For part one, we focused primarily on the attacking side of the ball. In this second part, we’ll get deeper into analyzing the new additions and tweaks to FIFA 22 on the defending side of things.
FIFA 22 Gameplay Deep Dive On Defense
Defensive Behavior, Interceptions, And Disrupt Animations
EA could have added this section to its earlier discussion on “Tactical Defending” but perhaps the developers wanted to flesh it out some. A good footy game is all about balance. Skewing the game too much to either side results in people labeling the game as broken. While it’s no secret that EA likes its goals, there needs to be some improvements to the defensive side of the game. We touched briefly upon midfielders not tracking runs last year and what looks like midfielders giving up once their line has been broken this year (from the very early clips) but it’s not the only aspect of defending that needs some love.
Tackling, specifically the animation FIFA chooses for you, has been poor for years. Besides it being unresponsive, tackles are often downright ugly in FIFA 21. Far too often the tackle animation drags out, leaving you in the dust as your opponent glides by you. On that front, it’s good to see that EA has tuned this, perhaps with help from the new Machine Learning system to incorporate new tackling animations.
One area that I don’t particularly enjoy being highlighted is “better ball speed and angles for successful tackles, increasing the likelihood of the ball going towards your teammates.” The first part of that quote is fine, but the actual tackle and where the ball goes shouldn’t increase in its likelihood at going towards your teammate. It should go where the ball physics and player stats determine. Only the most elite of tacklers can pull off a successful tackle while also directing it towards a teammate. When you’re tackling in real life, you’re usually just trying to get a toe on the ball — where it ends up is important but still not enough of a reason to pull out of most challenges. After all, tackling is a risk/reward scenario with the risk of being called for a foul weighed against the reward for stopping an attack. For far too long, the risk of being called for a foul has been removed as fouls are both hard to come by and rarely called when they do happen.
Physicality, which EA is addressing in this blog via more shoulder challenges and seal outs sounds great, but whether or not they will make a difference when defending is still yet to be determined. Here’s to hoping all of the new attacking controls are balanced appropriately with these new defensive behaviors.
Another area of concern is this new Teammate Contain mechanic. I like the general concept in that R1/RB will trigger your AI-controlled teammate to contain the ball carrier. However, I do not like the fact that there’s a “Contain Stamina” attached to it. Containing/Jockeying at a normal pace is something professional athletes can do rather easily, often as a way to replenish their energy when they’re tired from sprinting. Why EA implemented another stamina-related bar is beyond me, but the developers somehow doubled down on this odd decision by tying the proximity at which your AI teammate will contain to a Player Personality.
Look, I don’t care if you’re Leonardo Bonucci or Jon Jacobs the Sunday League player, the urgency and need to get close to an attacker is a basic tenet of defending. Giving professional players both time and space is an easy way to ensure that you’re watching the next match from the stands. Now the ability to dispossess the attacker and/or ability to recover after getting beaten is a real-life skill, but again, those actions should be tied back to traits and attributes. If the goal is to replicate world class defensive midfielders, then the main areas of focus should be positioning, ball-winning skills, and anticipation — all things that can be tied to stats with the fundamentals of the position being a given.
Again, none of these new improvements matter if your midfielders don’t actually do their jobs on defense. If the box gets congested so be it. It’s more mosh pit than romantic dinner.
As you get older, resistance to change is a real thing. This applies to all walks of life with video games most certainly included. At times, I’m guilty of this, but this is one area I’m happy to say I’m all for it. Player switching should be a huge determinant when it comes to creating a skill gap. The better you are at switching, the better you are at FIFA overall. Now in order for this to work, the game has to have a good player-switching mechanic, and FIFA 22 seems to improve upon this by adding four new ways to switch players.
Icon switching by pressing R3 and the flicking the RS is one such way, but importantly, not the only way. FIFA introduced the second player icon a few years back as a way to anticipate who the next switch would be so it’s very encouraging to see that EA is adding even more options to FIFA 22. Again, if the goal is to appeal to competitive FIFA players, creating different control options is the right way to go, given that they all work as planned. Hopefully there’s risk/reward to each of the options so there’s no single option that can be abused — thus throwing off the balance of the game.
Directional Clearances And Technical Clearances
Generally speaking, the more options the better. However, this is one of those instances where there shouldn’t be an option for Directional and Technical Clearances. Before I go on, it’s important to note that Clearance Assistance has a “Classic Clearance” option where the direction of your LS and power of your clearance button press does not matter. You’ll simply clear the ball and the game chooses where the ball will go.
This year, EA has added Directional Clearances that follow your input except for in a few instances where you’re in danger of scoring an own goal. There’s also a Technical Clearance option that hoofs the ball upfield as far possible. None of these options make a lot of sense to me and bring in assists that, quite frankly, the game doesn’t need. It should be left up to the users and what direction/how much power they put on the clearance as the main determinants for clearances. Maybe the most recent Euros have corrupted my mind, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more own goals, especially if the come from off-balance slices into your own goal.
More Tactics And Instruction Customization
Music to Matt10’s ears are width and depth sliders, both equally important in helping to replicate compactness and line compression, which can now range from 1 to 100. More individual instructions have been added too, particularly the overlapping center backs made popular by Sheffield United these past few years. Another instruction which I could see being very useful is the “Step Up” tactic for center backs because too often they drop too deep, whether it be in their own box or near the halfway line when pressing higher up the pitch.
An argument could be made that this should be part of fundamental defending principles, but if you’re playing a high line you might not want your CBs stepping up too much near the halfway line in fear of getting turned and having your opponent bearing down on your goal. Keepers seem to have improved on paper, primarily from the new motion capture I assume where they captured actual data for proper positioning, which should translate to more realistic save animations. Being a step or two in the right direction could mean that we don’t have a handful of prime Neuer saves a match.
Bigger Goal Moments (NG)
Last-gen and mobile gamers miss out on yet another immersive feature. These new moments center around improvements to cinematics, but much like the “Player Humanization” it’s all about creating a realistic product both on and off the pitch. Last year, one of the highlights of FIFA 21 on next-gen were the enhancements to stadium atmosphere, so it’s nice to read that EA isn’t resting on its laurels in this department.
Player movement is one of the biggest legacy issues plaguing the FIFA series. EA hasn’t been able to introduce proper foot planting, resulting in what often looks and feels like soccer on ice. Momentum, inertia, and player weight are sacrificed at the expense of responsiveness, with players being able to turn on a dime and wiggle out of sticky situations. For FIFA 22, EA isn’t promising any of these features, but instead fine-tuning max speeds and how players decelerate after reaching these speeds.
We’re still years away from true foot planting (Madden 21 took a big step in the right direction here on next gen), but EA is finally putting licenses and player likenesses to good use with over 50 unique running styles for players such as Phil Foden and Son Heung-min.
Set pieces are one area that could always use improvement. In those rare instances where you actually get one, you pretty much have to put it on target since the movement by your teammates is pretty stagnant. Improvements in off-the-ball movement, wall activity, and new free kick animations are just a few updates made by EA. There’s also mention of new goal kick commands, but here’s to hoping that you can now pass the ball inside your own box on a goal kick.
Competitor Mode Tweaks
Here, EA has highlighted some important gameplay tweaks for us career mode players, as well as those who like FUT Squad Battles. Again, the consensus from the offline community is “pass” on all things Competitor Mode, and I have to agree. Instead of wasting time and resources within this mode, EA should have focused its attention on more areas that affect gameplay universal to all players regardless of the mode.
Again, I have to ask why a mode centered around “Mbappe playing like Mbappe” is even a thing. He should play like himself regardless of what mode you’re playing in. The inverse, a lower-rated player should also play like himself/herself if the ratings say so. This new feature takes someone like Mbappe and makes him play on a level higher (he’ll play like a World Class version of himself instead of Professional) allowing him to stand out.
If EA wants a better differentiation between players, then the company needs to focus on attributes and traits, perhaps utilizing the full scale of the 1-100 rating. It might hurt some players’ feelings when they see how lowly rated they are, but it’s one way to create a separation of players when it comes to skill levels.
Overlooked for far too long, physical play is highlighted here as an area of improvement for EA. Speed has long ruled in FIFA, and no mode is more guilty of this than Pro Clubs where the most common player builds are short, skinny, and fast. Making strength matter would go a long way towards balancing out the speed demons. More stumble animations have been added to help vary physical altercations where, contrary to popular belief, some soccer players try to actually stay on their feet. Improvements to those frustrating moments where you tackle the opposition but they still react first have been looked at, as well as how physicality can alter a player’s pass or shot.
Title Updates And Live Tuning Tool
This is another feature that’s technically new but not really if you’re a longtime EA consumer. It’s no secret that FIFA is one of the most patched games out there. We’re on Patch #19 as I type this. The Live Tuning Tool is something that NCAA Football used to have, allowing the developers the ability to make smaller tweaks on the fly without having to bother with the Microsoft and Sony patch certification process. I have no issues with this, just as long as EA keeps its word when it comes to being transparent about the changes. This is one area EA has generally been excellent at, and one area where Konami could use a lot of help.
As you can tell by this article, this was one of the deepest dives EA has given us yet. The amount of information EA is throwing at us at this stage is remarkable. Hype levels can get out of control when you have access to this much insight from EA, but it’s refreshing to hear that EA is saying things that speak to those who want their footy fix to have more than just a few sprinkles of realism.
The developers seem to be committed to providing a more simulation-like experience. Perhaps it’s the perfect blend of when the technology catches up to the vision. Perhaps it’s EA trying to seize the moment in light of the competition stumbling out of the blocks. No matter what the reason may be, it’s encouraging to see the passion and vision of EA start to take form. The final say will ultimately be had when FIFA 22 releases this Fall, but for now, EA has our undivided attention.