A Fitting Farewell… But What’s Ahead?
HIGH Defensive controls are an unexpected highlight.
LOW Offensive controls are alarmingly familiar.
WTF The coaches in Career Mode are impossible to impress.
Thanks to the World Cup (and maybe Ryan Reynolds and Rob McIlhenney’s lovably televised Wrexham team) international football has seen a recent boost in stateside popularity. This would seem to be an ideal time for EA Sports to deliver a truly next-gen, authentic soccer experience, but while there are moments that make good on this opportunity, FIFA 23 is ultimately the equivalent of painting fresh sidelines onto a well-worn pitch.
What’s even more interesting is that this edition likely represents EA Sports’ final go-round with the vaunted FIFA license. Though it’s unclear if the expensive elite tag will go to a competing franchise, or simply sit in game licensing limbo, one would think the company would try to close out nearly 30 years of history with a well-placed strike. Instead, the looming sense of passivity and familiarity may annoy longtime fans.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy here. FIFA 23 makes a strong initial impression with improved character models, smoother animations on and away from the ball, and more realistic crowd audio. If it’s a sense of ‘being there’ gamers want, FIFA hits the right notes. Using the stock ‘high camera’ view of the pitch, offensive strikes look smooth and realistic, with fan noise ebbing and swelling at appropriate moments, rather than simply serving as a din of random background response.
When the camera closes in for replays, the animations are a little jankier and erratic than one would expect, but still show marked improvements from past editions. On new systems, there are also improved textures on player uniforms, more-realistic field deterioration, and outstanding weather effects that distinctly impact the on-field play. FIFA 23 might not be God of War: Ragnarok, but considering how much motion is occurring during every moment of gameplay, it’s impressive all the same.
Gameplay is either redundantly familiar or dramatically improved, depending on how users choose to play. While offensive controls are largely the same as past editions, with far too many through passes leading to breakaway goals, the new defensive controls are a welcome surprise of details. Users who choose to take on the more difficult manual defensive controls will be rewarded with far fewer AI breakdowns, as the computer-controlled teammates follow the player’s lead and adjust positioning accordingly. It’s certainly a challenge, but experienced FIFA enthusiasts will appreciate the new levels of accuracy and realism.
Beyond these improvements, fans familiar with the series are going to be able to pick up and play with minimal learning curve. In fact, they may even enjoy things more thanks to a slower, more deliberate pace that better reflects real-world soccer gameplay.
As a series, FIFA has always offered a nice range of modes to keep players engaged. The card-based Ultimate Team is back and remains a divisive part of the FIFA experience. On one hand, the new “Moments” feature within Ultimate Team allows users to recreate some of soccer’s most historic memories from the past few decades. However, as long as play continues to rely on excessive microtransactions to get a better experience, many gamers will ignore it again and again.
Unfortunately, Career Mode feels like another afterthought. In a world that has fallen in love with Ted Lasso and the aforementioned Welcome to Wrexham, it’s disappointing that EA’s team couldn’t craft a more compelling narrative than a week-to-week, RPG-lite grind toward the starting lineup. The player’s character is given countless decision-making opportunities that earn points with teammates, coaches, fans, and the like, but there’s little impact that stems from these decisions, and coaches seem to always be disappointed with the user’s efforts, whether it be in practice or in-game.
As an admitted fan of sports story modes, I was hoping for something beyond my faceless character doing redundant things to find my way into the lineup, but it never materialized. Before long, my enthusiasm turned to apathy due to knowing that my in-game successes would likely result in endless criticisms on the practices that followed. I didn’t ‘finish’ the story during my full month with the game, and I likely won’t revisit it in the months to come.
As most fans of the series will attest, FIFA 23 is best when keeping it simple. Play Now, Seasons, and the newly added World Cup mode present straightforward, no-nonsense football sim experiences that remind users of why unadulterated digital soccer is great, with nothing getting in the way of gameplay and atmosphere to deliver excitement, and maybe that’s the lesson here.
Football is the world’s most popular game across borders, cultures, politics, and creeds because it offers fans the same exhilaration throughout the world. FIFA 23, when stripped of bland stories, greedy microtransactions, and mind-numbing team management, is a pure, exciting videogame. It’s the excess that ultimately mires it down.
Disclosures: This game is published by EA Sports and developed by EA. It is available on XBO, XBS/X, PS4/5, and PC. This game copy was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Approximately 19 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately 3 hours of play were dedicated to online multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. This is an accurate representation of professional soccer/football. Realistic tackling animations and injuries may concern some parents.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the Game Settings menu.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: FIFA 23 features subtitles and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. The game is easily playable without sound and is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.