If ever there was a sports game that would have an outsized legacy for years to come, it’d be FIFA 23. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of sports games that have taken a huge leap forward from one year to the next – leaping between generations with vastly improved graphics engines, making major technical strides for the simulation of their sports – but FIFA 23 will be the last of its kind. This is the last EA-made FIFA game, and it will feature not one, but two World Cups. It’s take on the sport will be the benchmark to which EA’s new football franchise, and whatever games next receive the FIFA license, will be compared.
You wouldn’t have blamed EA for resting on their laurels for FIFA 23 or for holding back on certain updates so that EA Sports FC could launch in late 2023 and make huge steps forward. That hasn’t been their approach, though. Instead they’ve gone all in with a refinement of the HyperMotion animation technology, new iterative gameplay features like Power Shots and redesigned set pieces. There’s also an expansion of how they represent women’s football with some of the major domestic leagues, an overhaul of Ultimate Team’s chemistry system, in generation cross-play on day one, and plenty more.
As with last year’s game, there will essentially be three different versions of FIFA 23. The premier version of the game is the one that’s coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia and (with an upgrade to the newest game engine) to PC. It’s this version of the game that’s getting the biggest steps forward in terms of technology. The second tier is the game heading to PS4 and Xbox One, which most significantly lacks HyperMotion2 animations, but does get many of the new content additions and improvements. Then there’s the Nintendo Switch, the runt of the litter that gets no gameplay changes, but does receive new stadiums, the new women’s football leagues and revised visual presentation.
Obviously you’ll want to get the current gen release if you can, which will feature HyperMotion2 animations. EA has captured another two full matches using the Xsens suits to gather millions of new data points to feed into the machine learning algorithms that translate this to naturalistic looking animations in-game. Importantly, this has included a full motion captured women’s match, to ensure that side of the game is as authentic as possible. This has all been fed into what EA has branded as Technical Dribbling for individual ball control, ML-Jockey for procedurally woven together animations when guarding against an attacker, Kinetic Goalkeeper vs. Header Battles to give the goalie more of a presence when coming out for a cross, and more.
All of this leads to an improved feel to the game that’s particularly noticeable in replays – one area that EA targeted was to remove some of the ‘skating’ effect that players had when dribbling. The ball impact on limbs will impart a force to deflect feet, legs, arms and even fingers. The net, meanwhile, is now more realistic as a physics object – players even have specific animations when running into it. EA has also tweaked the shaders and lighting to get the pitch to look as vibrant and colourful as it really should, while also enhancing the visibility of the wear and tear that play puts into the grass.
Getting hands on with an early build of the game, it plays a good game of football. I don’t habitually watch the sport enough to know if it gets Liverpool to do a realistic high pressing defence, or the differences between men and women’s football, but looking out for the highlighted changes and additions, it felt solid and fun.
One part of that is thanks to the new Power Shots, which let you hold the two shoulder buttons and absolutely leather the ball – it’s the same input as from the ‘Low Driven Shot’ of FIFA 22, which you can still replicate by shooting regularly with lower power. You’ll have a longer wind-up animation to get this away, and there’s the risk/reward of then not having any assistance on your ball aim, but it feels, well… powerful. It’s so satisfying to be able to hammer the ball when you’re in a bit of space or clear in on the goal. I’m sure there’s plenty of tuning and balancing to be done between now and launch, but if you do score a Power Shot, the enhanced AR replays will really showcase everything that went into it.
There’s also redesigned set pieces. You now get a little preview of the start of the ball’s trajectory, and can choose the point of contact with the ball to change this. Penalties now have a shot timing mechanic that varies depending on the pressure moments of the game – a game winning penalty will have a faster timing than one early in the game.
Given that this is such a significant edition of the game, aiming to grab even more casual fans through the two World Cup cycles, EA has also built a new Training Centre for new players to learn some of the core skills needed to play the game. I’ve no doubt that many, many of the most casual players will ignore this and just start playing right away, but if you want to learn some of the finer details? Well, it’s great to see EA still working to bring that to players in ever-better ways.
In many ways, this is all still just scratching the surface of what EA is bringing to FIFA 23, the team making changes both big and seemingly quite small. Year on year they highlight different areas, often bringing what feels like a quite iterative, evolutionary game to market. There’s something symbolic about FIFA 23, though, and it feels like EA are leaning into that. Sure, their next football game will build on these same foundations, but they’ll want to leave a high water mark for the next FIFA branded game that comes along.