A couple of years ago, I ended an abusive relationship. Amidst the very brief moments of joy, there was anger, anxiety and self-loathing — It simply wasn’t a healthy situation anymore. That’s right lads; I stopped playing FIFA.
Having played the franchise religiously since FIFA 12 (considered one of the best in the series), I had grown weary of the rat race that has engulfed its biggest and most popular mode, Ultimate Team. Coupled with other grievances that have accumulated over the years, it seemingly was the right time to sever the relationship.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid to say that I’m back on my bullshit — I bought FIFA 22. In the couple of years away from the series, a particular itch had developed that gnawed away at me during gaming sessions; one that only FIFA seemed to scratch.
FIFA’s yearly releases always get the schtick of it being the same game every time, just roster updates. It’s not necessarily true but playing it every year, whatever improvements that have been made seem minor in comparison. I wanted to see how much the series has changed in my two-year absence. And having recently gotten the PS5 as well, I was eager to know if the new generation consoles have an impact on it. Now seemed the appropriate time to return to the franchise. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.
Before delving into the FIFA 22 proper, I want to preface a few things. Firstly, I will only be talking about the Ultimate Team game mode. It’s the game mode I’ve spent the most time playing and the one I’m most familiar with, stemming from my experience with the previous games. Secondly, since the last game I’ve played was FIFA 19, I’m not exactly up-to-date with all the quality of life changes and updates implemented between FIFA 20 and FIFA 21. So if something was addressed and I missed it, I apologise in advance.
Running through the loops
Let’s talk about the gameplay loop within FIFA 22. In essence, Ultimate Team has been designed in such a way to incentivise players to continually log in and play.
Packs and Player cards are the currency that runs FIFA. By going through the game’s created routine, they provide multiple avenues to both; namely by way of Season Progress, Objectives and Milestones. The game’s overarching Season Progress system is the one where you’ll be able to gain those rewards most organically. With a handful of them up for grabs as you inevitably gain XP by playing the game and doing Objectives and Milestones (more on that later) — it’s a loop that the game wants players to fall on.
Right now, the flow of this particular loop system is at a comfortable level. There’s ample time given to hardcore and casual players alike to complete the entire slate of rewards in Season Progress, almost a little too much so. I clock in around an average of 2.5 hours daily on the game, and I’m able to reach the final reward with around a week to spare. In the meantime, I’m still gaining XP after, which is basically useless since it works towards nothing.
I don’t begrudge the deadline period; comfy is good. God knows FIFA needs fewer things to be stressed about, am I right? But perhaps convert those points into something I can do with maybe?
Season Progress rewards meanwhile, have been rather average. Besides customisation items and player packs, the highlights are the two ‘free’ special player cards (called Storyline players) which come with upgraded stats. There’s also variety in the sense that they are from different leagues and occupy different positions. However, despite the upgraded stats, there’s a concern that these cards will be below the power curve once you attain them, especially since the second Storyline card is usually the final reward. Players on offer have been mixed as well.
As of writing (we’re on Season 4 right now), the cards released thus far on are from the minor leagues like the Championship (English 2nd Division), Portuguese League, MLS and Eredivisie. To be fair, this encourages people to build squads that aren’t from the popular leagues, and I’ll be going into the abundance of such cards available later too. Still, the early Storyline cards were hard to link in the beginning, and now even the latest ones aren’t quite good enough stats-wise for the current stage.
Special cards can be gained from Objectives and are markedly better in comparison. Due to the frequent rotation of objectives, the cards offered have stats that are more in trend with what players consider good within the game. Many of the cards are also from the major leagues, so adding them into a squad is relatively easy — Headliners Felipe Anderson is a good example of a great and usable card.
Under the recurring Silver Stars objective, Silver players are also given some love with good boosts, making silver squads more relevant. Most importantly though, these cards have fairly reasonable Objectives and are very attainable. Not all the cards are winners, but at least you won’t have to wait long for them to refresh.
Milestones likewise have a good set of player card rewards, arguably better than what’s found in Objectives even. Since they have more tricky objectives and a longer deadline, they need to be more desirable. A particular highlight is the Foundation players, who were available midway through the game, focusing on off-league players. Unlike the Storyline cards, the boosts given to their regular cards are more substantial, and they also come as a set of players, meaning building a squad around these cards is more feasible.
The only nitpick for Milestones would be the tasks needed to get some players — they border on tedium. For instance, the League player Milestone requires players to complete the online Friendlies mode Managerial Masterpiece Objectives. It’s a mode that restricts a squad to be 77-rated, so not only do you have to find players within a specific league to fit that requirement, you also have to play through worse gameplay to finish the Objectives since these are lower-rated players. To some, it isn’t worth it.
Overall, the current system in place is a relative success. There are enough desirable rewards to encourage players to play the game. Despite the limited time to attain them, the period is still within a comfortable margin to grind them out. They need to improve upon the ridiculous asks for some of the objectives. FIFA can be one of the most competitive games, and you’re asking players to score X number of outside the box goals in separate wins? You might as well ask them to stab themselves.
Running The Gamut on FIFA 22’s Game Modes
Likewise, FIFA 22 Ultimate Team’s gameplay modes also feature a loop of their own. Five game modes currently run on FUT — Squad Battles, Rivals, Champions, Friendlies, and Draft. Of the five, Squad Battles, Rivals and Champions are the main three I’ll delve into since these are the ones most people devote their time to; the better one performs, the more one receives (it’s not a sex thing). The general idea would be to cycle between the modes as you gather their rewards on separate days of the week.
Let’s start with Squad Battles, shall we? In the beginning stages, Squad Battles have been a handy tool to help craft your ‘Ultimate Team’. Even with the starter squad given by the game (a low-rated mishmash of bronze, silver and gold players), you could play the mode at a comfortable pace and difficulty while also getting decent rewards to help build and upgrade your squad.
Unfortunately, the Squad Battles mode becomes less relevant as your squad gets better. While its single-player nature used to be advantageous, it is now a crutch that is hamstrung by its difficulty system. To put it simply, the system is bullshit.
Ideally, once you upgrade your squad, you would want to tackle the 40 given randomised teams at greater difficulties to garner more points and get you faster and higher up the ranks, but the reality is often disappointing. There is a gulf in the skill needed between one difficulty and another, with the higher difficulties exhibiting nonsensical gameplay behaviours.
Personally, “World Class” difficulty can sometimes offer too little of a challenge for certain teams; I’m talking about the really low rated ones like silver squads or gold squads with low chemistry. It becomes monotonous when playing because there is a cap of how many points you can earn by playing them. The solution would be to turn it up to the next level of difficulty, Legendary, but doing so is a coin toss.
This stems from the fact that the A.I. makes these supposedly bog-standard teams into superstars coached by the ghost of Johan Cruyff, while at the same time making your own players play like amateurs.
There’ll be nonsense shown first-gand like teams with centre backs up top on no chemistry who manage to dribble through my defence like they are prime Maradona, finishing it all off by scoring a screamer in the top corner with their *checks notes* 35-rated finishing. Even when taking on seemingly sure-fire wins like bronze squads with low chemistry, players will still somehow score a bullshit goal or two against you.
Milestones and Objectives occasionally offer slight encouragement to play Squad Battle by offering rewards, but such is the mode’s problem that the FIFA community actively discusses ways to avoid going through the gameplay as much as possible — this sums up the state of Squad Battles currently. Unless they update the reward set or difficulty system, the mode isn’t worth the trouble to go through.
For online play, there are Rivals and Champions. Players will generally play the former first since it unlocks access to the latter; more about that later. A division system sorts the Rivals system, Division 10 being the lowest and the one players will start at. Initially, there’s a gap of three ranks within each division that everyone has to go through before being promoted to the next division. It goes without saying that the higher the division and rank you are, the better the rewards.
Moving up the divisions was generally quite fast in the beginning. Wins are pretty routine at that point, and If you get two wins in a row, you get a boost that takes you up the ladder even faster. Eventually, progression becomes slower once you reach a division with a higher skill ceiling.
Relegation is non-existent in Rivals due to having checkpoints within the division, but it is a double-edged feature. Understandably, it has its positive effects like weeding out potential abusers looking to game the system, and there’s also no worry of going down and getting worse rewards. However, there’s also the chance you hit a wall where the skill gap is too high, and games turn to losing streaks with no way to get yourself to a more appropriate division level.
Rewards are given out every week, and previously within that 7-day period, players had to win at least three games to qualify for the base rewards. Admittedly, those rewards aren’t very good, so players can secure seven wins with an upgraded reward set. And these rewards came as three options, with one emphasising tradable packs, another with coins and untradeable packs, and the last being a mixture of the two.
EA have however tweaked the Rivals system in a recent update. There is only one rank in a single division, and the reduction of checkpoints now makes climbing up a little harder. Players are now also required to get one extra win to get the base and upgraded reward set, respectively. Rewards have also been adjusted, with more packs given out.
Overall, the update is a decent one. Not only does it add a little bit more challenge in climbing up the ranks, but it also gets players more engaged with the mode. The seven wins requirement is fairly easy to achieve for most players over a day or two. Since the previous tiered-reward system only offered slightly better rewards within a division, there was little motivation to continue playing. Now there’s extra incentive to keep playing Rivals with the extra wins and the prospect of getting much-improved rewards in the next division.
Even after the update, getting a draw in Rivals is still a sensitive issue amongst the FIFA community. Some like the fact that it doesn’t make you lose progress up the ladder, which is good if one is just a win away from a checkpoint, but many others feel that it wastes your time since it does nothing to help you rank up and get your rewards.
I’m inclined to side with the latter group. If you experience several back-to-back draws, you’re effectively stuck in place and no closer to the win requirement for the rewards. EA should use something similar to previous games like the Seasons mode, where a draw still made progress with points.
Another thing that Rivals does offer is entry into FUT Champions. As you play games in Rivals, you’re given qualification points and earning enough grants you access to Champions. It takes quite a bit of time to gather enough points in the early stages as the lower divisions give fewer points. Still, once you get up the divisions and into the loop of qualifying continuously (since taking part in Champions also provides a substantial amount of points), it becomes an effortless process.
I should preface that qualifying doesn’t actually mean you’ll be able to enter into the Champions mode proper. There’s actually another round of qualification. Once you garner enough points, you’re granted access to the Champions play-off, which you must navigate through in order to play the real Champions mode, called Champions Finals.
When the FIFA 22 launched, players were required to gather 24 points (or win six games) to gain entry into the Finals and had nine tries to have a go at it. There were also more packs up for grabs if you could do better than the base requirement.
However, the main consensus was that this implementation was prohibitive — there was little margin for error, making it more challenging and competitive. Yes, it certainly had the effect of making the Finals more prestigious in the sense that only skilled players can get in, but they were also alienating casual players who couldn’t make that leap. They were effectively locking people out of a game mode.
As an admittedly average player, getting into the Finals from the play-offs was just out of my reach. It proved to be too competitive, and with people desperate to get wins over others, it is not uncommon to see shithouse tactics like early time-wasting while playing games. So not only does not qualifying for the Finals make you lose out on lucrative rewards, but players also have to endure the toxicity that comes from trying to get into the mode itself. Additionally, there was little incentive to continue playing if you did get a qualification as the rewards for earning more points were rather lacklustre. Overall, it’s a strange system that EA had implemented.
Thankfully, the mode has since been relaxed in an update. Now players only need to get 20 points (or five wins), and they’re given a game extra to complete it (a total of 10 games). It’s a welcome change that makes it more attainable to players. A loss isn’t as detrimental to your chances of qualifying, and the lowered stakes mean that there’s less toxic gameplay to be seen from players. Through this change, I’ve now been able to qualify on every instance since, and the resulting gameplay has been much more pleasant to experience. Those who were already good also had more reason to press on with improved rewards.
If you do get into FUT Champions Finals, you’ll notice that it operates very similarly to the play-offs but on a larger scale. There are 20 games to play, with up to ten ranks to climb containing varying rewards.
But given how generous some of the rewards are, there’s actually no need to play through all 20 games. For example, you can get one each of a Premium TOTW Pack, Jumbo Rare Players Pack, and Rare Players Pack in addition to two red player picks and 25,000 coins without even needing to win half of the available games.
And because of how lucrative the rewards can be, Finals is arguably more fun to play than the play-offs. With good rewards even at the lower ranks, there’s less of a rat race to get wins. I can see why EA wanted to gatekeep the Finals since it’ll probably affect the Transfer Market if all players had access to decent packs every time. Right now, I would say the mode is in a good spot.
Of course, player cards are what makes Ultimate Team tick, and this year’s FIFA has both them in abundance and scarcity, so to speak.
Positive things first, EA has certainly made squad-building have much more variety. As mentioned earlier, leagues outside the traditional top 5 have been given much love in FIFA 22. It’s so much more feasible to build either hybrid squads or full league squads using cards from the likes of the Liga NOS, Championship and Eredivisie. Better yet, these cards aren’t just for show. They’re also viable within competitive play.
As always, the popular cards will have a presence — a Kylian Mbappé special card is as certain as death and taxes — but EA has had fun with elevating other players during themed promos that would have been otherwise ignored. Marko Arnautović is one such player. Though he’s in a top league, his club and nation combination makes him less desirable. But his card under the Rulebreakers promo is such a joy to play with, a menace on the ball and in the air. The best part is, he’s cheap.
Beyond that, the developers have also periodically added cool Squad Building Challenge (SBC) players over the course of the game. You would never have expected the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura and Kazuyoshi Miura to get anything beyond their base bronze cards. However, in FIFA 22, they have received excellent Moments special cards highlighting their long careers — both of them still do bits in one of my squads.
While we are on the topic of SBC players, EA has mostly kept that at a reasonable value. There are stinkers like İlkay Gündoğan’s Moments special card, which could have doubled as a money-laundering scheme, but they’ve been on the dot for most, sometimes generous even.
On the other hand, FIFA 22 doesn’t contain any League SBC players; rewards are now just packs. Traders will no doubt be quite happy with this change, but I would posit that most of the regular player base would lament its exclusion. League SBC cards represented something to grind towards, and replacing them with the randomness from packs is such a big shame.
Going further with the not-so-great stuff. While EA has released a significant number of excellent player cards to build and play around with, they’ve also been relatively biased towards specific groupsets of players. For instance, FIFA 22 has seen an abundance of French special cards being put out for promos or SBCs. C’est quoi ce bordel?
So you’ll see lots of special cards from the French League, which isn’t inherently bad since the regular cards are admittedly quite lame before the upgrades. Still, other leagues like the Serie A and especially the Bundesliga get neglected. I’ve wanted to upgrade my Serie A squad for some time, but I haven’t had the chance to since midfield options haven’t been great.
Another issue is that the abundance of great cards is hurting other cards. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that many powerful cards are accessible to the majority of players, but it also makes every subsequent card with decent stats look less special. Previously, having a centre-back card with good pace (>80-rated) was highly coveted since not many existed within the game. Now, FIFA 22 has released so many such cards that they look average even if they have 80-pace and above.
Another thing with the wealth of great cards is that it completely makes other cards worthless.
FUT Heroes was introduced into FIFA 22 as a budget version of the Icon cards, featuring retired players who were notable for their exploits in a league but were not quite ‘legendary’ status enough to earn Icon cards. 19 FUT Hero cards were made available, and all but three have been made entirely irrelevant within the game’s current power curve. Their stats are simply too lacklustre to compete. Hell, even many Icon cards aren’t immune to this and aren’t good enough for the meta.
But the biggest losers from this are the players on Team of the Week (TOTW). Being performance-based cards, those who appear on TOTW only get minimal upgrades to their stats and with most players needing multiple upgrades to keep up with the high level, a significant portion of TOTW players are just duds. There’s an inside joke within the community who like to call TOTW releases near the end of the cycle ‘Team of the Weak’, since the preceding Team of the Season promo would make these players obsolete. We’re just halfway through the game cycle, and there have already been several weeks with the same air of ‘Team of the Weak’.
EA has seemingly tried to rectify this by introducing Featured TOTW players into FIFA 22, where one player card every week will get additional boosts compared to the others. However, EA’s choice for who gets featured is frankly bizarre. They’ll occasionally give it to cards with low base stats, so the extra upgrade is essentially still meaningless since it isn’t enough to get them to the level for competitive play. TOTW is in need of a major rehaul.
Making great cards more accessible to players is almost always a good thing. But we’re at the point where end-game level cards are freely available despite only being just a little over the halfway point of the game cycle. EA should learn to temper themselves lest it boils over to next year’s game.
If there’s one thing I would describe the FIFA series’ gameplay; it is consistently inconsistent. It seems to be the only game series where one gaming session could feel different to another. One day could feel great with silky smooth responsiveness, but the next would be as though players were running through mud — and it also applied to offline modes as well for whatever reason. Forget life’s mysteries or whatever. Why does my 90-odd pace Mohamed Salah card feel as though he’s been shot through one foot?
However, what I will say about FIFA 22 is that the game is more…consistent. There are still bouts where gameplay feels absolutely horrendous — just a week ago, it felt as though all my players were crippled for about three days — but personally, I feel that such lulls haven’t been as prevalent as before. It’s the most consistently responsive FIFA I’ve played in years.
The passing stat has become an essential facet of the game within the gameplay itself. Having players with good stats in that area is now something to covet. Passing seems to feel a little less ‘automatic’, needing more precision than before to complete, especially over longer distances. Because of this, through passes are now less effective and why Driven Passes are now commonplace. In a sense, it can feel frustrating as passes that would have come off easily in previous games now sometimes become poor balls that opponents can easily intercept.
The pace in players is still king within the gameplay, but it isn’t as vital now for players in defence. Pacey players will undoubtedly breeze past your centre-back if they are slow, but I would say positioning plays a more prominent role in stopping an attack. Sergio Ramos isn’t the fastest defensive player by a long shot, but his card has been exceptional for me during FUT Champions matches. Still, that will not stop people from adding Kimpembe to their squads.
On getting goals, finesse shots seem to be the least effective they’ve ever been. Shooting inside the box with a finesse shot sees the goalkeeper saving them more often than not. Even with players having the finesse shot trait, it is easier to score a goal using a finesse shot outside the box. Even after supposedly patching its effectiveness, I’ve not experienced much improvement.
Headers are however, probably the worst aspect in terms of gameplay personally; they never come off how you want them to, especially during corners. Even if your player gets a good connection with the ball, it seemingly flies to another random direction rather than where you aim. It doesn’t help that corners are further nerfed when opponents move their goalkeepers, which almost guarantees they’ll catch the ball. As much as I loathed players using the ‘corner glitch’ to circumvent this, I understand why they’ve had to resort to it.
The current meta for attacking players revolves around having a high pace and good dribbling (particularly in agility and balance as it makes them feel quicker). But that doesn’t mean those who don’t have these attributes are unusable.
My favourite player in the game that I’ve used is still the base version of Erling Haaland. His card is by no means within the meta, his agility and balance are low, and his acceleration isn’t quite up to meta standard, but his high finishing and shot power makes him absolutely lethal for me—what a magnificent specimen of a card.
Player-switching within the game isn’t great; it’s arguably counterproductive. Using the left bumper to switch still cycles between two players (usually the two closest to the player with the ball) isn’t always the most ideal selection. Sometimes you just want to cover the space to block the pass, but the switching refuses to select the best player to do so. I remember when the series used to allow you to cycle through your entire team (bar goalkeeper) until you got the player you wanted, but now the game frustrates with this implementation.
Right-stick switch isn’t much better. Theoretically, it is supposed to switch to the player in the direction you push, but it is also reluctant to do as you say, seemingly choosing the wrong player. Trying to correct the mistake costs a few seconds, and by then, it might be too late as your opponent is already through on goal.
There’s been a few odd behaviours that I’ve also noticed within FIFA 22’s gameplay. I play a relatively aggressive counter-attacking style usually, and my goal is to quickly get the ball into the opponent’s box fast. Whenever I kick off though, my players never seem to want to move up the field, at least for a couple of in-game minutes. Even if I’m near the penalty box ready to pass or dribble inside, they’ll still be idly walking 25 yards away; it severely hampers my attacking moves.
It is doubly frustrating after you concede a goal. As a player, there’s nothing more you want to do than score a goal as soon as possible to make up for conceding, but this behaviour makes it harder to do; it is as though the players have yet to wake up! Funnily enough, it’s actually better to concede possession immediately since it resets the players’ movement. Even after experimenting with tactics, I’ve not been able to get this strange A.I. behaviour to change. Was this implemented to prevent kick-off goals? I’m not sure, but it isn’t something I’m happy about.
Fouls also get called way less often. I’ve benefited and been on the receiving end of stonewall fouls that have not been given. A player will get rugby tackled, and it isn’t an advantage. It is certainly frustrating as sometimes they lead to counter attacks for the opponent and occasionally, results in you conceding.
The fact that it happens pretty often in-game also makes it all the more exasperating. It seems that a player has to commit murder if you want a foul.
There’s also a lesser issue where I’ve also experienced goalkeeper saves not being recognised by the game. So even if the goalkeeper touches the ball, it somehow becomes a goal kick. Thankfully, it happens much less frequently than the foul problem (I’ve only noticed it three or four times since launch).
In terms of giving you feedback on how you are playing, FIFA 22 has added helpful information but has also taken away other avenues to view your performance. What they’ve included is good. There’s pretty in-depth information given on how each of your players are doing on the field, which you can view when pausing or after a match.
Ratings are not necessarily accurate though, since high individual match ratings seem only to be given if you score or assist — defenders usually get the short end of the stick in that respect.
However, sometimes context is needed to accommodate such detailed stats, and FIFA 22 has regressed in that aspect. I’ve always liked viewing match replays after a game to see my goals because I like to pat myself on the back, but viewing chances and goalkeeper saves also helped improve my overall performance. But this game has taken almost all of it away.
Now, 99% of the time, all you can view is the goals scored. Once in a blue moon, you can maybe get a replay of a shot hitting the post; replays for misses are even rarer. This omission is made even more strange by the fact that I am playing on a new-gen console; surely it has enough power to view a bloody 2-minute video, right?
Short Bit on the Technicals
A few quick words on the game’s technical side.
While gameplays runs relatively smoothly, FIFA 22 has been blighted by technical issues for most of the game’s cycle.
There have been issues with match-making since launch. Finding an opponent can take minutes, and you might not match up with someone even then. It’s the worst I’ve ever experienced throughout the series, and it still doesn’t seem to be fixed. And this isn’t even because there’s a lack of people playing. Ultimate Team has a user base of over 9 million, and you’re telling me that no one is online? Something’s off.
I’ve also had instances of the game freezing up on me whilst building squads. It’s only temporary and doesn’t kick me out of Ultimate Team, but it still is mightily annoying to have to wait over 5 minutes for it to get back to normal.
The Final Whistle
FIFA 22’s first four months have seen a mix of incredible highs but also mediocre lows — so just like every other FIFA, am I right?
But on a serious note, I personally feel that the game has been an overall net positive for players. With the constant rotation of promos, objectives and SBCs, as well as the generous reward set given from Rivals and Champions, it’s easier than ever to get and experience high-level player cards, even without needing to delve deep into the trading culture. Gameplay responsiveness for me has personally been the best it has been in years.
That being said, there’s a concern to be had over Squad Battles, the rapid rising of the power curve, and frankly some of the game behaviour within matches — there’s always something to complain about in FIFA, isn’t there?
So has FIFA 22 rekindled my love for the series? I’ll just have to see how much of a shit-show Team of the Season will be when the end of the game cycle arrives. Until then, I’ll enjoy what remaining time I have with Mr. Haaland until he becomes useless.
Screenshots taken on a PlayStation 5. Additional visuals courtesy of EA.