It’s always nice getting my hands on FIFA 22 early and this year was no exception. After the FIFA 22 beta, my expectations soured as both the community feedback provided on EA’s closed message boards as well as my overall experience with the game at that point were far from enjoyable. As I reminded myself that the final product would no doubt look different, I tempered those expectations and tried, like I always do, to go into the official FIFA 22 release with a clear mind. With a few days under my belt, it’s time to give the community my first FIFA 22 impressions, covering what immediately stood out and what could use some work.
FIFA does a great job at carrying over your preferences from year-to-year — so much so that I often skip most of the initial formalities and head straight into a match once the full game has been downloaded. It wasn’t until a buddy (shout out to fellow OS writer Joel!) told me how well the intro was done that I finally jumped into it, and I am happy that I did.
Most of the controls weren’t anything groundbreaking or new, but the cutscenes, cameos from the likes of Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona provided such a cool story amidst the backdrop of the beautiful Paris streets before finally making my way to the Parc des Princes for a Champions League semifinal matchup between Chelsea and PSG. Look, I know most folks only have 10 hours with the game until the official release next week, but do yourself a favor once the game officially drops and go back and give this one a whirl. It’s well worth it.
Pace Of Play
The pace of play in FIFA 22 is the best I’ve seen at release since FIFA 16, before it was patched to smithereens. While I’m sure this rendition will see its fair share of patches, it’s worth enjoying the ebbs and flows of a match while the getting is still good. From the build-up play to the well-timed counter attacks, the pace of play in FIFA 22 is as realistic as the development team promised this past July.
If you’re going to scream “realism” in the ways that the devs did, you’d better back it up with the final product, and FIFA 22 right now is more Lewandowski than Timo Werner. Attacks, whether they be from the AI or yourself, don’t seem rushed. And even if some areas like passing speed need to be toned down, there’s plenty of fun to be had so far when it comes to how FIFA 22 replicates the beautiful game.
The Midfield Has Been (Kind Of) Sorted
Immediately after starting a match, my eyes fixated on the center of the pitch — you know where most of the action happens. Considering this was such a point of contention with FIFA 21, with the devs even stating that midfielders tracking back would result in fewer goals and thus be boring, I was happy to see how much more active and aware the midfielders are now when defending. Now, I have been playing on Legendary so perhaps the lesser difficulties would result in a different outcome, but so far I’ve seen them track runs, move towards the pass when necessary, and drop into my own 18-yard box when defending, things I didn’t see on both FIFA 21 and the FIFA 22 beta pre-patch.
It’s not perfect, but thanks to HyperMotion the midfield does a better job moving as a unit with varying levels of depth to counter the opposition’s attacks. I haven’t played with sliders yet, but a few tactical tweaks here and there have produced some positive results and at least partially alleviated the biggest issue with FIFA 21.
Varied AI Attacks
It’s worth repeating again that we’re not looking for a 100 percent simulation here when it comes to FIFA 22. What the sim community wants — and I fully echo this — is for EA to strive for more realism by improving upon FIFA 21 and the issues that plagued it. In other words, we don’t “need”a whole new game, we just need to see progression, and EA needs to prove it can fix the things that were not up to par.
Second on that list of issues behind the aforementioned midfielders not tracking back was how stale AI attacks were in FIFA 21. The old Arsenal punchline from the Wenger days of “trying to walk it into goal” has not been fully eradicated, but it’s much better in FIFA 22 so far when it comes to the AI both sending in crosses and shooting from distance. It’s borderline comical that these two issues were even a thing and went unaddressed for so long, but I’ve seen numerous occasions of AI players shooting from distance, and an increase in crosses although it’s still not to the level it should be.
However, there are still too many instances where the AI has both the target in the box to aim for and a clear lane to deliver the cross but instead chooses to dally on the ball and offer the defenders time to close the crosser down. Better, smarter AI is needed as we move into year two of next gen, but that’s a problem that isn’t unique to just FIFA.
Keepers this year were supposed to have undergone a re-write, and if we’re being honest, they were really good in the beta up until the patch where the online community claimed they were overpowered. Now we’re left with a few new animations, yet the same result as last year where keepers were constantly getting beat near-post, don’t make themselves “big” when coming off their line in 1-on-1 situation,s and are out of position on long shots.
It’s a shame because there’s so much fun to be had in the build-up only to be disappointed by a cheap goal, or conversely seeing your keeper make blunder after blunder on what should be mundane saves. Here’s to hoping the keepers are patched back to being good again.
First Touch & Ball Physics
I was excited to read about the changes to ball control when EA released its deep gameplay Pitch Notes on the topic. It read as if EA really understood the importance of the first touch and how much it impacts a game. Unfortunately, once the action starts, aside from a few new animations for when you bring a ball down, most of the passes regardless of speed stick to your feet. Since the AI is a big fan of the driven pass, the balance that should come via a heavier first touch just is not there.
Offline folks have the benefit of adjusting the first touch slider, but for the FUT and Pro Clubs crowd that extra bit of realism is missing, most likely by design as those two crowds aren’t particularly fond of handicaps except for when it comes to defense.
Ball physics are another area that’s improved on the whole, but they are still non-existent when it comes to areas of the game like headers. You’re still able to generate a lot of power on headers regardless of your body position and/or the weight on the cross.
Speaking of weight, player weight and the weight of the ball are improved. True foot planting isn’t there. and there’s still a lot of skating and awkward movements. but turning is more realistic.
Backline Drops Too Deep
If it’s not one thing it’s the other. I will preface this section by saying that this issue could potentially be fixed offline via sliders and/or the “Step Up” instruction, but on default settings the backline drops way too deep when inside its own 18.
You would ideally want your backline to be stepping up in situations like those pictured above. My midfielders are actually in my box, albeit not putting any pressure on Plea, but the space between the two midfielders and my defenders is excessive. It allows for easy passes into the feet of the striker, but is balanced by defenders being superhuman at blocking shots. Shooting from distance is as much as about having an angle to shoot from as it is technique on the ball, but at times when shooting from distance the AI’s backline will even block your shot due to its deep positioning.
I like what the introduction of HyperMotion has done to the midfield. EA made a point to highlight it early in the news cycle, but it didn’t quite come off during the beta. It’s improved in this early access release, that’s for sure. While the defensive line depth, which is also an issue in the beta and is still prevalent now, the midfield is looking more Liverpool-like as opposed to Spurs-like. It’s a little give and take.
The “creating new animations on the fly” line we were told during the developer interviews as being a major benefit of HyperMotion isn’t there yet. I’ve seen less wonky animations, but there’s still a lot of skating and warping that rears its ugly head during replays. You can get away with this during play because the action is fast and smooth, but once slowed down you see things like the feet sliding into place to get a shooting animation.
Ideally, I’d love to see FIFA go down a path where timing is a part of creating a skill gap as I generally like the concept behind Timed Finishing, but I can see the other side of the coin. I suspect HyperMotion will take some time to iron out its kinks but we’re not quite there yet.
I’ve kept this gameplay specific as some folks, apart from those who want to get a head start on Pro Clubs or FUT, are just playing matches trying to get a feel for things. With that in mind, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy FIFA 22 after playing the beta a month or so back. The beta felt like FIFA 21 with better keepers and improved ball physics. Even if those were two nice upgrades, the AI was still hard for me to take. Fortunately, FIFA 22 is off to a promising start, and with a few tweaks here and there, it looks like we could finally get a FIFA worth playing for months and months.