FIFA 20 – Review

Every year FIFA is the game that outlasts everything else. It’s always in rotation, sometimes it is the only thing I am playing, other times I am just dropping in occasionally to get my fix of football. My love of the beautiful game is what brings me back just as much as it is the video game itself. This year there are some changes and an entirely new mode to play, but does it all work out to be a better game?

FIFA 20 introduces a new game mode called Volta, which initially looks like FIFA Street in a new form. It sorts of it, but there is less emphasis on the over the top tricks and one on one battles and its more of a team effort. It can be very satisfying to ping the ball between a few of the Volta players as you progress up the small 3, 4, and 5-a-side arena’s which all have their own style and rules. Some have walls reminding me of the 90s FIFA games when you have smaller sided indoor games available.

Volta is a good idea, but it is some way off being the finished article. If you control just your edited character “Revvy” your AI teammates will fluctuate between being useful and being liabilities. The shooting mechanic is a little broken against AI teams as well, as you will find yourself with a shot you think should nestle in the top corner flying wildly towards the corner of the arena, whereas your AI opponent can hit the target from anywhere. The 3 and 4-a-side games don’t feature goalkeepers, so the problems are exacerbated in these game modes. The 5-a-side is good, but keepers are arguably overpowered here, as the tiny goal they are protecting means every shot is very near them. This creates a game where you are constantly trying to pull off a “sweaty goal” where you run up to the keeper and then roll it to the side for your team mates to hit home.

Moving on from Volta, I should touch upon the game mode I love to hate, Ultimate Team. I have played a bit of it this year to understand what’s there, and its largely the same as every season, the game is just a near perfect engine for trying to tease and extract money from you. The satisfactions from seeing a “walk out” player from opening a pack is a great thrill, but I have had one in the entire time I’ve played, and I have well over 300 players from packs. I didn’t buy all the packs, most of the packs are earnt through the game modes one saving grace for me, the squad building challenges.

These are 11-piece puzzles you need to solve using different players with matching clubs, leagues or nationalities to meet the targets of each challenge. They are immensely satisfying to complete, and although you could probably google it and find a much easier way to get through them all, I found the challenge and reward very satisfying. The few games of ultimate team I did play online and offline were frustrating, either way too easy offline or, once I had won against a few teams of similar level to mine online, I got put against a player who had an incredibly overpowered squad. Messi lined up alongside Suarez and Thierry Henry, all 3 players costing more individually than my entire squad of 18. This is an example of broken matchmaking and what I feel is the game trying to entice people into buying packs because when you see those players, you want them.

Enough about that shite game mode, onto Career mode. It’s been a rough launch for FIFA 20, with its career mode reportedly being a bit broken. Weirdly, I haven’t had any of the issues reported, but I have noticed that the squads are still not updated. Whilst I am grateful to have Nacho Monreal still at Arsenal, it does break the feeling of it being an updated new season a little. I played a full season and a half so far with Arsenal, and I have found it a bit too easy. Without playing many games I won the league and cup double, and the following season I bought Kylian Mbappe for just 130m. At that point I stopped because it just felt too easy, so I will wait for the new update and try again.

Career mode’s big new features are more squad interaction and a new dynamic potential system for play progression. The press conferences and the post-game interviews are well presented, but they appear to have very little effect on anything. Morale is present in the game but so far everything I have said has boosted morale. Player interactions are improved as you can now respond to a disgruntled player who wants more play time and explain why, but again I am not sure it has any purpose beyond a morale rating.

The dynamic potential is a feature I am very intrigued by, and I think I saw it working a little bit. In my playthrough I played Matteo Guendouzi a lot, as well as Reiss Nelson and both players improved significantly more than I would have expected them to in FIFA 19. By significantly, I mean 2 overall points, but they will make a big difference long term over a few seasons so I will be keen to see how this plays out over a longer time.

Finally, and most importantly, Pro clubs. It’s the best mode. It just is. Unfortunately, EA haven’t paid much attention to it, continuing the tradition of them ignoring their own ready-made eSport. The player creation is a different but gives you the same pro’s after you’ve been through it, and the skill tree is a bit more intricate, but beyond that it’s the same core game I love.

The actual on pitch gameplay is, and I am not sure many share this opinion, a much better game than FIFA 19. FIFA 20 is a much more challenging game to play at high levels online in Pro Clubs, which is how I will judge most FIFA titles. You can easily batter the AI if you’re an experienced player, but the online game modes like seasons and pro clubs test the games metal a lot more. You can no longer float a ball over the top into space quite so easily, as defenders do seem a lot more aware and switched on to attacks. They attempt to intercept all the time, and whilst it’s frustrating to have what you expected to be a well times through ball cut out by a defender, it does give me that feeling that I can improve and learn to get those passes right.

The close control is better than it’s ever been and for the first time I think FIFA has managed to get pace and physicality between players right. If you’re a faster player, you will notice that now you have enough pace to get past an opponent but it you miscontrol it in slightly the wrong direction the defender will have a chance to get back in and slow you down with a shoulder charge or a well-timed tackle. FIFA 20 has its own pitch problems though, and one of them is referee’s. The inconsistency is a real frustration for me, as realistic as it is. In FIFA, I expect it to get all the decisions right, and it gets far too many fouls wrong. At times you will be booked for an innocuous coming together when you’re running for the ball, and other times the ref won’t even notice a player taking out another with a late slide tackle.

FIFA 20 delivers this season on the pitch with a more realistic, slower game where your pace is a weapon, but not an overpowered one. Slow build up play and smart off the ball runs are rewarded, and there is some really satisfying football to be played. I will be playing it long into next year, and I think with the incoming patch updates and squad corrections, it will become a better all-round game.

Good: The presentation as always is great, and the gameplay is better than it’s been for a while. New models are promising but need a bit of refinement to be a viable regular game mode for me.

Bad: Ultimate Team is still there, and the referees are frustrating. Career mode needs an overhaul, and it has for a long time.

8/10 – FIFA 20 is a solid platform, hopefully next year they can build on it and address the community’s concerns. 

 

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FIFA 20 – Same but Different

FIFA 20 is out Friday, but those like me with an EA Access subscription have already been able to plough 10 hours into the game over the last weekend. I won’t go into the Pro Clubs or any of the online modes, but I have played through most of a season in career and a few games of Volta, so this is just my thoughts so far. I will post more next week when I have had a chance to play the other modes. 

One immediate thing I noticed after coming from PES 2020 last week is the presentation is just so much more immersive when it’s all the correct badges, animations, and stadiums. PES this year runs FIFA close on the pitch but the area around the pitch and the menus and other areas of the game are just not even in the same class. FIFA nails presentation and it has for a long time, so this really isn’t anything new.

What separates this year’s effort from last years is the gameplay on the pitch, and the introduction of Volta football. Volta is essentially a remixed FIFA Street with less of the bombast and more grounded in actual futsal and street football. Players glide with the ball around the futsal court, and your players feel like they have more close control than they ever do in an 11-a-side game which is exactly how it should feel as the close control is essential on the smaller pitches. I should mention so far, I have only played the 5-a-side games, but there are 4’s & 3’s available later in the game. I didn’t spend enough time in Volta to get the full experience or even begin the story mode in there, but what I played was promising and very expansive compared to the Journey we’ve had for the last 3 iterations.

Volta adds another huge mode to the game, a game that already boasts Career, Online seasons, Pro clubs, Matchday, House rules and Coop. That’s all without EA’s favourite mode, Ultimate Team. With all the controversy around gambling mechanics in games, this year could be the last time we see Ultimate team in its current form. Either that or FIFA 21 could be rated 18. I personally hate the mode because it’s paid to win but based entirely on chance. The mode prays on addictive personalities and has been the main cause for the stagnation of other modes over recent years.

Ultimate team is what makes the most money for them, and therefore it’s the mode that has been developed the most.  Seasons and Pro Clubs deserve huge overhauls but they’re not going to be arriving this year. I am unsure why there is no huge e-sports league for Pro Clubs, but I imagine it’s because of the complete lack of attention paid to it by the developer of the game. What worries me is that any development put into it will result in the bullshit of Ultimate teams’ packs and micro-transactions finding their way into Pro Clubs. To be fair I don’t mind Micro-transactions in most games, but in a series that asks for £60 every year, I think its egregious and greedy. That’s why I don’t play much Ultimate team.

I spent most of my time with the game playing Career mode, trying to get through the new features whilst getting a good few games under my belt. The menus and layout are much the same with a few tweaks that have helped with navigation and made it easier to get where you need to be. Little things like being able to go from the scouting screen straight through to the transfer hub when you find the player you want only saves 3 or 4 button clicks through menus. but considering the amount of times you do that in career mode, it adds up very quickly.

This scouting system has not changed from previous years which is a disappointment for me. I love the feeling of finding a player on Football Manager using my scouting network and them becoming a star. That feeling is there on FIFA for a while, but soon there will be lists online of the highest potential players. Or at least that’s how it’s always worked before. There is a new Dynamic Potential mechanic in the career mode now which is supposed to raise the potential of players based on how much game time you give them and train them. This is a game changer for me if it works, but only time will tell. Being only 2 thirds through the first season with Arsenal, I haven’t noticed much. I am giving a few young players a load of game time to try and see if they improve faster than the youth players I am not playing, and it does seem to be working.

On the pitch the improvements are noticeable. One key thing is the ball physics and how your players move their bodies and adjust to the ball depending on the position it is arriving at them. I am interested to see if these animations are fluid enough to not become standard, which is normally a thing with every FIFA. At the start the new animations feel new, and then over time you notice all of them and the game becomes more predictable. Right now, having finished my ten-hour trial, it is still surprising me with different animations all the time.

The other major changes are “strafe dribbling” which enables you to slow down your player and utilise the skilful players close control by shifting the ball from side to side. and then shuffling past a defender with a quick dash when they’ve committed one way or the other. This is counteracted by the defenders new stat, Defensive Awareness, which so far seems to mean defenders are much more likely to intercept a ball when its near their feet rather than the players not taking the ball unless you press a button to make them do it. Changes to the player physics mean you can now run alongside an attacker and your defender will push and try to get ahead of them and steal the ball just by you angling your stick towards them rather than having to hold circle.

As I mentioned my trial is over, and I won’t be able to play more until this weekend, but so far, FIFA 20 has made enough improvements to keep me coming back, here’s hoping I am surprised by Pro Clubs and the Volta.

‘Til then.

ChAzJS