Let’s cut to the chase; EA hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel with FIFA 23, nor was it ever going to, due to the focus on EA Sports FC from next year onwards. Our FIFA 23 review covers the very last FIFA game as we know it, a series that almost made it 30 years since its debut in 1993, but as much as I’d love to say this is the crème de la crème of football games… it still hits the woodwork a few times.
There’s one aspect that should instantly stand out from the moment you step onto the pitch this year, and that’s realism. It’s a word often bandied about in the gaming world, but it’s particularly apt in FIFA 23. This game feels much more like a true footballing simulator, rather than the pick-up-and-play arcade focus of old.
Gone are the days of pace being the only deciding factor between going one-on-one with the ‘keeper and slotting it home or being muscled off the ball before you’ve even made it into the box. Sure, it still helps, and having pacey wingers will allow you to burst through defences with ease, but there are other ways to play, and since custom tactics haven’t seen any major changes for quite a few years now, you can pull back your defensive line by default and frustrate an opponent who only knows how to play in the old manner.
Generally, FIFA 23 feels a little more sluggish than 22, which in turn felt slightly slower than 21. The gameplay in FIFA always feels a little different a few months into the life cycle, after some balance patches have been pushed out and the meta has settled, but at this early stage it’s like every virtual player has put on a good few pounds over the summer.
There’s always one typically overpowered mechanic each year though, and this time around, the brand-new power shots take the prize. Press both bumpers on your controller simultaneously as you shoot – previously the method for a low driven shot – and your player will wind up their leg and punt the ball with the speed of a traction engine. Get it on target and the back of the net will be rippling in the blink of an eye. Miss the goal and you’ve taken off the head of a poor spectator.
Goalkeepers are nigh-on doomed whenever one of these power shots comes at them, but the trade-off is that they require manual aiming. Firing a normal shot doesn’t require such precise accuracy with the left analogue stick, but if you don’t carefully place a power shot, it can go embarrassingly wide. There’s no on-screen icon to guide this either – it’s pure instinct.
Set pieces have also seen another overhaul, which is painful for me to say as someone who absolutely nailed the free kick system in the last two games. Rather than adding spin to the ball during the run-up, you can decide exactly which part of the ball you want to connect with before shooting. It also tells you what type of shot it’ll be: chip, knuckleball, inside curl, etc. Certainly easier to understand, but – for me, at least – much more difficult to score from. This applies to corners too, and they really didn’t need to get any trickier – the method of moving your ‘keeper out with the right stick to defend them still makes it almost impossible to score against anyone competent.
The thing is, FIFA 23 is still an almost uncontested football game and even if there were another title of comparable scope to go toe-to-toe with, it’d be a very tough call indeed. There are few things more satisfying than when you bait an opponent into giving away a penalty in the dying minutes, or force a rage-quit because you’ve danced around their defenders with roulettes, rainbow flicks, and a McGeady spin thrown in for good measure. Power shots do enable screamers and moments you’ll instantly clip and send to your mates, and the skill ceiling is impressively high if you dedicate the time to it, which means there’s still a lot to love here.
While the action on the pitch is most important, you’ll spend just as much time in the menus in FIFA 23, especially in Ultimate Team. These are identical to last year, for better and for worse. On the plus side, jumping from your squad to the transfer market requires only the press of one button, so you can search for the exact player you need.
On the other hand, the objectives section is still just as painful to navigate. After your first few matches, you’ll have completed countless simple tasks, such as ‘win a match in any mode’ or ‘assist with a through ball’, but each one must still be redeemed individually for often very minor rewards, like a stadium cosmetic or new ball. Each redemption still includes the lengthy animation that you’ll inevitably want to skip each time. It’s painful, and why it hasn’t been sped up with a button to redeem all rewards is baffling.
I’d be remiss not to discuss the changes to chemistry this year too. The previous system – which had links between players on the pitch to improve their performance if they were playing near others of the same league, club, or nationality – had been a FIFA series staple for years. That has been thrown out the window now in favour of a points-based system, which is splitting opinion in the community.
Hybrid teams are much harder to make with multiple leagues or countries, and squad-building challenges are tougher to complete, but it allows those who don’t dedicate countless hours to the game to jump in and make a basic team with only a handful of different criteria. The most crucial change is that players don’t receive any chemistry at all if they’re played out of position – even a right winger playing on the right-hand side of midfield is penalised heavily. On the flip side, all players start with what was classed as seven chemistry points in previous games.
The only brand new addition to Ultimate Team comes in the form of Moments, which are actually quite innovative. These are bite-sized challenges which reward you with Stars, to then be spent in a shop, separate from FIFA points and from real money. They start simple – have a shot on target and complete a successful tackle are two of the early ones – but they increase in difficulty, eventually challenging you to score a goal against some of the highest-rated defenders in the game without losing possession or making a single pass, all within four in-game minutes.
Most Moments offer one Star as a reward, but some allow you to increase the difficulty for two. Collect 64 Stars for the most expensive reward currently – a Jumbo Premium Gold 26 Pack – or you can spend smaller amounts on lesser packs and rewards, including Ted Lasso and Coach Beard from the Apple TV show, faithfully recreated in-game.
There’s not a whole lot to write home about with FIFA 23, but one can hope EA is going to chop anything that needs it for EA Sports FC rather than simply slap the new name across the existing series. Career Mode is largely unchanged this year with only minor new features, and while Pro Clubs and Volta interlink with one another now, the gameplay is essentially the same. It’s about time EA shakes things up, but FIFA 23 is more of the same.
FIFA 23 review
It’s still the leading football game in town, but EA has made only minor changes in FIFA 23, such as set piece tweaks and a new way of shooting. If you didn’t enjoy 22, chances are you won’t be too impressed with this one either.