MLB The Show 23 Review: Storylines Saves the Day

MLB The Show 23 Review: Storylines Saves the Day

Spring is a time for hope, rebirth, and baseball. As the ground thaws and the ballparks begin to open again for the sport that continues to cling tenuously to the title of America’s pastime, there’s a sense among every team that anything is possible. Just as the MLB season kicks off with cock-eyed optimism for all these ballclubs, anyone who enjoys video game baseball approaches MLB The Show 23 with the expectation that the game will make the kind of leap that a team hopes for from a top prospect. Though the series from SDS has been consistent in producing a quality baseball simulation, there’s been a gnawing feeling in recent years that it might be resting on its laurels a tad without much in the way of innovation.

MLB The Show 23 responds with some neat additions, including a feature on the Negro Leagues that manages to be both a fun and informative look at an overlooked chapter of baseball history. Diamond Dynasty continues to be the most accessible card-collecting mode, taking its ease of obtaining viable cards to dangerous extremes by giving you some potent cards right out of the gate this year. Even the oft-overlooked franchise and its truncated off-shoot March to October modes benefit from a new scouting system and improved logic to make overhauling a roster more interesting. It’s all enough to make you forget about how the action on the field doesn’t feel all that different from last year’s edition.

Let’s take the field and examine where MLB The Show 23 is throwing hard heat right over the heart of the plate and what areas are still struggling to find the strike zone.

MLB The Show 23 Review

What I Like

The Negro Leagues

Without question, the headlining feature of MLB The Show 23 is a glorious tribute to the Negro Leagues that manages to be both fun and educational. The mode is broken down into different Storylines, with each one highlighting the life of a prominent figure from the Negro Leagues through a series of episodes. The episodes thrillingly blend together archival clips, animations, and a trip to the Negro Leagues museum in Kansas City complete with great narration by the engaging Bob Kendrick to help bring history to life. Every episode comes with a playable moment that strives to put you in the shoes of not only legends like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson but also lesser-known names like Hank Thompson and Buck O’Neil so you can properly appreciate their achievements and talents. The breezy format even smartly takes a page from streaming services by concluding each episode with a countdown to the next installment of each storyline.

At the end of each storyline, you’ll be rewarded not just with some knowledge but also with a card of the highlighted player that you’ll be able to use in Diamond Dynasty. It’s easy to see how the MLB The Show series could use the same template in the future to extend these Storylines to the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame and introduce a younger generation to other legends of the sport. If nothing else though, the Negro Leagues feature has helped distinguish MLB The Show 23 from the rest of the series.

Diamond Dynasty

In sports gaming circles, Diamond Dynasty was already regarded as the card-collecting mode in which it was easiest to obtain competitive cards without needing to put any of your real money into the game. Instead of edging closer to the rest of the pack, MLB The Show 23 has leaned harder into their existing approach by having high-rated cards available for the no money spent crowd right at launch. To help facilitate diversity in people’s lineups and strategies, Diamond Dynasty has also introduced team captains that can boost the attributes of certain players on your team. With one captain at your disposal on the mound and another in your lineup, you’ll likely want to construct your roster to maximize their potential bonuses. In all likelihood, this might involve utilizing lower-rated players that would not see the field otherwise.

Because the game has just been released, it’s still too early to tell whether this angle will be effective or shortsighted. Its success will largely depend on what kind of content the mode plans to roll out for the rest of the game’s cycle. If they’re able to continue releasing coveted cards that can actually add value to your team by being combined with available captains, then the plan could work out very well. Otherwise, the worry is that people will find cards that are dominant right away and rarely need to chase anyone else whenever new cards or programs drop. Even now, the abundance of high-end World Baseball Classic cards has rendered the Live Series cards all but irrelevant (something typically unthinkable at launch) because there are simply better options at most positions. Let’s consider the jury still out on this one and keep a close watch as things continue to progress.

Scouting And Draft Updates

When it comes to Franchise and March To October, both modes have benefited from improvements in how prospects are evaluated and drafted. Considering baseball is more of a crapshoot in evaluating young players than other sports, the MLB The Show series has always done a sub-par job of recreating the challenges of scouting talent. There’s been a concerted effort to change that this year by having you rely on scouts that may or may not be accurate when assessing a player’s skills. The emphasis on this fog of war element of team-building will lead to some tough decisions in drafting players that can either pay dividends for your franchise down the line or leave you crippled for the foreseeable future.

It’s not a “new” feature to use potentially dodgy info and the fog of war as a mechanic in a franchise mode — we’ve seen it in most major sports games at this point — but it’s still a sign that SDS is taking franchise mode /March to October more seriously than it seemed in past years. There’s a long journey before catching the likes of NBA 2K in the franchise mode department, but this is a starting point.

World Baseball Classic

It would have been especially disappointing after such an exciting World Baseball Classic if MLB The Show 23 didn’t include the tournament in the game in some way. Fortunately, they have given you the opportunity to pit the international teams involved against each other if you want to re-live some of that excitement. That means you’ll be able to take command of the champion Japanese team and crush bombs with Munetaka Murakami — you wouldn’t be able to otherwise since he currently plays professionally in Japan. If you prefer an underdog story, take control of a team like Great Britain and try to lead the scrappy rag-tag squad victory over one of the juggernaut favorites. The only downside is that you can’t actually play a full tournament unless you want to organize one on your own and keep track of the results.

What I Don’t Like

Road To The Show

While NBA 2K23 is busy creating more music and fashion missions to do within The City that you roam around in within its MyCareer mode, MLB The Show 23 has always offered a more minimalist approach. Whether or not you prefer this stripped-down ascent from the minor to the major leagues, it’s undeniable that there have been few exciting additions to the Road to the Show mode from last year to this one. Everything about the mode, from the hollow interactions with your coaches to the way some training drills require you to actually do something while others sort of happen on their own, has grown stale by this point.

That’s not to say there isn’t still enjoyment to be found from incrementally improving a ballplayer, but that happens almost in spite of rather than because of its rickety framework. What’s needed here remains the same as in the last few years: at least some semblance of a narrative thread to tie the whole journey from scrub to pro together. Even at the outset of the mode, the idea of ​​allowing you to choose the team that you would like to play for announces the kind of loose fantasy structure that’s in place. The way that you can then unlock various loadouts that come complete with improved skills through completing missions and increasing stats clearly flies in the face of reality.

Legacy Stagnancy

Despite MLB The Show 23 boasting 5,000 new gameplay animations, you’d likely be hard-pressed to point out many of these if you played a lot of last year’s game. The action on the field, save for an updated throwing meter in the field that increases the difficulty a tad and some improved bat sounds (the sound in general is clearly better), feels startlingly similar to last year in most areas. There are still issues where players lack awareness (and collision detection) when others are around them and yet somehow have a sixth sense that instantly tells them a ball off their bat will be a home run even when it ends up hitting the foul pole.

The player models, leftover from last gen, have seemingly been pushed to their limits at this point by next-gen consoles. With so many players across the different levels of baseball to attempt to recreate, some players and coaches inevitably end up looking a little more like their real-life counterparts than others.


It’s almost comical by now how every new MLB The Show game tries and ultimately fails to improve on the previous game’s ugly menus. MLB The Show 23 is no exception to that tradition. The screen in which you build your Diamond Dynasty squad requires you to needlessly scroll through many screens where helpful tabs would easily be more efficient. This is also evident within Road to the Show, where there are sub-menus within menus that make the entire process of customizing your created player way more convoluted than it needs to be.

Bottom Line

MLB The Show 23 is bound to be a memorable entry in the series thanks to its important and engrossing feature on the Negro Leagues that illuminates a chapter of baseball’s history by humanizing some of its key figures. Diamond Dynasty continues to set the standard for how to create an accessible card-collecting mode with limited microtransactions, even if there are concerns about how they will maintain it throughout the game’s cycle. Updates to the scouting and drafting within both Franchise and March To October facilitate more variety and unpredictability among prospects, which in turn leads to realism across seasons.

However, there are aspects of the game that are showing some age and neglect like the way Road to the Show’s career mode returns largely untouched and is still in need of an overarching through-line. Aside from some minor upgrades, the on-field gameplay hasn’t seen enough improvements to distinguish it all that much from last year. MLB The Show 23‘s menus have been updated and yet continue to be clunky eyes that make navigating through them needlessly complicated.

All that said, it does feel more like a return to form than not when compared to last year’s “down” year for the franchise, but there’s still a lot of work to be done moving forward to bring the series back to where it was 4 -5 years ago where it was always a lock to be in the conversation for sports game of the year.

We’ll have plenty more deep diving MLB The Show 23 and its various modes in the weeks to come.

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