a left-handed pitcher, improving his contact against lefties and his clutch hitting.
SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Learning by doing

Sony San Diego has also completely overhauled the way you build up your Road to the Show player. In the past, you’d earn XP, called training points, based on your on-field performance: The better you did in games and training sessions, the more training points you’d get. (And of course, you could also spend real money on the in-game currency Stubs, which you could then use to buy gobs of training points.)

It’s not just that microtransactions are gone from Road to the Show — Sony San Diego has essentially eliminated training points altogether. In their place is a system that’s modeled after EA Sports’ NHL series and its Be a Pro career mode. In MLB 18, the specific things you do in games determine which of your attributes go up and which ones go down.

“Everything you do on the field, both good and bad, will affect how you progress in your attributes,” Steve Merka, senior game designer at the studio, said during the phone interview.

MLB 18 measures your progress down to the individual pitch, delivering what Merka described as “immediate dividends” within a game. If you take a pitch that’s called a ball, that’ll provide a slight boost to your plate discipline. Striking out a batter will improve your pitcher’s K/9 attribute. But if you strike out with runners on base, expect to see a dip in your clutch rating. The system gets very granular — hurlers still have separate velocity, break and control attributes for each of their pitches, and the game gauges your effectiveness with every delivery to the plate.

MLB The Show 18 - postgame Base Gains screen in Road to the Show
The new postgame Base Gain Results screen tells you exactly where your player is progressing (and/or regressing), based on your on-field performance.
SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Obviously, this setup takes some control out of your hands. The old system had a results-oriented approach — the mode awarded training points for what you did, and placed less emphasis on how you did it. (You would at least get more points for succeeding in clutch situations, like getting out of a jam with a double play.) And the training points went into an attribute-agnostic pool: If I really wanted to, I could take all the points I earned as a starting pitcher and spend them on batting upgrades.

That’s no longer the case. If you favor your four-seam fastball over your two-seamer, you won’t develop the latter pitch as much as the former. This system would cause trouble by itself — there’d be a chicken-and-egg problem, with players being too slow to steal bases, while being unable to boost their speed rating because they keep getting caught stealing.

Thankfully, another aspect of player progression that addresses that issue. Every season, your Road to the Show athlete will get 25 training sessions. Known as Focus Training, these exercises will let you choose a specific area to train. This is a way to bump up your attributes outside of your on-field performance, allowing you to, say, raise that speed rating so you can have more success on the basepaths. Note that Focus Training doesn’t replace the old practice drills — those minigames still exist, although you’ll see them less often.

Focus Training also offers its own key choice. Outside of the attribute caps imposed by your archetype’s weakness, many other ratings will start with soft caps. A Ball Hawk’s power is limited to 65, and the cap might be lower at the start of your career — 50, for example. You can get up to that initial cap through gameplay and training. But the only way to raise it to the max cap is through a specific kind of Focus Training: working with a teammate who specializes in that area. Merka gave the example of the New York Yankees, where a hitter looking to increase their power rating could train with somebody like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. This setup is about “creating that synergy between the user and their team,” said Merka.

To be clear, Focus Training takes place in menus; there aren’t new minigames for it. “We wanted to give you a more natural progression that kept you out of having to stockpile points [...] and make it more in-and-out, and more about playing the game and enjoying the game than trying to do accounting work,” said Merka. And the training sessions add back in the player choice that is eliminated by the new on-field progression system.

MLB The Show 18 - created player shaking hands in the locker room in Road to the Show SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

There’s one more notable change in MLB 18’s Road to the Show: You’re no longer the hotshot kid that everyone expects to succeed.

“You’re not the highly touted prospect in an organization,” said Russell. “You’re a mid- to late-round draft pick. It’s all about ‘it’s not where you start in life; it’s where you finish.’ So that’s the story that we’re telling this year.”

This was a bit confusing, since the Bowman Scout Day and Topps Amateur Showcase have, for the past few years, offered players a way to raise their potential before the draft. Merka confirmed that those elements still exist in MLB 18, so we asked for clarification — had the studio authored a narrative progression that was forcing players into starting their careers as middle-of-the-road prospects? No, that’s not the case.

“We’re not doing an on-rails experience,” Merka explained. “[Progression is] based on your performance, so yes, you still have that potential to [blow through the minor leagues]. It just makes the story of the dark horse even better, in that sense — like, you weren’t on anybody’s radar, but man, you really showed out, you rose to the occasion. So yes, you still have that opportunity to progress and progress well, and fast, if you’re that good at the game.”

All of this is a risky move for Sony San Diego, especially since Road to the Show is so widely played. But the mode has been in need of a shake-up for years, and this definitely qualifies. Now we’ll have to see how it plays out. To see Road to the Show in action, check out the 27-minute gameplay video from PlayStation Underground below.