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 – 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

 

Anthem – Review So Far..

EA owned studio BioWare have a long history of single player, character driven, branching story path games. Mass Effect is well-known as one of the most beloved series in the gaming world, and that studio’s new property is a very enticing prospect for a lot of fans. However, being the first “Live service” type game BioWare have attempted, there is a lot of skepticism over how well everything will work and whether EA have affected the choices being made by the developer too much from above. 

As a big Destiny player, I went into Anthem with my expectations in what I feel is the right place. I know this game has micro transactions, but they are all cosmetic, and the suits themselves are so customisable in terms of pain jobs that the options really don’t matter very much. I also went in knowing there would likely be connection issues and game bugs, as well as little quality of life defects which were all present in the first Destiny, and still present in Destiny 2. These types of games are sold as a platform for players to enjoy for a long time, not just one 20-30 hour play through.

That being said, I still had pretty high expectations when it gets down to the feel of the gameplay, the production design of the world, the lore, the characters, and the story. I played a few hours of the demo a couple of weekends ago and the flying felt fun, but the small slice I got was tough to judge thoroughly on the gameplay. The world certainly looks beautiful, with lush jungles, stunning waterfalls and cool looking javelins to look at as they zip around the environments. But does it all click together?

Javelin. 

The games core gameplay is designed around 4 different classes, each with different abilities. At the time of writing, I have used the Storm and the Ranger, with one the Colossus unlocked. 2 of my friends have been using the Interceptor and the Colussus, so I am aware of their abilities, but I stuck mostly with the Storm class, as they suit the way I want to play.

With different elemental abilities, varying from shooting ice or fire at enemies to calling down lightning strikes, Anthem certainly does a good job of making you feel powerful. Despite there being a wide variety of guns in the game, I found they was almost a secondary weapon. The abilities refresh quickly, and there is a deeper than it first appears combo system at play during the encounters. Mastering these combos is never really explained, but as I play more I am beginning to get a feel for how you are supposed to play the abilities in tandem, not just with your other abilities, but with other players.

Being with other players is a key part of Anthem’s design, as the game regularly warns you should you choose to set your privacy settings to private and play missions solo. The game does not scale things down for you, you’re on your own and you have to do everything the usual 4 person squad would have to do. This makes some levels impossible, like the challenging Strongholds. I got over my desire to solo every mission with Destiny, so it didn’t bother me having 3 other people jump in on missions in Anthem.

Javel-out

Anthem’s hub world, similar to the divisions home base, is a single player area for players to walk around, interact with characters and pick up missions. All of this is done in first person, which to me eliminates the point of you picking a character model right at the beginning of the game. It’s most similar to the ship in Mass Effect Andromeda, with a range of characters in their positions, ready to talk to you about any number of things. One of the things it doesn’t do that Mass Effect did so brilliantly, is make all of them interesting. There are 1 or 2 dull characters on your ship in mass effect, beyond that they’re all engaging, unique, interesting characters.

So far in my time with anthem, the reverse is true. There are a couple of interesting characters, but only a couple who I am really invested in. It’s not as if the voice acting and animations are great, they all are as good as you will see in any big video game these days. My problem is that the game thrusts a few characters at you and kind of expects you to understand references they make which I feel will only make sense if you read all of the entries in your bio.

With a few characters, like Owen and Faye, they deliver some intriguing characters who actually seem to have an arc of their own. Their dynamic, and their relationships with your character make for some of the more entertaining cutscenes and I hope a few other characters develop in the same way they did in my play through.

Teething Issues

Turning on Anthem for the first time this weekend, I expected to run into a lot more game crashing bugs and glitches, but I have only had to reset the game one time, and I have only disconnected two or three times. All pretty impressive for a game that struggled in its beta/demo, but then they will argue that is exactly why they did the beta in the first place.

What Anthem does struggle with is a few little choices that were made when it comes to the menus and end screens of missions. Changing guns is something you do regularly in these games, and yet Anthem not only hides such a trivial task behind 2 loading screens, it also restricts you to only using the guns and abilities you depart with. Forget to equip that new assault rifle or new Ice attack? You will need to end your expedition, sit through the loading screens to get back to Fort Tarsis, then another one to get to the Forge menu.

The end of each expedition is a cumbersome affair. You get your experience points and rewards laid out, all in comparison to the rest of your squad, and then you’re given the choice of Fort Tarsis, The forge, or the Launch Bay. The one option missing from this is the ability to jump straight into another mission. Regardless of how short the mission was, you have to go back and then redeploy from the home base every time. This kind of thing is something that I can see them adding in with a substantial patch in a few weeks or months, but I do wonder how this has been overlooked.

At times these little quality of life touches in a game are overlooked, but when they are not there, you feel like something isn’t quite right. The comparison is being made a lot between this and Destiny, but I do feel right now they are unfair. At launch, Destiny 1 and 2 were vastly different. Right now, Destiny 2 is a well oiled machine, and its audience know exactly what the drill is. Anthem needs time to find its audience, and it needs support from BioWare and EA to make sure they listen to the fans and make the right choices.

So my thoughts so far…

Anthem is a game that feels a little under baked to me. There are some excellent ideas here, and I seriously think in a few months with the support of BioWare we could be looking at a really special game. The Stronghold levels are excellently designed, mini raid levels that are rewarding and still challenging. It’s those missions I want to see more of. I am about 20 hours in, at level 20 and I am pretty sure I have plenty of game left between now and the end of the main story. I have heard the end game content in Anthem is great, which bodes well. Right now it’s pretty much exactly what I expected from the game, but for people not experienced with Live Service games like this or Destiny, it may feel a little weird to you.

It’s an odd thing that only video games as an entertainment medium can deliver, but Anthem is essentially in its infant steps right now. Give it some time, and I think this could become something be great.

Played on Xbox One

Gamertag: ChAzJS

 

 

This Week in Gaming – 22.02.19

This week I go over what games I’ve been playing in the last 7 days, speculate a little on what Google could be unveiling at their GDC panel, and look ahead to this week’s big release, EA’s Anthem. 

What I’ve been playing

Last week Shadow of the Tomb Raider was brought onto Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s stupidly good value for money subscription service. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two games since the franchise reboot in 2013. I didn’t get round to Shadow when it released for one reason or another, but once I had to give it a go once it came to Game Pass.

Square Enix have largely stuck to the formula they have used in the previous 2 games, and not added a great deal I’ve found. A little disappointingly for me, the game feels similar to my time with Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, but has so far not hooked me into the story. The first two games had shades of Uncharted about them, with the hunt for some ancient treasure being the motivation behind some great character work. This time round the same motivations are there, and we do dive into Lara Croft’s childhood, but its missing that intangible element that just makes you want to keep going back and pushing onto the next part of the story.

I think the lack of a supporting cast we are invested in takes its toll on this third instalment. By the third game in the Uncharted series, we are just as invested in Sully and Elena as we was in Nathan Drake. Lara Croft is the only character I could name from any of these games, I couldn’t even come up with the name of her friend in this game that I have been playing this very week.

One potential reason I grew tired of Tomb Raider, is because I knew I was just a few button presses away from the addictive brilliance of Apex Legends. Neither Fortnite or PUBG ever held my attention quite like Apex is right now, and if I wasn’t writing this, I would be playing it. I went in-depth on a little more in last weeks post, but it’s honestly one of the most well made, excellently balanced games I have played in years. The battle pass comes soon, and with it hopefully a slew of challenges and objectives to mix gameplay up a bit.

Google is coming

This week Google announced that they are going to be unveiling something, no clues on exactly what, at a press event to be held at the Game Developers Conference in March. After the apparent success they had with allowing people to stream Assassins Creed Odyssey through Google Chrome, all signs point to some kind of digital streaming gaming platform.

Google have been expanding into new markets in recent years, with their Phones and tablets emerging as viable options in both markets. They have a very trusted brand, and if they can beat Microsoft and Sony to the punch on a reliable games streaming platform with no latency issues we could be seeing a new contender emerge. Nintendo will always Nintendo, so I don’t see this affecting them very much, but I am sure the big 2 console owners will be watching carefully come March 19th.

I for one hope they release some form of hardware. I don’t believe it will be a box like the current generation consoles, but more likely similar to their Chromecast devices, which can just be plugged into a TV. The device itself will be just a proxy through which users can connect to Google’s cloud processing servers, allowing for HD to 4K quality, high fidelity games to run via the cloud straight onto people’s TV’s.

Such a device could revolutionise how accessible games are, and I can see new TV’s, or even an App for smart TV’s being launched which would allow everyone access to the world of video games with a much lower cost to entry. The elimination of a chunky piece of hardware not only saves space in people’s living rooms, but also reduces the production cost per unit sold for the tech giant. Any news on a release date for the platform is scarce, but all will be revealed in a few short weeks.

Anthem out of tune at launch?

I have been looking forward to BioWare’s Anthem since I first laid eyes on the game a couple of E3’s ago. I love Destiny, and I am a huge fan of Iron Man, so the two being smashed together and being given a story crafted by the creators of the Mass Effect series is a match made in heaven for me. It’s currently installing on my Xbox as we speak and once this is written I will be diving into the game (I prefer PS4, but my mates play Xbox, what can you do).

The game has been “out” for about a week now, although the exact launch day is a little messy. If you have an EA Origin account on PC at a certain level of membership, you could download and play Anthem, the full game, from February 15th. I have EA Access on console, meaning I had 10 hours of gameplay for free, available from the same date. I didn’t take up that offer because of two reasons. For one thing, I knew I had a busy week, and wouldn’t be able to get a decent session in until friday anyway. Secondly, being a platform in a similar vein to destiny, I knew the launch would be a little rocky.

That thinking has been proved right judging by all of the discussion around Anthem this week. Game bugs, crashes and excruciatingly long load screens have all been cited as regular occurrences for players in this opening week. BioWare and EA have announced a Day one patch to deal with these issues, but even the developers themselves aren’t sure exactly when the game released as the patch was dropped on thursday.

I know a lot of people now lose interest in a game if it is broken on release, and i completely understand and sympathise with that logic. With Anthem though, I am willing to give it a bit of time to correct these issues. At launch, Destiny 1 and 2 were fraught with similar bugs and issues. The same is also true for Ubisoft’s own version of these shooter looter games, The Division. What we saw with all of those games, and what I hope we see with Anthem, is continuous support and updates from the developers to make the game the best version of itself that it can be. Destiny 1 and 2 are both excellent games, and I have spent far too many hours on the Destiny 2 grind, and the gameplay and loot cycle have kept me hooked. If Anthem can get into a similar place, we are looking good.

What does worry me, is the comparisons some are making with Bethesda’s “How to botch a guaranteed success” game, Fallout 76. That game released with a load of bugs and glitches, and without the community mod support that Fallout 4 received, no sign of them all being cleared up. Just this week Bethesda banned a player who had committed over 900 hours to the game because apparently he had collected too much ammo for the game and he was kicked off the servers permanently. If Anthem goes the way of Fallout 76, it will be the biggest disappointment in gaming of the decade for me.

I will find out this weekend, and my review in progress (which means I will update it and give a final verdict when I’m finished with the main story) with Anthem will be up on Monday morning at 8am, so check back for my in-depth thoughts on the shooter then.

Thanks for reading!

ChAzJS on XBL and PSN