FIFA 23 is a surprising change of pace for the franchise

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In FIFA 23, speed is almost everything. In fact, that was the first thing I noticed, even though it was my first match.

Though FIFA 23’s HyperMotion 2 motion capture and machine-learning technology is by definition an iterative endeavor, replete with a catchy marketing moniker, it is not incremental. EA Sports is advertising FIFA 23 as a game where players have better control over the ball, if not greater control over their on-screen footballer, by recording, analyzing, and processing more 11-on-11, 90-minute real-world soccer matches. Average or lower-level players may have a lot of speed, but with weaker dribbling ratings, they will spend a lot of energy trying to retain possession of the ball, significantly reducing their pace. Forwards, particularly superstars, may, on the other hand, put on the afterburners and blast into the clear like never before. It’s thrilling, but also a bit humiliating, to realize, Jeez, I could have done that all along.

Last week, I met with Kantcho Doskov, FIFA 23’s gameplay director at EA Vancouver, and asked him what four or five things I should look out for first in a series where advancements are often subtle. This level of control and tempo, as well as player distinction, was at the top of Doskov’s list. “There are so many more intricacies in gaming that you’ll see after a few rounds or after a time,” he added. “But that’ll be the major first one you’ll notice.”

He’s right. Even while the game plays slower overall, the defenders will still swarm you if you don’t plan ahead of time to set up your assault. A lucky through-ball to your striker, on the other hand, may convert the 39th minute of a 0-0 game into a frantic and really critical moment for either team.

“This is really simply fundamental dribbling,” Doskov said, implying that explosive maneuvers may be performed with just the left stick and no additional modifiers or gamepad inputs. “It’s more than merely shifting course. […] It’s all about shifting speeds. We watch the finest players do this; they start fast, then slow down and burst into space.”

FIFA 23 is a surprising change of pace for the franchise

After more than a dozen complete matches in HyperMotion2, I get the impression that players’ skills and shortcomings are more visible, while in earlier FIFAs, their performance was still tempered by the role they performed on the field. This makes player management choices more relevant, especially in FIFA Ultimate Team. It also provides some much-needed complexity to learning specific portions of the skill tree in the single-player Be a Pro mode.

Despite the greasy gloss that FUT’s microtransactions and calls-to-action place on that mode, it’s still an excellent testbed for learning how the new game runs before I go off to my “real” playtime in the career modes, where I want to do everything right the first time. In FUT, I usually look at my top 11 players by overall rating and then design a structure that allows them to play. Because to the gameplay changes in FIFA 23, it is no longer a good concept. If I have three excellent forwards or strikers but midfielders who are mediocre at getting them the ball or retaining possession, it may be better to beef up my back line and play a more defensive game, even if their overall play isn’t as flashy — especially for full matches or at higher difficulty levels.

My argument is that the advantages of HyperMotion 2 go beyond the pitch and the feel of the gamepad; they also make my management decisions more thoughtful and immersive. Dedicated players may feel compelled to spend more money in order to build a squad that genuinely reflects their talent and play style. Regardless, a simplification of Ultimate Team’s often-mysterious “chemistry” system means that players in FIFA 23 may extract more value out of the cards they do have.

Previously, chemistry was dependent not only on players having a characteristic (such as being from the same country or professional club), but also on their being near to one another in the configuration you choose. That physical connection requirement has been removed, lowering the overall chemistry one may achieve (from 100 to 33) but boosting the possibility your Ultimate Team club will max it out.

The chemistry modifications also ensure that fantastic players like Kylian Mbappé (who everyone receives on loan for five matches to start Ultimate Team), who normally have little chemistry with the rest of the team, are not penalized for it. This is a consumer-friendly adjustment since it allows players to utilize the best players they have. If they do go to the auction house or transfer market, they can bring in a sentimental favorite without having to purchase up a number of other players to get him to full health.

FIFA 23 is a surprising change of pace for the franchise
FIFA 23 is a surprising change of pace for the franchise

FUT’s new Moments – bite-sized challenges rather than whole matches — are also a good way to demonstrate some of the new gameplay features, and they are arranged almost like a lesson. One in particular highlights the new free kick targeting system, in which players can pick whatever portion of the ball to strike, curling it around, over, or even under the defending wall. There’s also a “power shot” challenge that showcases a new, charged-up shooting command (holding both bumpers) that can hit amazing goals from deep beyond the goal box. That risk-reward capacity — you truly have to be in the clear to charge up such a shot, as well as aim it correctly — is yet another match-one indicator that FIFA 23 is a more complicated game than last year’s.

Despite all of these variables, moments, and other bells and whistles, FIFA 23 doesn’t seem any more inclined to huge plays or indulgent of players who try them inconsiderately. This has previously been a prevalent critique, or at least an unflattering comparison to the more technically accurate Pro Evolution Soccer, back when that series wasn’t a flop. I had just as much luck setting up my assault as I did blasting everyone forward and throwing crosses in the hopes of one landing. On defense, a new “partial team press” brings over more than one defender but not the whole team. It began a couple blink-of-an-eye counterattacks for me in Ultimate Team when combined with more precise tackling (both standing and sliding). That was never my usual style of play, but it is now.

The gameplay tweaks, which are the most significant additions to FIFA 23 since they serve all styles of play, don’t simply offer me additional stuff to do or techniques to learn on my controller. They genuinely tell me I’m better at soccer — video game soccer — than I give myself credit for by bringing me new ways to exploit my team’s skills. That was maybe the last thing I noticed in FIFA 23 straight out of the box. But it was the most important.