EA Sports PGA Tour release date & gameplay revealed, with 30 courses
It only seems that the biggest features of EA Sports PGA Tour, which launches on March 24, are ones that fans have already played and enjoyed a decade ago. The Augusta National Golf Course and the Big Four Men’s Championships are there; even things like boosted players with “blockbuster” camera changes are making a comeback.
But focusing solely on the return of the Masters Tournament, or the visual fidelity with which Augusta National and other courses are presented, would sell short what I saw in a presentation last week. Namely, a career mode that feels even more like an RPG than before, offers more ways to customize and shape your created golfer’s style of play, and it looks like it’ll swallow up as many of my parties as the old games. Tiger Woods.
EA Sports PGA Tour feels like a game where, while there will be more real-life professionals on the roster than ever, the developers understand that the users themselves are the real stars of the show.
“Even when we had Tiger, over 97% of people play as a created player,” producer Ben Ramsour told Polygon in an interview after the presentation. “So we know that’s a fundamental motivation. However, we’ve done a lot to build those relationships with those pros, and we want to tell their stories in-game.”
Admittedly, I couldn’t get much out of just one glimpse of the detailed golfer progress screen we were shown. But players will rank up 10 different skills (each with 10 ranks) as they acquire skill points at each level. Lead Producer David Baker has even hinted that at advanced levels, players will be able to unlock trait sets that will make their golfer’s abilities resemble the playing styles of the biggest PGA and LPGA stars.
EA Sports PGA Tour Producer Ben Ramsour on Course Fit: “It’s greater agency between you and your character on the course – that’s the main motivation behind this information.” Photo: Electronic Arts
All of this builds on new gameplay that continues to offer broad-based shot shaping features and further differentiates them with 20 shot types, some of which are unlocked in the later stages of attribute progression. These types of shots can also be categorized, it seems.
“I think a big thing is experimentation,” Ramsour said, noting that players can once again create multiple avatars and progress them individually. He also said, “We want users to see, Hey, Tony Finau’s game fits Augusta really well, but it’s terrible for Harbor Town.”
This shows up through a nifty little menu I saw called Course Fit, which stole the show when it came to something new that will connect me more to my created golfer. Course Fit, displayed on the course selection screen, gives players a relative view of their skills versus what the course will expect from a winning player. Five attributes – Power, Driving, Approach, Short Game and Putting – all have bars; the closer a player’s bar is to that of the course, the more he can take advantage of this feature.
This is not an attribute boost; it’s just visual information that will give me an idea of how risky my ideas are on the second shot of, say, one of the par 5 holes at East Lake Golf Club, or how important it will be to respect this approach to Pebble Beach, where a demanding game of putting awaits me.
Lead producer David Baker said the new Challenges mode is “for bite-sized gameplay moments and to replicate the experience of the pros between career events.” Photo: Electronic Arts
“So for me, I want to win the big championships,” Ramsour said. “So in my first created player, I’m leveling up the move types to win all four majors. But eventually, I’m going to want to win all of the tournaments in the hardest mode. So I know I’m going to have to be less of a bomber and more accurate to win at Harbor Town.
Although players can have multiple created golfers, most stick with one for the career. They will most likely see all of the differences that Ramsour mentions in Challenges, a separate mode, but one that has an added career effect.
The challenges, to me, felt like the kind of bite-sized moments available in Madden Ultimate Team’s single-player offering. This is because it will be live service content, driven by real-world events, and like MUT, they will use different players in addition to the created pro. Baker said the challenges are designed to play like workouts between rounds, meaning they’ll be shorter experiences focused on a particular skill or a particular time.
The rewards will be skill points to use in the progression of created players, as well as clubs and cosmetic items that they can equip. (It’s important to note that these clubs, equipment, and apparel do not affect player attributes, as they may have done in the past.) Golfers can expect a season-based approach here instead of other online sports video games have adopted.
All of these modes, players and courses – 30 at launch, the most ever for the standard edition of an EA Sports golf title – mean little if the core gameplay isn’t tight, informative and understandable. While last week’s event wasn’t hands-on, the developers focused on the swing mechanic and the 20 shot types that support it in a one-hole demo at Augusta #13.
Best example: a stinger, which is a lower but safer hit from the tee. Gameplay designer Craig Penner used the dart to string together a 266-yard drive with Jordan Spieth still hugging the No. 13’s famous left-hand sweep – he just used the downhill fairway to get his distance. In the end, Spieth sacrificed about 10 yards from distance to make a safer shot. This is something I often tried to replicate in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, but the lowest trajectory this game offered was nowhere near what I saw last week.
Gameplay designer Craig Penner said he was “just chasing bowling” on a course with favorable greens. At TPC Sawgrass he said: “I had to change the way I played to go more to the middle of the green. You cannot chase pins. You have to actually play this course. Photo: Electronic Arts
Ramsour, playing as 2022 Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, used boost-assisted training – impressive and successful, but still a dangerous shot that is a blind approach and could cut through treetops if not executed perfectly. But again, Scheffler is longer off the tee than Spieth, so both golfers were playing to tap and taking, or avoiding, appropriate risks (especially as highlighted by Course Fit).
I was also struck by the feedback we heard from the game during the demo. For once, it looked like the broadcast team was actually watching what was playing. Lead commentator Rich Lerner is returning from the 2015 Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, and on Penner’s shot with Spieth, I heard him discuss using fairway width and steepness to achieve the desired result.
Returning broadcast partner Frank Nobilo (and new course reporters Notah Begay III and Iona Stephen) also provided context-appropriate color, a dramatic improvement over previous games, which mostly offered generic repetition.
“We have technology that provides detailed analysis of how putts will break,” Baker said during the presentation last week. “There is also a system that links the field reporter’s analysis to the current situation and also highlights landmarks from our excellent course list, to tell historical stories from those exact locations on the course.”
EA Sports PGA Tour will launch on March 24 – two weeks before the Masters 2023 – on PlayStation 5, Windows PC and Xbox Series X. It will be available in a standard edition as well as a digital deluxe version, which offers early access from three days, plus content including bonus XP and virtual currency for in-game Pro Shop items.