For returning fans
If you're a returning fan wondering if it's worth picking up this year's version, you should know right off the bat that the longstanding criticism of the commentary and the career modes remains largely unaddressed. Both still suffer from being dry, and in some ways, stale experiences that don't encourage a huge amount of replayability (though it's pretty cool that you can once again import a previous year's franchise or Road to the Show character).
Outside of that, though, there's much to commend this year's version of The Show. As I alluded to in the previous section, Diamond Dynasty has been dramatically beefed up after last year's successful - but slightly limited - outing. You can now select one of five captains to level up with experience earned from playing The Show's online and offline modes (not just Diamond Dynasty), with special rewards becoming obtainable once they reach a certain level. There are also a host of in-game objectives to complete, many of which are actually achievable (Madden Ultimate Team take note), with attendant rewards.
But the most significant addition is the aforementioned Battle Royale, which is similar to Madden Draft Champions mode in that you fill a lineup from a 25 round draft and try to win as many games as possible with it. Thankfully, it's much more balanced than Draft Champions, guaranteeing that you'll have a certain number of superstars in your lineup by allocating a set number of slots for each card rarity. The strategy of drafting a player is augmented by knowing how many of a particular type of rarity you have left, allowing you to allocate top quality slots to superstar pitchers or hitters (or both). The games that follow last three innings, with extra innings if the game is tied, and they go by quick. As a means for farming cards, I found it rather addicting.
The same cannot be said for Conquest, which takes the grind of beating every single team and wraps it in a thin strategy game. Your stated goal is to conquer the "United States of Baseball" by defeating other teams to steal their fans while holding your own territory, which steadily grows as you invade other areas. The idea is cute, and I suppose it beats just playing through a list of teams, but it doesn't really do much to disguise the grind, mostly because the strategy is paper thin. Success in Conquest is not really dependent on your strategic thinking - your fan count in a given territory only affects how difficult a given game will be - so the wrapping feels rote and uninteresting. For fans who don't really like turn-based strategy games, I suspect it will come off as rather intimidating, as the spare and unfriendly interface makes it feel more like a hardcore wargame than it actually is. In that, it's kind of the worst of all worlds.
Thankfully, playing Conquest isn't really mandatory for enjoying Diamond Dynasty. I earned quite a few rewards just by playing the normal career modes, which in turn gave me a decent base for establishing a team. Time will tell how well it holds up - a lack of new cards resulted in the mode more or less running out of steam for hardcore players last year - but Diamond Dynasty is friendlier and more accessible than most Ultimate Team modes, and its card-based theme feels like a natural fit for baseball. Captains, Battle Royale, in-game objectives, and Flashbacks - themed cards depicting a player in a particularly memorable season of their career - are all substantial improvements to an already solid mode.
That improvement comes at a price, though. While both career modes have received various tweaks and improvements - more realistic budgets and player morale for Franchise, a scouting combine for Road to the Show that augments the showcase series - they are in substance much the same as last year, which in turn wasn't all that different from the year before that. Morale that affects performance is a good step toward making players feel more like human beings (even if the morale meter is buried under loads of menus), but MLB The Show continues to lag well behind NBA 2K and FIFA in that department. As a result, MLB The Show feels sterile, which makes it hard to care long enough to finish a 162 game season or a Road to the Show career.
This isn't to say that MLB The Show is lacking in substantive improvements. Diamond Dynasty's upgrades are huge. You can now play through a whole series in Road to the Show without going back to the main menu, which quickens the pace even further. And there's Showtime, which is an interesting experiment if nothing else - a chance to slow down the game and give players a chance to react. Again, this is more a boon for pitchers than hitters - the ability to precisely locate a strikeout pitch is huge - but it does impact the gameplay in some interesting ways. Its impact on fielding is a little strange - essentially turning it into a quicktime event where you move a reticle into a target - but its commiserate emphasis on spectacular plays makes the action feel a bit more dynamic. Ultimately, it's a good tool in certain situations, even if I stand by my earlier assertion that it skews far more toward pitchers than hitters.
My overall impression of MLB The Show is that it continues to be a high-quality baseball sim, with only NBA 2K matching the realism of its depiction of the sport on the field. Off the field, Road to the Show continues to be a franchise stalwart, and Battle Royale adds a lot to both Diamond Dynasty and online play in general. I think returning fans will be disappointed that Diamond Dynasty gets so much love at the expense of the traditional career modes - both of which have seen only incremental changes over the past several years outside of Player Lock and Quickcounts - but it's mostly a matter of what you're looking for out of a baseball sim.
Mostly, MLB The Show is continued proof that a veteran development team can move mountains, no matter how small it might be. Where other sports sims have stumbled this generation, The Show has moved implaccably forward while continuing to live up to its same high standards. If the series can keep up that consistency, it will remain a top-tier sports sim for the forseeable future.
The Show 16 benefits from strong load times, but its career modes feature interfaces that are both boring and intimidating in the amount of information they throw at players.
Road to the Show moves at a snappy pace and can be very addicting over a long period of time. Diamond Dynasty is the centerpiece, but your mileage with it will vary depending on your tolerance for monetization. It's better than most, but it's still there.
The commentary does an okay job of adding continuity to franchise mode; but it feels dry and limited as well as inaccurate, with commentators pointing out that a roof is open when it's closed, among other issues. It's not a deal breaker, but it lags significantly behind other sims.
MLB The Show 16 still looks and feels great. Its fluid animation system is unmatched by any other sports sim, and the ball feels just right when it flies off the bat. Certain stadiums now feature closed roofs.
For better or worse, MLB The Show 16 focuses heavily on Diamond Dynasty this year. The on-field action is strong as ever, and the bullet time-like Showtime is interesting, but the bulk of the improvements are in Diamond Dynasty-centric additions like Captains and Battle Royale. If you're a curious newcomer who likes baseball, you will find an extremely strong baseball sim; but if you're a returning player, your mileage will probably vary depending on how willing you are to indulge in The Show's card-collecting mode.