FIFA is back for another year, but jokes about the remarkable inevitability of gaming’s football simulation behemoth should be uttered in hushed tones. Not because EA doesn’t deserve flak for its piecemeal iteration, but because FIFA 23 will be the series’ last hurrah ahead of a shock branding change to EA Sports FC in 2023.
The death of such a historic licensing deal creates a sombre atmosphere around this year’s game, but EA is determined to make the end of an era feel jubilant. With expanded crossplay, the addition of women’s club football and two FIFA World Cups in its release window, FIFA 23 plans to go out with a bang. Having spent a whole weekend with an in-progress build of the game, the revised take on gameplay feels appropriately theatrical.
FIFA 23’s most noticeable gameplay change arrives thanks to the addition of power shots, a new way to strike the ball achieved by holding both bumpers and pressing the shoot button. Like a Final Fantasy limit break, the camera swells on the player you’re controlling as they gear up and wallop the ball in an attempt to K.O. the keeper. The trade-off is that the slow wind-up leaves you wide open to be dispossessed, and it’s easy to muck up. This system (which wouldn’t look out of place in Mario Strikers) disrupts the defensive play that plagues FIFA 22, where penalty boxes tend to become impenetrable sardine tins full of defenders, ready to poo-poo all of your most exciting opportunities.
Granted, I was playing offline, but Power Shots definitely allowed for more creative shooting opportunities, both in the air and on the ground. They feel so rewarding to pull off that it can become distracting as you try to perfect your analogue stick accuracy to bang composed volleys into the net. It feels like a contentious addition to the FIFA meta – in that seasoned players might ignore it in favour of easier ways to score – but it works perfectly as a vehicle for creating memorable moments.
Power Shots definitely allowed for more creative shooting opportunities.
Power Shots are supplemented by a suite of aesthetic changes that seek to immortalise the drama of FIFA. If you do manage to score a screamer, the game will now reward you with woodwork and netting sound effects that boom out of the DualSense controller on PlayStation 5 and a slo-mo augmented reality replay that overlays statistics like distance, power and ball speed – taking a page out of Madden’s Next Gen stats playbook
The new replays look very cool, but the implementation is inconsistent. Sometimes an unintentional walk-in will get undue shine while an incredible finish gets nothing — but when it works, a great goal is begging to be clipped and shared. The only puzzling part is that you can’t seem to watch them back once the match has ended, which feels like an oversight.
Keepers will be tested more frequently, then, but the good news is that shot-stoppers have also received some crucial improvements. I lauded plenty of arm and elbow saves, and as silly as it sounds, the individual finger physics capsules genuinely kept me from an upset during one tense match. Butterfingers have been addressed, but even so, finesse shots from outside the box still seem to cause them too much trouble.
Fidelity-wise, I didn’t notice much of a visual leap from last year’s game on current-gen consoles. Fan favourite players still look miles better than the rest of the team, as evidenced by Jack Grealish’s impossibly bouncy anime protagonist hairdo. Most of the focus has been on improving the grass in FIFA 23, which you’ll now permanently scuff with your knee slides. The addition of 3D netting is a nice touch, too, but the uncanny crowds, as much as they were talked up for their liveliness, still feel far from human. As do the commentators, who are still dropping brain-sticky lines like “It’s an oops moment from the goalkeeper” and “he likes to run at them,” – but the good news is you can now drown them out and pump in this year’s EA Trax, which will no doubt be as eclectic and fun as previous years.
Hypermotion 2: Electric Boogaloo
Elsewhere, Hypermotion 2 – the evolution of FIFA’s player physics system – promises deeper authenticity in player movement on current-gen consoles in FIFA 23 – and it delivers, for the most part. Expanded motion capture breathes life into women’s football with dedicated animations, and applied machine learning adds fluidity to FIFA 23’s defensive gameplay. Players will slip their hands behind their backs in the box, and feet and thighs wobble from impact, sending the ball in more realistic directions during a deflection. Jockeying also feels extremely powerful in FIFA 23, and you can now hold down the button to add some career-ending blockbuster gusto to your two-footed clearance tackles, which can be particularly useful in stopping a vengeful counter-attack.
The most significant change I noticed is that when challenging forwards to stop deadly headers, goalkeepers will no longer phase into their bodies to create thick-thighed Cronenberg monsters. This is thanks to a physics body that surrounds players and acts a bit like two repelling magnets, keeping limbs firmly outside of sternums and removing some frustrating unpredictability from 1v1s. It’s still a bit too close for comfort and doesn’t play nicely with power shots, but it’s much better than last year’s game. As a result, dribble-savvy attackers feel far less prone to hydroblading on the ball now, meaning you can quickly change direction and send defenders the wrong way without looking like a greased-up octopus on an ice rink.
The only part of the game that seems to run foul with the rest of EA’s additions is the new set piece system.
The only part of the game that seems to run foul with the rest of EA’s additions is the new set piece system, which is now distinctly old school and quite complex. You’ll no longer have to train your muscle memory to resist the pull of the orb, as you can now control the trajectory of every free kick and corner kick with the left stick while you configure curl and elevation with the right stick. It’s pretty nostalgic, and it will take a lot more time than a few days with FIFA 23 to get used to this significant change.
Penalties feel even more confusing, as they’re more about power and timing than aiming a reticle, as you tap the shoot button to the beat of a shrinking ‘Composure Ring’. It gives your thumbs a much-needed rest, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to consciously unlearn the muscle memory of holding the left stick in the direction of your spot kick, as this will always send it into some poor family man’s face. Broadly, I think these changes will incentivise players to train their set piece strategy or face getting caught out by more scholarly players after a regretful foul. It runs directly counter to the more accessible and action-packed changes coming to FIFA 23, making it a controversial pivot away from casual play.
The revised theatrical gameplay of FIFA 23 is shaping up to be an exciting, slightly more streamlined game of virtual football with a penchant for late drama. It feels fitting for EA’s final outing: big match moments, shocking comebacks, and jaw-dropping goals that evoke jeers and emotion in bedrooms worldwide is what FIFA has always been about. I’m excited to get online and see how EA’s swan song shakes out against real players, who will inevitably shape this year’s meta in the weeks after its September 30 release. Let’s just hope I can get a few Power Shots past them first.
Jordan Oloman is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.