FIFA is the epitome of love to hate. No matter how often I say "I'm never going back," I always return. The football series has been going strong since 1993, albeit with a few ups and downs, but it still reigns supreme for the football simulator market.
This is the end, though. EA and FIFA will no longer partner for future football games meaning a shakeup is expected over the next couple of years. With that, I thought it was a great opportunity to check out the latest (and final) instalment in the FIFA series to see how it's progressed – and boy, is it me or has it become more complicated? Specifically, Ultimate Team.
I've dabbled quite a bit with the build-your-own dream squad mode, investing more than I probably should have during my teenage years. It's a brilliant idea that has continued to grow, amassing over $1.62 billion in 2020 alone (via Goal). That's a phenomenal amount of money for what is essentially the virtual equivalent of card collecting.
Jumping into Ultimate Team for the first time since 2019, I was hit with a barrage of messages, menus and different ways to play. It was quite overwhelming, making me suddenly feel incredibly old – insert 'Am I out of touch?' Simpsons meme. It definitely feels more modern to what I've encountered in the past, arguably slicker. Being able to jump in-and-out of menus, sell players or compare prices in seconds is something that I'm hoping I'll come to appreciate in time. Right now, it feels like a lot.
One prime example is that the joy of opening a booster pack has somehow been degraded. I'll never forget those days as a kid ripping open a new booster pack of Panini World Cup stickers, only to get multiple repeats and that highly sought after shiny. In FIFA 23, opening booster packs feels like more of a chore.
It's great that as a newbie I can loan legends like Thiery Henry or Pelé for a couple of games, something unobtainable unless you either play for thousands of hours or pay an extortionate amount of money for. I also like that you can preview one booster pack a day, so you know what you're getting back. That said, the abundance of meaningless booster packs that gift a stadium perk, new football colour or bronze tier player that I'll never use for completing the most basic of challenges (scoring a goal, selling a player etcetera.) makes the whole experience lesser . A booster pack should mean something. It should signifying excitement, anticipation and joy. This isn't it.
While the introduction of Women's Club football – shout out to Chelsea's Sam Kerr acting as the cover athlete alongside Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappé – and improved realism thanks to EA's HyperMotion 2 technology are all big improvements. It's actually what happens outside of playing matches that trouble it most. Menus within menus, endless challenges and just a general lack of direction as to where I should spend my time hampers what remains the football gaming experience.
Sometimes simple is better. By reducing the number of activities that need to be completed to unlock the most basic of add-ons, the focus can then be put on the true appeal of the game: playing as your favourite footballers. Many people will be hoping for a big evolution from EA's next foray into the sport, I'm just hoping for something more manageable. Less paperwork, more playing.
One thing that I do love is the introduction of everyone's favourite American coach (no not, Jesse March) – Ted Lasso, who joins FIFA 23 alongside the full AFC Richmond team.