It’s been over 2 years since the release of PGA Tour 2K21 and, freed from the inherent limitations of the annual release cycle, the expectations for the series are understandably high. The partnership between 2K Sports and HB Studios — who first established a formidable golf simulation brand on their own with The Golf Club series — resulted in a fine debut under the new banner with PGA Tour 2K21. That game no doubt benefited though by being the only real golf simulation game on the block and that won’t be the case this time around with the release of EA Sports PGA Tour right around the corner. Without the kind of exclusivity it enjoyed last time around, it’s a little more important now for PGA Tour 2K23 to impress people at its release and ensure that few will be enticed to check out the what EA is teeing up. With that in mind, let’s dive into my PGA Tour 2K23 review.
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PGA Tour 2K23 Review
In many ways, PGA Tour 2K23 provides a satisfying upgrade to the last game by introducing a new mode, innovating on its swing mechanics, and refining aspects that were lacking in PGA Tour 2K21. With Topgolf coming to the series, the game now has a fun and quick mode that can be played locally or online to help scratch an itch that the returning Divot Derby could never quite reach. The 3-click swing input that many wanted but was missing previously has now been added and integrated in a way that’s better than expected. Still, the game’s biggest draw may be the ability to now play rounds using not only real professional golfers like cover star Tiger Woods but also athletes from other sports like Michael Jordan and Steph Curry.
So why does it feel like maybe the developers could have still done a little more to solidify the game being a leap rather than just a step forward? A couple of new systems that will have you upgrading your MyPlayer with skills and fittings will leave you worrying the game is perhaps pointing more towards a future as an an arcade experience instead of a simulation. Online Societies, a popular competitive mode that allows you to pit your skills against strangers in events over the course of seasons, returns largely untouched from PGA Tour 2K21. Even something as basic as watching a replay of a good shot is presented in the same limited manner as before.
That said, let’s go ahead and tee off on what parts of the game are keeping it on the ideal paths of the fairway and where it’s occasionally veering off its desired trajectory and finding a hazard.
What I Like
I wrote a little already about Topgolf in an early preview of PGA Tour 2K23. To reiterate those thoughts, bringing the entertainment company into the fold leads to a welcome crossover in a quick and fun new mode. Competing either locally or online with up to 4 players, you attempt to accrue the most points by hitting 10 balls from platforms into targets at various distances on the driving range below within an allotted amount of time. Naturally, you’ll get more points for hitting targets that are further away and for landing your ball closer to the center of each target. You can also double or triple your points for each ball by aiming for whichever target happens to be illuminated on that particular shot.
Either on a couch with buddies or online against strangers, the mode is an addictive alternative to playing a few holes.
For the first time in the series dating back to the Golf Club days, players are no longer created completely equal and now have strengths and weaknesses that are determined by the archetype of your MyPlayer. With five different archetypes to choose from, you’re able to decide whether you want to perhaps emphasize power or precision within the various facets of your game. The baseline attributes that come with each archetype can always be altered a tad with club fittings and skills but not enough to transform the core style of play you choose. This means you’re likely to find more variety now in the kinds of players you’ll compete against both online and within your MyCareer.
Though it would be appreciated if there were a few more options than just the five archetypes available now — or if you could slightly tweak some of your attributes to further help differentiate yourself from others — this represents a nice start at balancing the various skills of golfers. However, it does seem a little strange that your MyPlayer is able to so easily swap one archetype for another as if the golfer were changing bodies prior to an event depending on the course.
Controlling Real Golfers
Up until now, the only way you were able to get a glimpse of real professional golfers in the series was when you would compete against them in events while using your MyPlayer. That’s no longer the case in PGA Tour 2K23 as you now can to take control of some of your favorite golfers and play rounds with them in casual modes (just don’t expect to use any of them in MyCareer). Alongside the game’s biggest draw in Tiger Woods are a handful of other pro players like Justin Thomas and Lydia Ko who are at your disposal to shoot a round solo or go up against others online.
The inclusion of athletes from other sports that you can use too like Michael Jordan and Steph Curry is fun and perhaps is only just the tip of the iceberg before other notable names are added throughout the game’s cycle. Here’s hoping we’re eventually also able to play as Charles Barkley or Bill Murray when hitting a course.
The people have long demanded it and now PGA Tour 2K23 has finally delivered on providing a 3-click option to hit shots. Thankfully, any concerns that these controls would turn the game into another Tiger Woods where you’re capable of striking the ball with pinpoint accuracy every time have mostly been alleviated by the balancing of the mechanic’s difficulty. After playing quite a few rounds with the 3-click system now (which will influence power, swing path, and club face angle in that order), I’ve found that it can be more challenging than you’d expect to shoot consistently good scores.
Those three clicks (including a hold of a button rather than a push at the outset) need to happen fairly closely together, and the specific rhythm that’s required is not exactly a cinch to repeat on a reliable basis. The margin for error, particularly on higher difficulties, can lead to errant shots if you’re off by even just a small margin on any of the clicks. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that some players are able master the 3-click mechanic before too long and it becomes the default for online players rather than the analog stick.
There have also been some nice adjustments to using the analog stick, starting with a slight visual upgrade that makes it easier to gauge your swing power. It’s no longer quite as easy now to be perfect with your timing either when bringing the swing stick backwards and then forwards, leading to more shots that are slightly wide of the target if not completely off from your desired trajectory. This added difficulty might just be one more reason why people will gravitate instead to the new 3-click system. But for my money, using the swing stick will always be more satisfying when done right simply because of how it better reflects the movement of an actual club.
In all honesty, the MyCareer mode in PGA Tour 2K23 isn’t hugely different from the one in PGA Tour 2K21, but as I noted in my preview, there are a couple of key updates that go a long way towards improving upon the existing framework. The basics of MyCareer remain largely intact: You’ll enter events during the course of a season to accrue points towards the FedEx Cup based on where you finish in each event, develop rivalries with fellow golfers on the tour, and build relationships with sponsors to earn apparel awards from them.
The aforementioned vital changes that have been made to improve the mode are that you can now swap out courses in certain events to keep each season fresh and are able to play tiebreakers now at the end of events to determine a clear-cut winner rather than just being handed the victory as in PGA Tour 2K21. These are enough to make the mode serviceable if not spectacular and keep you satisfied until they can add more immersion during and between events (the cutaways to other golfers do help but can be more annoying than anything else at times) and perhaps include an actual narrative to hold it all together.
Courses & Atmosphere
The courses in PGA Tour 2K23 both look and play better than the ones in its predecessor, offering enhanced renderings of its environments and better physics from the ball bouncing on its surfaces. The lush greens of the grass and trees pop in a way they didn’t before while bunkers and water hazards possess such detail and texture that you’ll almost want to get a closer view of them if only they weren’t so detrimental to your game. Balls will react more naturally now based on where they end up landing, with the longer grass of the deep rough proving capable of slowing momentum in a hurry whereas fairways and greens will lead to bigger bounces and longer rollouts.
Course creators (admittedly not something I’ve spent much time doing) should be happy to have further resources on hand to aid in building their tracks and better tools to help lay it all out. Even the sounds of the courses have been refined and amplified to give reactions to shots both good and bad some added authenticity, though there’s still nary a “Bababooey” to be heard after a drive.
What I Don’t Like
Fittings & Skills
In the past you could choose between different brands of clubs that were balanced in such a way that any advantage in one area would come with an accompanying disadvantage in another. Now, all clubs in PGA Tour 2K23 are purely cosmetic. It’s instead in the fittings that you collect through playing rounds where you can trick out your equipment by applying them to your clubs. The trouble is that some fittings, especially rarer ones like the legendary type, don’t come with any negative trade-offs and will only give you boosts to your clubs.
Because separate fittings can be applied to the head, shaft, and grips of clubs (for a small price per club, as you might expect) and impact the effectiveness of each of those in a handful of different ways, it becomes easy to envision how someone who’s unlocked a bunch of the best fittings will be at a significant competitive advantage over someone who hasn’t. While you aren’t able to purchase these fittings in the pro shop, you will have access to sleeves of overpowered golf balls that can cause your shots to fly farther and stop better on surfaces. This sort of shift to an arcade recreation of golf certainly flies in the face of the way the series has always leaned on being the kind of simulation in the past where you felt like everyone was on a level playing field.
That unfortunate direction continues with the addition of a skill tree for your MyPlayer. With the skill tree, you can spend points that you also earn through playing rounds to develop your proficiency with the various types of clubs in your golf bag. As you progress through levels with those clubs, you’ll be able to activate certain bonuses on the course by meeting designated objectives. It’s a silly concept both in design and execution without much basis in reality, leaving me feeling as if I’m some kind of golf superhero who can gain powers provided I find myself in super specific situations.
Casual Online Play
It’s not that there isn’t some enjoyment to be found in PGA Tour 2K23 by pitting your skills against others online. It’s just that the entire realm is in need of some better organization and an overarching purpose. The various online playlists at launch do an admirable job of at least of giving you plenty of different ways to compete against others. These ways include 1-vs-1 match play over nine holes, skins for those willing to risk some virtual currency, and 2-vs-2 alternate shot in teams. But other than receiving XP at the end of an online match — and perhaps a small bonus for claiming a victory (assuming the game doesn’t crash when someone quits) — there is no sort of points system or ranking ladder to climb to incentivize returning to those online playlists.
With so little on display in the way of innovation, we’re left with the vague hope that perhaps there will be something else added in the coming days to the game’s competitive header besides the lone existing option of Online Societies (let’s see some events or tournaments please!).
Online Societies where you can pit your scores against others in organized events are back in PGA Tour 2K23 but not a whole lot has changed about them. The thrill of being able to plan seasons around themes while playing on courses from different parts of the world is tempered by a disappointing lack of customization and optimization. While back in The Golf Club 19 you were once able to use any funds your society collected to build bigger and better clubhouses, you’re still stuck with nothing to do with all your a society’s money but add it to event purses as with PGA Tour 2K21.
For any societies with a lot of members, like the one I have run in the past (insert shameless plug to join Legacy Leagues Golf), there’s also a need for search functionality that would allow you to find any toxic members or rule breakers so you can give them the boot without scrolling through page after page of everyone who has joined. There also appears to be a legacy bug that is still around where your actual leaderboard placement is not lining up with what’s being presented in-game. For example, I could be in 20th on the actual leaderboard, but with the in-game leaderboard and presentation/commentary I may be told I’m in 4th place.
One aspect of PGA Tour 2K21 that seemed downright archaic was its replay presentation and how little control you had over taking a second look at a great shot that just happened. That’s why it’s shocking to find that not much has changed in how you view replays in PGA Tour 2K23 aside from the ability to cycle through a few angles that can be inopportune. Even this feature somehow isn’t outlined in the replay options though and needs to be discovered on its own.
A sports game like this really must have the kind of replay functionality where you can take control of the camera yourself to find the best perspective of a stellar approach or long putt. Take notes, EA!
Lack Of Animation Customization
PGA Tour 2K23 may have improved the swings of its golfers by doing a lot of motion capture, but the ability to choose or even build your own swing from a number of options remains a glaring omission. This fundamental movement that you see from your player on every shot would be another opportunity to set yourself apart from other golfers and show off your own personal style. While we’re on the topic, it would be appreciated if players could also equip signature emotes like in the NBA 2K series to help punctuate a great shot or let out some frustration when one goes astray and ends up in the drink.
With PGA Tour 2K23, the series appears to be at something of a crossroads. It is clinging to its simulation past and yet all too willing to adopt arcade elements that threaten its legitimacy. To its credit, the game is a vivid and challenging recreation of the sport that’s at its best when you’re out on a course shooting a round. The familiar swing stick controls require a higher level of precision than before, while the new 3-click option has been integrated with seamless panache. Archetypes that are now available for your MyPlayer give you some choice about what kind of golfer you would like to be, and in casual modes you can finally use real golfers like Tiger Woods or other prominent athletes like Michael Jordan. Topgolf provides a breezy alternative to hitting up a course if you’re short on time and want to practice your aim alone or with others by hitting some targets at the range.
On the more worrisome side of things, the way that you’re able to use skill points and club fittings to boost your abilities and give you a better chance of success calls into question the competitive balance that has typically been a calling card of the series. Online play hasn’t been given much attention, with the casual playlists continuing to need an overall focus and Online Societies returning largely untouched. The antiquated replays are frustrating in the lack of control they offer the viewer and in how terrible they can present a great shot that just happened. More customization would be appreciated when sculpting your MyPlayer, like the chance to design your own unique swing.