FIFA 23 stands out thanks to four words that its community hardly dared to dream of. They. She changed. Latest. Equipment. Like, legit ripped off the whole way you build a fantasy squad, bringing EA’s final FIFA right in line with that other big world football gaming obsession: FPL. You are no longer punished for wanting Mbappe, Son, Tomori and Courtois in the same lineup. Similarly, archaic systems can no longer be manipulated to transform two central midfielders into all-conquering forwards. In one fell swoop, both authenticity and fun are significantly improved.
FAST FACTS: FIFA 23
Release date: September 27, 2022
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Developer: EA Vancouver
Editor: A.E. Sports
Contrary to plans announced before launch, EA has kept the chemistry going after all. But it’s nothing like you remember it. The maximum possible ‘chem’ is now 33 instead of 100. Players still receive rewards for having teammates or compatriots elsewhere in their Ultimate Team, just without the need for them to be next to each other. And while chemistry does provide a smooth stat boost, there is no penalty for deploying a player to zero. Son is deadly on the left in a La-Liga team that, otherwise, is everything. Nick Pope remains irritatingly impassable behind an all-French four-defence. Your dream XI finally feels personalized and limitless.
change in the palace
My fear when EA announced this revised Ultimate Team chemistry system was that it would dilute the intelligence required behind team building, but it’s actually refreshing. For example, every year, one of my first tasks is to invent a Crystal Palace team from the past and present. In the last three editions of FIFA games, Steve Mandanda and Jose Fonte have been relegated to warming up the bench due to their negative chemical effects on an EPL-focused XI. Now they fit perfectly.
It is a system that offers simplicity but also nuances. Particularly with the decision to amend position modifier cards: in FIFA 23, they can only be used to move a player to their real-life secondary or tertiary position, rather than moving them back and forth across the pitch. Big, big tick.
Division Rivals matches form the heartbeat of FUT and are a pleasant surprise, at least for now. Human opponents offer tactical variety, and the effectiveness of sitting deep to counter with two quick strikers is tempered, but this is the unscored area of the game on Weekend One. As elite players discover the meta, super cards unleash power, and patches arrive, online play will evolve in unpredictable directions. So I’m willing to praise the online game, but only with a ‘watch this space’ asterisk.
The best FUT addition in FIFA 23 is Moments. Shamelessly pulled from Madden games, it sees you completing quick offline task sequences (goals from Kylian Mbappe’s Monaco years, highlights from Jurgen Klopp’s management in Mainz and Dortmund) to unlock a tiered selection of rewards. Its bite-sized nature has you wasting minutes, then hours, then nights on the themed climb towards goodies like giant player packs. If there’s any annoyance here it’s that you have to go back to the Moments menu between each challenge, rather than quickly jumping from one to the next like you can in Madden games. But that disjointedness shouldn’t detract from a solid addition.
Away from Ultimate Team, it’s in career mode that I spend my time, and with very nice results. Here, with no boosted stats or sweaty opponents, you really get a taste of what FIFA 23 feels like as a sports simulation.
There’s a master stroke to be discovered even before you step onto the grass. After years of clamor, it’s finally possible to play as a real-life manager, instead of having to create your own inevitably silly avatar. The difference is immediate and palpable. I chose to take control of Freiburg, one of six newcomers to the FIFA 23 stadium roster, with Steven Gerrard on the bench, imagining he has been sacked by Villa and is looking to bring a taste of the Premier League to the south-west corner of Germany.
That instant backstory provides a sense of depth and makes transfer negotiations and press conferences feel authentic. I am no longer the grand pretender when trying to import Patson Daka from Leicester, or Curtis Jones from Gerrard’s old club, but a former England midfielder whose face and demeanor make the cutscenes believable. In what seems like a click of a finger, I lose five hours of a Saturday night in my new life when Stevie G. Deadwood is dispatched, the scouts are dispatched; Young players get surprise contracts with the first team, early season matches bring experimentation and new favourites. This initial ‘setup’ phase is my favorite element of Football Manager, but I’ve never been so interested in FIFA’s managerial machinations until now.
However, as I write this, I am still hooked. Jones, along with his new signing Lucas Tousart, is the midfield rock that helped lift Freiburg to fourth place. Daka, accompanied by the remnant of the previous regime, Lucas Holer, cannot help but pierce the tired defenses in search of late winners. I’ve come to love backline stalwarts Mark Flekken, Matthias Ginter, and Christian Gunter more than any recent Ultimate Team card. I have become so ingrained that the team’s unbeaten run ending with a Timo Werner goal at Leipzig results in a 20-minute leisurely stroll. I am 42 years old.
familiar but alien
Clearly, I’m also so into it that I lost my thread from three paragraphs ago. So: the way FIFA 23 is played. It still feels familiar to me, but my many hours emulating Stevie G shows how welcome the improvements are on the pitch. FIFA’s overall speed dipped a bit last year, and the introduction of HyperMotion 2 in FIFA 23 slows it down even more. Unless I’m under a lot of pressure, my midfield duo Tousart and Jones have time to think and move, one of the joys of the classic Pro Evo that FIFA has never quite recovered. Defenders feel smarter, hence my love for Ginter and Gunter. Killer pace is still killer, it’s one of the reasons I signed Daka, but players like him work best Corporal Hicks style: short, controlled bursts. He finds much greater effectiveness in propelling a perfectly timed ball than collecting possession midway and trying to charge around each dangling leg.
Strangely, the two best new additions to EA’s simulator are clearly arcadey. Triggered by holding down R1 and L1 and then pressing the fire button, Power Shots cause the camera to zoom in with a slow-motion effect before the ball is launched towards the goal. It’s silly, and more like something out of SNES-era International Superstar Soccer, but there’s no more satisfying way to score in FIFA 23. Similarly, the new fixed gameplay method of moving a cursor over the ball to determine where you hit her it feels completely crazy at first, but actually offers a lot of variety and subtlety as you master everything it can do.
Good luck then. However, two legacy headaches dented hopes for a stronger score. One is the old FUT issue of package transparency: the odds of spotting Mbappe, Son, or Benzema (the top dog on the FIFA 23 ranking list) are still deliberately obfuscated. Those pay-to-win hisses are going nowhere. Plus, there are too many moments of manufactured drama left, where player control feels sabotaged. Whether it’s Squad Battles, where the trailing teams become 1970 Brazil, online matches where the leading team suddenly can’t get through the water, or an overabundance of goals in the 90th minute, including the sickly of Werner. Still, FIFA 23 sees the series go to the top and offers encouraging signs for EA Sports FC’s debut around this time next year.
FIFA 23 was reviewed on PS5, with code provided by the publisher.