Ultimate Team is….

This year I really tried. I really tried I did. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be hooked and to get into the weekly grind. To get the satisfaction at the end of the weekend when you’ve got your wins and are rewarded with multiple packs and coins to spend on improving the squad. But I just cannot do it. 

I am of course talking about FIFA 20’s Ultimate Team mode. The microtransaction monster that has dominated the game over recent years and been the primary focus of the development team because it makes EA so much money. While most of the game modes in FIFA have gone through minute changes from year to year, every year there is overhauls to how Ultimate Team is played.

I tried a few years back and gave up when I was being drawn against teams with players I have never heard of with low ratings, and then being torn apart because all of them have 99 pace ratings. I left it alone for years only dabbling a little in the game mode to see what’s what. This year I decided to follow my mates and play it, and at first all was well. I opened some packs, and despite how much I hate microtransactions I bit the bullet and invested £20. I got some okay players, nothing amazing, but it was enough to build a decent team and play some squad battles to improve the team a little.

After one week of those rewards, my premier league team was built. Jamie Vardy up front, a strong core and a formation I know very well from Career mode. 4-3-3 is my favourite formation, with a holding midfielder to protect the centre backs. Well in career mode this works, I even have the holding midfielder dropping deep to collect the ball at times. I have everything ready; my team is set up to play in the exact way I have grown used to playing the game in every mode. I am yet to be beaten by anyone online in other modes and I haven’t been beaten face to face on FIFA in about 10 years.

Things start off ok. I jumped into Division Rivals placement games and noticed straight away the gameplay was not the same as in other modes, or even in the Squad Battle challenges. The players feel loose, and they look like they’re barely able to bring a ball under control and tackling anyone is a bit of a lottery. Sometimes your player will come out of the tackle with the ball, other times it will ricochet unnaturally to another player, be that on your team or the opposition.

Ultimate team’s gameplay is like normal FIFA with all the stats slightly adjusted, and a load more random things that at times feel unfairly balanced one way or the other. There is a big discussion about how regularly goals are scored after conceding, something I always thought was much ado about nothing. Having played the game mode a bit more, I have to say it really is oddly hard to win the ball no matter how cleanly it seems like you tackle the player. It makes for a very frustrating game of football and doesn’t give me anywhere near the satisfaction I get from dominating a game of Pro Clubs or leading a team of home-grown players to glory in Career Mode.

What I find most frustrating of all is that Ultimate team has the components to be a very fun experience, but when the part where you play football is the worst part of a football game mode, you have to wonder what could have been. I have had more fun in the squad building challenges than any other mode. Those puzzles have entertained me for hours and I am looking forward to the next load of puzzles, but it’s now just a glorified mini game to me. I sold my squads and will probably forget about the puzzle mode after a while.

Ultimate Team’s days are possibly numbered, with governments all around the world looking into the legality of the loot boxes and the gambling aspects of video games, it may well mean that FIFA ends up with a R/18 rating for gambling mechanics. I can’t imagine that will fly well with EA, so they may need to revamp the mode completely.

For now, though, I will stick to Pro Clubs for most of my FIFA gameplay, and leave Ultimate Team to those who can deal with the frustration.

Have a great weekend!

ChAzJS

 

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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. 

 

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

 

The Autumn Video Game Budget

Borderlands 3 signalled the beginning of the period that hurts all gamers wallets. For some reason this 3-month run up to Christmas is when the decision makers at the big companies decide to release every game that people have been looking forward to. I get it, Christmas is coming, but surely some of them should have brought their releases forward or delayed them into 2020 to avoid the overload. 

Without using google, I can list off PES 2020, Borderlands 2, FIFA 20, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Destiny 2’s newest expansion Shadowkeep which is like a new game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, The Outer Worlds, Death Stranding and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. If we optimistically say £50 per game, that’s £450 to keep up with the conversation and that’s assuming I haven’t missed any games.

Okay now I have googled it and I missed the new Pokémon and Doom Eternal. They round it off to a cool £550. So, there is ELEVEN games potentially fighting it out for your Christmas list just of the ones I would have any interest playing. If you want to keep up when you’ll need to have a fair amount of disposable income to do so, and that is without looking at all the types of games I wouldn’t play like 2D platformers and puzzle games.

I understand the need for Sports games to be released at the start of new seasons in their respective sports, so PES and FIFA, NHL and Madden all kind of have their set release windows and that’s just how it has always been. Those games sell millions and always will because they have people invested so deeply in them. Games such as Call of Duty or Ghost Recon though, make less sense to me.

Ghost Recon seems set to be one of the losers in this fight. The last game was a game I thoroughly enjoyed, and I am excited for the next one, but there is so much competition around at the time. For me, it means Destiny 2’s expansion will be put off until the Christmas break and I will probably not go for one or the other between Outer Worlds and Call of Duty. In general, though, Ghost Recon isn’t nearly as popular as a title like Call of Duty or Borderlands and doesn’t have the curiosity around it that a game like The Outer Worlds has going for it.

Surely releasing it back in august, when there was a huge gap for a meaty game like Ghost Recon to fill would have been a better move from a business sense and got more people interested in playing it. As it is the over saturation of the industry in the autumn months will probably mean the game gets cannibalised by its competition.

A similar thing happened a few years ago to a Tomb Raider game, which was a single player story driven action adventure game that released one week after Spiderman on the PS4. The result was that I didn’t pick it up until it was on the game pass on Xbox, meaning they missed out on the money I would have happily paid if they had released at a less busy time.

I know this post won’t change anything, but I would love to see these big games show a bit more common sense and move out of the way of each other rather than fight it out.

It’s a slow news day and last night I just carried on with Borderlands 3. I posted my review yesterday, but I am trying to convince myself to finish the entire game. That’s never a good sign, but I am now at that point where I am having to convince myself to boot it up. It’s not because it’s a bad game, it just hasn’t grabbed my attention the way some games do.

It’s only 10 days now until FIFA 19 releases, and the inevitable time vortex that game is for me will mean a load of FIFA related posts. As it is, I am avoiding that type of football because Arsenal persist with playing out from the back despite it clearly not working, and now I am a full time NFL fan.

So, if anyone ask’s how my team did at the weekend, they won 43-0 against the Miami Dolphins.

ChAzJS

 

PES v FIFA: The Great Debate

There are some debates that have been going on since pop culture began. Pineapple on pizza McDonalds V BK V KFC. Xbox V PlayStation. Star Wars v Star Trek. Is it Gif or Jif? These debates are rarely settled (Except the pineapple one, get that off my pizza) but there is one that I feel has been settled for a while now. That is the yearly battle between PES and FIFA.

In my formative years, PES what where it was at. Presentation wasn’t as big of an issue when nobody looked right anyway, so in the days of PES5 and PES6 it was the only football game I played. FIFA struggled in the 2000s to get back on top after the heights of FIFA football 2003, and it waned and lost its way. Enter the PS3 generation, and FIFA picked itself up off the mat to fight back and beat down PES, almost to the point of it no longer being a debate.

In recent years, FIFA’s dominance has led to them perhaps focusing on the wrong things. Ultimate Team has been the main mode that development time has gone to, and aside from the story based “Journey” the rest of the game has remained similar for a long time. My personal favourite game mode, Pro Clubs, has been largely unchanged for years. There has been tweaks here and there but nothing to blow anyone’s mind.

I tried PES again in 2018, it was available for free on Xbox or PS4, and I downloaded to give it a try. It was a strange experience. I had pretty much ignored all the innovations over the years and just stuck to FIFA because that’s where my team was. Playing a football game that approached things from a different point of view was a refreshing break, but it did have its problems.

I don’t know lots about game development or programming, but I know enough to kind of understand how things can go wrong and the problems different obstacles can provide. Refereeing in football games is one problem I cannot even begin to understand how it is done. Unfortunately, the people at Konami who are responsible for the referee’s also seem to have very little idea either. 2018 and 2019 both had problems with the ref’s which at times break the games immersive and realistic simulation style. FIFA’S referees are by no means perfect, but they are consistent, and that makes it much less of an issue.

In recent years FIFA has completely redone its defending, and I think it’s the best innovation in football games since they introduced 360 dribbling. Gone are the days of sending your defenders after the ball like target seeking missiles by holding down one button. Defending on FIFA is an art now, and it’s made the game a much more rounded experience. PES feels a few years behind FIFA in this sense. The players still can be launched after the ball, but now they rarely win it. The idea is that you defend more with positioning than by charging at the ball and that is realistic, but only if your entire defence is paying attention.

PES 2019 lost me at around the 100th time my AI centre back just ignored a run and lost his man in the box, making my attempts to keep in shape and press at the right times irrelevant because the oppositions striker has the space to make a cup of tea before he dispatches the ball into the goal beyond my hapless keeper. PES 2019’s keepers are mostly there for show.

I do not have FIFA 20 yet, but I do have PES 2020, or eFootball PES 2020 to give the game its full title. I paid the money downloaded all the option files and updated all the kits, waited 2 days after release for the live update to refresh the players to their correct teams and then I dived in. It is weird. the previous year’s crisp passing feels a bit floaty; the natural movement of the players feels more robotic than I expected. The dribbling feels unnatural and it’s hard to predict what your player is going to do when a player is on their back.

Sometimes your player will shift his body weight to shield the ball, fighting off the player behind whilst maintaining possession and allowing you to control the ball until a pass is available. Other times, the AI player will just strut past you and take the ball with your player bumping off them and then having to go through the animation of him wobbling a couple of steps before you can control him again to win the ball back, by which point they’ve left you for dead.

Then you try to switch players to defend with you next in line, and instead of the defender you expect, you get given the right winger. This means more frustrating half seconds of them bearing down on your hopeless AI defence as you switch frantically between players. When you do get a hold of the right player, you then have to jockey and time the tackle perfectly, taking the ball and leaving the man stumbling over it as you emerge with the ball from what feels like a perfectly executed tackle. Then the ref blows his whistle and awards the opposition a free kick for your perfect, satisfying feeling tackle. There is a great feel to it when you master a tackle, but the fact that several of my best tackles end up in free kicks is so frustrating I nearly launched my controller into space.

What the game does well, is the finishing and the possession play. Passing around the defence and midfield in FIFA feels pointless. The opposition don’t hurry across from side to side to allow you to pull them out of position, and FIFA doesn’t appear to be heading that way. PES rewards you for patient, possession football, knocking it about and moving across the pitch leads to their defence starting to bend and flex until an opening appears and you can attempt the final pass to get a player into a goal scoring opportunity. It’s very satisfying and the best part of PES by far.

In terms of attacking game play, I would give the edge to PES between the two games. The new dribbling mechanic is difficult to use, but when you pull it off its immensely rewarding, as you send a defender for an ice cream and break into the space beyond him. The issue it has is that its main rival doesn’t have the same issues. FIFA is a remarkably consistent game. Each year it makes some tweaks, some gameplay changes, and it takes a period of adjustment. The basics of the game are very solid though, and for me I think PES has some brilliant ideas that feel like they’re standing on flimsy foundations. The defending needs a huge overhaul, while the refereeing will hopefully be fixed by a patch in the coming days or weeks. For now, though, PES is still climbing up the mountain that FIFA is sitting on top of.

ChAzJS

 

 

Single Player Cinema

It’s been a slow news week so far in terms of entertainment, which means I have reverted to just sitting and waiting patiently for Borderlands 3 to arrive in 10 days’ time. There is a load of films in cinema’s I need to see but have missed the boat on a lot of them. I may have to start going alone which presents its own problems. 

It’s an odd experience, but essentially, you’re in a dark room watching a film, and whether or not someone you know is with you doesn’t change the actual viewing experience. It just changes the before and after. The only film I have ever been to see on my own is Mad Max Fury Road a few years ago and I really enjoyed it.

I am not sure why I feel a little uncomfortable going by myself, maybe if I go more it will normalise it for me and I can then fulfil my stupid dream of seeing every film that comes out. In fact, that is the only way I would ever be able to see every film. In fact, I might even go tonight by myself, just for the hell of it.

The lack of movie going recently has meant my main entertainment has come from streaming services, and re-watching Brooklyn 99 or my other love, gaming. Apex, Rocket League, Siege, FIFA, and to an extent, The Division 2 are all games I have been regularly jumping between. I am screaming out for a story based single player game though, the kind of which are not on the horizon anytime soon. The upcoming releases are Borderlands 3, FIFA 20, Ghost Recon Breakpoint and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Not that one this is a new one.

All of those have some single player element to them, but there is no single player game until the 25th October when The Outer Worlds finally drops the same day as the previously mentioned COD:MW:NTO. I will no doubt play all these games but honestly there is a big problem that I think every game is going to have for me in the next 7 months until April 2020. That problem is that none of the games I just mentioned are Cyberpunk 2077.

I have never been this intrigued by a game on so many levels. The world that Witcher Developer CD Project Red is making looks so immersive and diverse I don’t think we have seen anything like it before. The same goes for everything from the graphics, the art style, the customisation options and the gameplay itself. It’s a weird time when this is the biggest game and the news about it dominates the zeitgeist when it hits, but so few people have played the game and know what it feels like. Everyone has just kind of agreed and accepted that this is the best game of the generation and honestly, I don’t know how anyone can argue from what we have seen. Maybe the game will come out and feel terrible, but I just don’t think that will happen.

Until then we must make do with what are hopefully some very good games starting with Borderlands 3 next week. I don’t know why but now my excitement for that has died down. It may be because every time Gearbox are in the news it’s a 50/50 chance it’s because their leader Randy Pitchford has done something moronic again and I am not pleased to be giving that man my money. I know people say vote with your wallets on these things and don’t buy the game he is associated with, but the issue is that Borderlands 3 isn’t made by him, it’s made by a brilliant team of developers who deserve the support.

A slow news day means a shorter blog today, but hopefully something big drops soon or I might revert to ranting about Arsenal and how Harry Kane is an Olympic class diver.

Thanks for reading!

ChAzJS