The state of FIFA 19 towards the latter end of the game’s life cycle left me with very little hope for FIFA 20. Although last year’s iteration started off on a positive note, there were clearly many issues that plagued the game. EA started off by staying on top of many of the issues and they continued to provide the community with pitch notes to demonstrate that they were committed to improving the game. For some unknown reason, that communication fell apart, and the result was a game that was everything but eSports-ready. With all of that in mind, I didn’t really have any reason to believe that FIFA 20 was going to be any better, especially since most of the efforts seemed to focus on the new Volta mode. However, with over 100 games of Ultimate Team already under my belt, I can safely claim that FIFA 20 is exactly what was needed to restore my faith back in the franchise.
Unlike the past three years, FIFA 20 feels like a true evolution and a massive step in the right direction. At the point of writing this review, there are still some major bugs that EA has already acknowledged. I would also argue that these bugs are so obvious that they should have been picked up by testers and game changers. However, EA’s responses to these issues have so far been proactive and perhaps more importantly, transparent.
This year, FIFA 20’s marketing campaign has been focused largely on Volta. This new mode finally brings FIFA Street back to the game. Gamers have been shouting for a street mode in FIFA for some time and EA’s first attempt at the mode is impressive. It has some faults, however none of them seem game-breaking.
Of course, the gameplay is what EA has been criticized about the mode in the past. FIFA 19’s gameplay was lacklustre. FIFA 20 however feels like a completely different game. EA has taken the major feedback from the community and placed a large emphasis on providing more balanced gameplay that isn’t favourable to attackers or defenders. In FIFA 20, EA has completely reworked the defending mechanics. Gone is the AI-assisted containment. Gone is the AI-assisted tracking down of attacking runs. Gone are the auto-AI blocks when you’re shooting. That doesn’t mean that the AI just stands there until you take control. Naturally, they will still move about and attempt to make interceptions if the pass isn’t good enough. However, mastering how to defend has never been more important. You will need to manually contain, jockey, track striker runs and finally, make the tackle. If you use previous homing-missile tactics to charge defenders at attackers, you’re going to be left with your pants down. The biggest issue with FIFA 19 was that you could just let the AI defend for you. In FIFA 20, if you do that, you’re going to lose.
Attackers also now have more abilities to control the ball and dribble past defenders. Most importantly, you can now strafe better with the ball. If you’re one-on-one with a defender, you can strafe and if timed correctly, dribble right past them with a perfectly-timed skill move. It isn’t overpowered – a good defensive player will be able to time the tackle too. If you’re up against a player like Neymar and don’t have the confidence to make the tackle, even tactical fouls can prove to be a useful breathing tool.
Another issue with FIFA 19 was the crossing and heading. To put it simply, they were way too overpowered. Almost every other match in FIFA 19 would contain a player executing an ‘el tornado cross’ (a flicked-up 360 turn, followed by a volley cross), with someone short winning the header on the back post. If you were one of those gamers, you’re going to have to find a new way to score. The likelihood of a successful cross has been totally reduced. This is coupled with a reduction in heading accuracy, which means that scoring headers from crosses or abusive corner kicks is a thing of the past.
The shooting has also been vastly improved. In FIFA 19, EA introduced the timed-shot indicator. It allowed players to time their shots for better accuracy. The issue was that it was too easy to execute. In addition, FIFA 19 was home to abusive first-time shots from almost any position (including outside of the box). It made every match boring to play and the shooting was probably the main reason why FIFA 19 was so soul-destroying. All of that has been reworked in FIFA 20. No more abusive mechanics for long-distance shots and finally, one-on-ones with the goalkeeper are easier to score (as they should be).
Goalkeepers have also been massively improved. They are now more likely to parry the ball to safety. They are also more reactive to second shots. There is a current issue where they perhaps still don’t parry it out of play enough, however EA has already addressed this in a new upcoming patch – this is just one example of how EA is responding to gameplay feedback. Ultimately, you now have a football game where you’re finally going to get to see a variety of goals rather than the same types of shot.
Skill moves are also finally rewarding. In FIFA 19, top players (including almost all professional players) would abuse the same skill moves (elasticos, croquettas etc.) and they could chain those moves as much as they wanted. The problem was that it was almost impossible to tackle someone who was abusing these moves. In FIFA 20, EA addresses this by reducing the effectiveness of skill moves that are chained. If you keep spamming skills, the player eventually loses control of the ball altogether.
Pace is also a more useful attribute in FIFA 20. Although it has always been important, if you manage to burn past a defender with Mbappe, that player isn’t catching him if they both have similar stamina. The last thing I want to see is Vincent Kompany somehow rubber-banding with the likes of Mane. FIFA 20 doesn’t have any such noticeable rubber-banding.
Even the overall gameplay speed has been reduced. Ultimate Team in FIFA 19 was too rapid. It was unrealistically rapid. Whilst FIFA is not a football simulator, it was in desperate need of slowing down. FIFA 20’s pace is much better. It isn’t as slow as PES, but it at least now allows you to have a split-second to think about your next move.
Visually, the game has also been majorly improved and that is largely down to the player models. The footballers look like human beings. Their shoulders are wider, and they look more life-like. This doesn’t have a huge effect during gameplay but watching replays and cutscenes is now more bearable. EA has also added new stadiums and in Ultimate Team, you can now even customize large crowd banners and pitch ornaments to match your personality.
FIFA’s career mode also makes its way into FIFA 20, however at the time of writing this review, we have not yet touched this mode. This is primarily due to many bugs that have already been reported and acknowledged in the game. Apparently, many of these bugs are extremely obvious and if so, I do have to question how EA didn’t pick these up during testing?
Volta takes the centre stage in FIFA 20 as the biggest addition to the franchise. It is EA’s answer to modern-day FIFA Street. It is considerably more arcade-like, but not to the point where you have flames coming out of super-charged shots. You can perform a lot more skills and score outrageous goals. What I love most about Volta is how you can play a variety of modes. You can play on streets with walls, without walls, and even enjoy different rulesets. You can compete in 5v5, 4v4, 3v3 etc. and even decide if you want to play with rush-goalies. Some of the locations are stunning. My favourite is the rooftop in Tokyo. Will Volta ever make it to eSports? In it’s current form, no chance. EA has clearly introduced this as a casual mode, to the point that you cannot even play it in Ultimate Team. If I have friends over, I will enjoy Volta. However, as an enthusiastic FIFA gamer, I personally find Volta a little too ‘casual’. My thinking is that EA will continue to expand this mode based on fan feedback. For those who do love a single player experience, there is a career mode for Volta that has you travelling the world to compete in Volta matches. It is a proper story mode rather than a menu-based simulated career. I applaud the fact that there is an actual story to its career mode, even though it is as predictable and cliché as you’d expect from EA Sports. You can even take Volta matches online by participating in a league. There is a ranking table, however I’d be surprised if many people cared about being the best in the world at Volta.
My favourite changes exist in Pro Clubs, which I still argue is the best mode FIFA has to offer. The 11v11 mode (or as many numbers as you have online) has also gone through a major revamp. Firstly, player customization has been vastly improved. The number of options is truly vast. These customizations are not just in the form of player appearances. You can even change the way your player runs, the way he takes kicks, the way he celebrates etc. EA has also introduced new events in Pro Clubs where you can compete in tournaments using special rulesets e.g. house rules. Finally, they have fixed the kit clashing issue! When you find a match, you have a short window to choose kits that only your team will see. Therefore, you will no longer have to worry about kits clashing. I wish that EA made Pro Clubs the main eSports mode for FIFA, but I will settle for the changes made so far.
EA’s creative team has also come up with some new modes for House Rules. You can now play King of the Hill which essentially requires you to maintain possession of the ball. Mystery Ball is the craziest of them all, where each ball has unique properties that alter player stats. Every time the ball goes out of play, it changes. The mode designed to bring chaos and anarchy onto the pitch, and it’s even more fun when you’re playing it with your God squad on Ultimate Team!
As expected, Ultimate Team is what EA pays most attention to. It helps pay their bills and despite the added pressure from regional governments on microtransactions, Ultimate Team on FIFA 20 remains the same in this department. The mode is still heavily pay-to-win. I don’t have any issue with people paying for their squads, but I do wish that there was a way to isolate these players so that they’re only matched up against similar players. My biggest problem with FIFA generally is that you have to pay an extremely large amount of money (or be the one-in-a-million who packs a Brazilian Ronaldo!) just to have a squad that can compete for eSports qualifiers. Perhaps this will change for FIFA 20, but I’d be surprised if that were the case. The best players in the world are the ones who have spent extortionate amounts of money buying their teams.
Despite these issues, there is now a lot more to look forward to if you’re a FUT gamer who enjoys the grind. This is largely due to the new seasons objectives. FIFA 19 had daily and weekly objectives. FIFA 20 still has them, but also has season-long objectives. These objectives give you longer-term objectives to grind towards and incentivize you to continue playing frequently. As you climb the levels, the rewards get even greater, usually with a special player at the end. EA has also been a lot more transparent around the icon situation. We know when prime icons are releasing, and therefore we can make more informed decisions regarding where our investments go.
As things stand, the gameplay in FUT 20 is extremely inconsistent. On one day, you’ll have lag-free Rivals matches. On another day, it’s unplayable. Although EA is working on a patch to improve responsiveness, my concern is that we heard all of this last year, and nothing really happened. If FUT 20’s lag doesn’t get resolved early, I can’t imagine gamers playing it for very long. The real test will be when FUT Champions starts, since that is when most gamers are competing for the best rewards at the same time. The way EA has started addressing a lot of the issues, I have faith than even the lag will be resolved soon.
Whilst FIFA 20 has its fair share of problems, I didn’t expect this different to FIFA 19. It’s simply unfair to compare the two games. FIFA 20 is what its predecessor should have been. It’s a game that rewards great attacking play and patient defending play. With the introduction of Volta, there is something entirely new for casual gamers to sink their teeth into. Finally, the game-breaking mechanics such as crossing, heading, timed-shooting, skill-chaining and first-time finesses have all been completely reworked. FIFA 20 is finally in a state where its gameplay can be considered as ‘eSports-friendly’ and with that in mind, this is the best FIFA to have existed on current-generation consoles.