PGA Tour 2K23 Review
Continued improvement on the links
A lot has changed since I covered PGA Tour 2K21 back in August 2020. I went from being someone with no knowledge of golf to someone who has taken baby steps towards playing an actual round. I’m still learning, but I can safely say that I wouldn’t have even attempted it if it wasn’t for HB Studios’ previous release. That title has been a weekly staple of my gaming rotation since release, and I have spent countless hours playing online with friends over the last two years. So, when it was finally announced that PGA Tour 2K23 would be coming, I was interested to see how the series would evolve.
Unlike most sports, golf does not require yearly game releases. Professional golf doesn’t need to worry about major roster turnover or frequent rule changes. This has afforded HB Studios the time to really look at what did and didn’t work from their last release, and how they can adjust while still staying true to the sport itself. When the series made the move from The Golf Club to PGA Tour, there wasn’t too much of a change mechanically. However, this year’s release has introduced some pretty seismic changes.
For the more casual fans coming to the title, PGA Tour 2K23 has added a three-click swing system. This style of swing has been featured in the likes of Everybody’s Golf in the past, but the system used here is a tad more complicated. To begin, you hold down a button to generate how much power you want in your swing. This is depicted as filling up a three-tiered color circle. You are aiming for the white portion of this circle, as that is ideal. Stopping it in the grey means you aren’t generating enough power, while stopping in red means you are over-compensating. From there, you need to complete timing segments to determine swing path and club face. Essentially, these will determine whether your shot will be accurate, or go flying off into a bunker.
On its easier difficulty, the three-click system is much more forgiving for newcomers. It’s easy to get into a rhythm, and you have enough leeway to hit well even if your timing isn’t fully there. However, when playing on a higher difficulty, the system can be brutal to utilize successfully. The meter moves quickly, and if you can’t get the timing down, you’re going to be hitting some pretty ugly shots. I’ve managed to get swinging fairly well, but even now I’m still occasionally botching my path set-up. Regardless of difficulty, I do think that putting with this option feels awkward. The swing stick remains the ideal option when it comes to the short game.
Speaking of the swing stick, the title largely keeps those mechanics as is, but some changes have been made. The most immediately noticeable change is the movement of the swing meter from the bottom of the screen to the side. Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing, but having the meter closer to your golfer makes it easier to focus on correctly timing your swing. It also feels like speed and timing has been slightly adjusted to make for an easier experience. I struggled at times with the previous release with making sure my swing wasn’t too slow or too fast, but I have been having much greater success avoiding that in 2K23. That could just be my experience with the franchise speaking, but I do think it feels better this year.
Is there a proper way to play PGA Tour 2K23? Not at all, and I think both swing styles have their positives and negatives. Whatever style you are most comfortable with will determine how much enjoyment you get out of the game. Besides, with all the other adjustments that go into shot selecting, worrying about whether one swing style is correct or not just seems silly. Having to adjust for club selection, shot style, shot shaping and more remains an integral part of the game that still even gives me fits. As I have mentioned, I am by no means a professional, but having so many ways to approach a hole kind of makes me feel like one.
Although the updated swing mechanics are the most important change, the addition that has gotten the most attention is the presence of playable professional golfers. Real golfers were featured on leaderboards for MyCareer in 2K21, but you couldn’t actually play as them. 2K23 rectifies this by including a slew of both PGA and LPGA stars to select from. Cover star Tiger Woods is the biggest get, but other well-known talents such as Justin Thomas and Lydia Ko are included too. There’s even some 2K Sports cross-over action, as Michael Jordan and Steph Curry are available for use as well. Since this is a PGA branded game, though, there are several notable names not included due their move to the LIV Golf League. This means that familiar faces such as Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are not featured. It’s definitely disappointing, but with all of the controversy surrounding LIV, it’s not surprising.
These players are ideal for casual play, but the real meat of the game still comes from building up a created player through MyCareer. As with 2K21, MyCareer sees you rising from amateur to FedEx Cup champion. You can choose to start in Q-School, or immediately hop into the PGA Tour field. The goal is to have the most points at the end of the season, and this is accomplished by placing high in the various tournaments you can compete in. If you continue to do well, you’ll unlock new events. You can even swap events in and out so that you can avoid repeats in future career runs. However, if you continuously miss the cut at events, you may find yourself locked out of important matches.
In the previous title, there was not a way for you to level up your golfer. You improved your base stats by unlocking or purchasing better clubs. For PGA Tour 2K23, though, a leveling system has been implemented. When you first start out, you are given the option to select from one of five different archetypes. This serves as your base set of skills, and each archetype has their own area of expertise. I went with rhythm, which provides a boost to my overall swing quality at the expense of power. As you complete events, you’ll also unlock skill points by leveling up. These skills points can be used to upgrade your ability with the types of clubs you carry in your bag. There are seven categories for each of the six kinds of clubs, so it’s important to place these points in areas where you think your game needs a boost.
You do still unlock new clubs while making career progress, but they only really serve as visual updates now. You can even modify the color of the club shaft and grip. Instead of equipping a club with better stats like in 2K21, you now need to unlock fittings to boost the base stats of your clubs. Fittings come in a variety of styles, and like with the skill points, are broken down into specific club categories. They provide boosts in attributes such as shot shaping, power and lie range. The same fitting can be used for all clubs in a specific category as well. You don’t need to unlock separate versions of the same fitting to use across all your irons, you just need to have the one. The downside is that it does cost in-game currency to equip fittings. Not a lot, mind you, but you will need to use your in-game winnings to advance your arsenal.
There was potential here for the character leveling system to really go off the rails. As much as I enjoy the NBA 2K series, the pay to win aspect of that game is a major bummer. However, the fact that you currently can only improve your player by playing through the campaign is a relief. With the in-game Pro Shop already up and running, it wouldn’t have been shocking for fittings to be available through purchase. As of now, though, it’s only for buying new clothes and accessories. Overall, I appreciate the customization afforded through these new systems. The PGA tour is full of professionals with wildly varied skillsets, so it only makes sense that your custom player also has a unique style of play. If you want to drive 300+ yards every time, you can do that. Or if you want to be an ace chipper, that’s an option as well.
One aspect of the leveling system I don’t enjoy is the fact that golf balls now have their own unique traits as well, such as spin and bounce stats. This addition feels like one system too many to keep track of, and I wish they just let you focus on appearance only when it comes to golf balls. Another issue I have with MyCareer is that for some reason, you still need to be online to play through the mode. This is a single-player focused mode, and as far as I can tell, there’s no actual reason for the game to force you to be online for it.
The choice to force you to always be online to access MyCareer is baffling, because the title features a solid slate of online options already. The ability to join online societies is the main source of top competitive play. The official 2K society is where I imagine most players will flock towards, but the option to create private ones for just you and your friends remains a nice touch. Outside of societies, you can choose to just play single rounds of various types as well. Skins, Stroke Play, Match Play and Scramble return, as does the Divot Derby, which was a mode that was added after 2K21’s launch. Finally, there’s an option to play Topgolf as well. Topgolf is a competition where you work to drive the ball into targets of various differing points. Highest score at the conclusion of the match wins. This is something that is more fun to play in real-life than virtually, but it’s still a nice option to have included.
Although the gameplay remains as strong as ever, PGA Tour 2K23 still can’t quite match it in the aesthetics department. Perhaps because pros are now playable, character models do look better, and pretty close to their real-life counterparts. However, the courses themselves continue to look rather uninspired. There doesn’t appear to have been much of a bump from the last gen-only game to this year’s release. The same commentary duo returns, but they are now joined by English broadcaster Henni Koyack as well. The addition of a third person, though, doesn’t fix the issues with the commentary. They are still prone to repetition, and struggle to accurately call the action.
After two years of tinkering, PGA Tour 2K23 is a worthy follow-up to a title I really came to enjoy. The swing stick feels just as good as ever, and the addition of the three-button swing system opens the door for a new audience. Tying character progression to completing the campaign instead of buying new clubs was a smart move for the series as well. It can be tough to keep track of every system involved, but it offers a stronger sense of improvement than just purchasing a better club. It’s a shame that the presentation of the series still feels behind other sports titles. With a lot of carry over from 2K21 when it comes to course availability, I was expecting there to be more visual panache this year. At their current trajectory, though, I expect that whenever the next iteration of the series debuts, they’ll have upped their game.