It’s that time of the year again, folks. As we draw the laces on our virtual boots and line up in the pre-game tunnel, questions weigh on our minds. What will this final iteration of EA’s long-running FIFA franchise bring to the table? Will it be enough to tide hardcore fans over, or introduce new fans to the pitch? FIFA 23 is more or less both. Its refined gameplay and slick visuals make it engaging to play and nuanced enough that most fans will stick around. But it’s not without its problems. Like every FIFA game in recent memory, overbearing modes like Ultimate Team pick at the wallet and eat away at underrated and more interesting modes like Volta.
Given that the FIFA franchise as we know it, along with the brand’s partnership with EA Sports, is ending, FIFA 23 is nevertheless a worthy send-off that reiterates the series’ recent successes, and highlights some lingering issues. What will make FIFA 23 an acceptable swansong for fans new and old is its level of variety, depth and accessibility, its party play and shorter gameplay sessions.
What is a FIFA game without the gameplay? We’re honestly not sure either. You could argue that the same solid gameplay from FIFA 22 returns, but the revamped HyperMotion2 engine introduces subtle nuances, and changes to both the pace and feel of the game, with new animations and motion capture efforts. HyperMotion2 gives players a more natural sense of weight and dynamic movement that you’d only find by watching real games. The way the player takes their first touch or the bump of an opponent on the far wing as they fight for possession is considered on every level, giving the experience a grounded feel that arguably slows the pace just enough for things to feel a little more tactical. It’s definitely slower than FIFA 22 was, but this change encourages a level of strategy that draws you into a match, deepening the sense of realism.
FIFA 23 has also introduced a few gameplay additions to spice up both offensive and defensive mechanics and add ratchet overall match tension. Power Shots now give players the ability to hold the shoulder buttons down and, when combined with the shoot button, unleash an abominable cannonball that I swear could tear the back of any net. The DualSense speaker throws out a noticeable boom, and it feels like a gimmick at first, but it creates a very real threat as the camera zooms in on the striker and the crowd holds its breath. The overall physicality of each play is felt as you’ll need to reposition players and jockey for incoming or intercepted passes in order to receive the optimal touch, before turning into a lane or open space. This can feel a little more cumbersome for casual players who just want to get things going, but is all in the name of realism. A few minor additions like improved AI make a difference, as opposing strikers will now look to dummy pressured shots and chip confident goalkeepers.
Next-gen versions of FIFA 23 have also received a slight visual upgrade in terms of polish, but nothing feels like a huge leap. The pitch now responds to slide tackles and rough plates with skids and divots in the grass. The many facial scans of high-profile players look more accurate than they ever have, as noticeable beads of sweat roll down their foreheads. Given the nature of FIFA, many of these adjustments are only worth it when viewed up close via replays and cutscenes, but are an appreciated addition.
Moments of nuance
Many of FIFA 23’s gameplay modes have been given slight adjustments, while others have clearly become set in their ways. Now that FIFA, as we know it, has ended, let us send off the franchise’s most notorious mode with the brutal honesty it deserves. FIFA Ultimate Team; you all know it, and you either love it or hate it. New additions to the mode have admittedly nudged it further in the right direction. FUT Moments is a welcome addition, where players take on smaller objective-driven bursts of gameplay focused on defining moments in the careers of history’s greatest players, including cover star Kylian Mbappe. Competitor 2K Sports has found success in refocusing both WWE 2K23 and NBA 2K23 on each sport’s greatest superstars, so we can only hope that EA has been taking notes.
Other changes like the much-needed chemistry adjustments now mean that the compatibility of cards are no longer tied to one another. However, I can also understand how certain players would also want to pair the best of any card pack, set or team together into, well, an Ultimate Team. Beyond this change, FIFA Ultimate Team remains the mode most stuck in its ways. The grind for the best packs and players alike is unreal and is still accomplished through the same old gameplay methods you know and resent. Want them now? Open your wallet and watch your entire Ultimate Team experience change. It’s never actively encouraged — the game doesn’t force Buy Now down your throat the way NBA 2K23 does — but it feels like we’ve passed the point of no return, with the top players now objectively rewarded for the amount of real-life money they’ve poured into a game that’s barely a week old.
“We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ cause it’s all about controlling possession.”
Because FIFA 23 revolves around Ultimate Team and its moneymaking potential, Career and Volta modes, unfortunately, feel undercooked by comparison. Once again, these modes are far from bad. The problem is that they lack the meaningful improvements that would draw fans in, particularly if they weren’t wild about last year’s offering. You’ll be able to embark on a career in the position of either a player or manager, with each journey feeling different enough to warrant at least one playthrough of each.
I confess, I personally preferred my career as a manager simply because I got to take Ted Lasso and AFC Richmond on an improbable tear through the Premier League. That genuinely was a lot of fun.
It’s worth noting that, for all the marketing around it, this addition of the fictional Coach Lasso and his team is charming, but incredibly shallow. Players like Jamie Tartt, Roy Kent, Sam Obisanya and Dani Rojas are detailed and accurate enough in terms of their likeness, but because the show hasn’t fully explored every member of its 11-man squad, many of the bench players remain faceless and relatively nameless.
As a coach (or a polygonal Ted), you’ll take part in post-game interviews, in which your answers directly affect the morale of the overall team and its players. Though EA was able to secure his likeness, actor Jason Sudekis’ voice is nowhere to be found in these segments. Ted stands in uncharacteristic silence while text-based dialogue provides the answer. I know, I’m truly nitpicking here, but I only point it out as I’m a huge fan of the show. EA could have gone deeper here, and it’s bummer that it didn’t.
As a manager, you’ll control transfer windows, team training and overall lineups as you command the team during games, controlling minutes and lineup combinations. It’s all relatively standard fare for returning fans of the franchise, but does provide a deeper look at the career offerings, should you want to pick one over the other.
As a player, you’ll again find everything as it was last year, with a few newer additions like the ability to show off certain personalities and tendencies via in-game and interview-based quotes that let you roleplay as a particular type of footballer. By making certain choices throughout your career, you’ll be given Personality Points, with three personality types to choose from; Maverick, Heartbeat and Virtuoso. These changes barely affect gameplay and will more than likely be assigned to you automatically based on how you play, should you be aggressive in terms of seeking out goals or more thoughtful in terms of setting up your teammates and sharing the ball. However, given the lack of control over personality traits and the honestly kind of self-centred nature of this particular mode, it will more than likely overstay its welcome in the long run.
Volta and Pro Clubs now exist alongside each other, with Volta serving as the FIFA Street-style approach to a more lighthearted take on football. The only new addition to Volta can be summarized in the ‘Take Flight’ abilities, which allow you to assign a certain ability to your players and team which can be activated on command. Just pick the Power Strike and move on. Certain additions via Volta Arcade are definitely welcome, through a variety of mini-games that take the edge off the serious nature of the more traditional pitch-based gameplay. Pro Clubs don’t necessarily add too much to the fray, and while matches are never necessarily broken, never work out the way they were intended to when drop-in matches exist and allow a handful of random players to mess about and play hero as they see fit. It’s no secret that this mode would definitely gain the most traction when enjoyed with friends through strategy and a sense of understanding.
FIFA 23 is the kind of sports game EA can produce on cue: somehow both a safe bet and a step in the right direction. The HyperMotion2 engine provides a realistic sense of pace and physicality, while most modes remain somewhat intact and accessible, though it comes at the cost of overall variety. Taking on a career as a manager is definitely the most rewarding way to enjoy the Career Mode, while Volta and Pro Clubs share the same sense of fun when playing with friends. FIFA’s Ultimate Team takes some small positive steps and hints at a brighter future, even as it embraces its role as an inherently tricksy money pit.
I doubt FIFA 23 will be the game that draws casual fans in due to its more nuanced, subtle changes and additions. For veterans and returning players, it will feel as familiar and comfortable as a favourite pair of sneakers. Like I said, it is an acceptable swansong to a long and storied franchise.
Let’s see what EA Sports FC can do next year.