There were no huge announcements for FIFA’s core online modes this year, but a number of evolutionary improvements have been implemented. How do the immensely popular online modes shape up with FIFA 13, and, most importantly, how does the game play out online?
After FIFA 12’s revamp of the head to head online modes, FIFA 13 brings a far more iterative improvement to the table. An additional challenge is offered in the form of division titles, which reward you for not only passing the relegation and promotion thresholds, but for going that extra mile in a 10 match season. Along with the Cups which can be won in the tournament style Cup matches, your trophies and league titles are now stored in the trophy cabinet – a nice touch but little more.
It’s a pretty minor addition to the newly named ‘Seasons’ mode, giving a small additional challenge, but not really improving the mode’s longevity for those who rise to the top of division 1, and the “been there, done that” sets in, but then I suppose that is where competitions like the FIWC come in.
There has been an expansion to the available filters, with a semi-assisted option becoming available again after a year of absence, a filter to ensure Clubs don’t take on Country, and a filter to ensure that you come up against a fairer opponent. On the Early Release, I have still come up against Real Madrid rather a lot given that I’m the 4.5* Arsenal, but I expect this is down to the low player count forcing less ideal matches.
Your filter settings, team choice and management settings now save automatically, which will save team tinkerers a ton of time. It’s a pity that you can’t actually edit custom tactics or formations from seasons itself – maybe next year.
The new EASFC Catalogue has a number of Seasons related items. You can now buy an extra match, a free draw, or even a free win to help you on your way. You can only use them so many times, and they are fairly expensive, but using them combined could potentially allow you to win a division having barely played a game. I do think it’s fairly minor, but even so, is there really a meaning for this? All it does is devalue Seasons as a ranking system.
The final new addition is that you can once again play with guests, albeit only locally. One can’t help but feel that EA have missed a trick in not implementing a proper online 2v2 mode – it would surely be very popular. Perhaps there is a good reason why, but the simple addition of a ‘2’ in the “Players Per Team” option for the entirely unchanged Online Team Play mode would be satisfactory for the meanwhile.
The telling factor, as always with online, is about how the gameplay holds up when the difficulties of online – lag, high competitiveness, exploitation, glitches and so forth – are thrown at it. While the FIFA 13 Gameplay review is being handled separately, I think it’s worthwhile to point out some of the things which are more specific to online.
One word to sum up the online experience in FIFA 13 would be hectic. Year after year I, and many others, hope for a more patient game, but I don’t find it in FIFA 13’s online. The word, as it has been for so many years, is pressure, and it is still dominant online. Even after tactical defending, FIFA is still a game where defensive success is best served by packing the defence with as many men as possible, and repeatedly attacking the ballcarrier, taking advantage of over-the-top reaction rates and a lacking sense of momentum.
Unfortunately, the same can be said to a large extent for frankly appalling passing styles. Particularly on assisted, 180 degree passes are as prevalent and gutting as ever, and with the new attacking AI giving you plenty of options, it can be hard for the defensive team to do much about it. The balance, as always, is one where in attack you are reliant on very quick, accurate passing, and in defence you are reliant on very aggressive pressuring – trying to defend through structure and organisation is very difficult with the mismatch in quality between the attacking and defensive AI.
For all of the changes made in FIFA 13, it all seems very reminiscent of FIFA 12 when being bullied around the pitch by a Real Madrid team who seem to have hit the coffee a bit too hard. First Touch Control does as much good as bad in that situation, as defenders react far too quickly to a surprising touch, even if the lobbed through ball is trickier to take down and utilise effectively.
I have some preliminary concerns too about the effectiveness of headers. While scoring from shots is arguably harder than ever, now that finesse shots are so much fairer than they used to be (yes, this really is the case!), goals from headers are as easy as ever – sticking the ball down the line for an easy cross is still liable to become route one to goal for many online players. The main issue here is once again one of defensive AI. Where the goalkeeper reaction speeds can make up for defensive failings which lead to shots, the keepers (rightly) don’t have much say over a decently placed header. The one-against-one nature of all aerial battles is key here, making all decent crosses into near 50-50 chances.
Where players offline have the ability to avoid or dampen some of these problems via the gamespeed setting and sliders, online modes are still locked to the default, and unfortunately the default still doesn’t bring a particularly realistic balance to the game. Historically, EA haven’t seen the need to make gameplay changes mid year, but I would call upon them to rethink this – making changes to gameplay and receiving immediate feedback on how it all works online would allow FIFA to improve far faster than only making alterations with each release.
Even with these concerns, you can be readily assured that a billion and one matches will be played throughout the year. If online FIFA is what you’re looking for, Seasons delivers it in a polished-better-than-ever package – it is just that FIFA is too often at it’s worst at the peril of online gamers, even if at other times it can be at its absolute best.
With FIFA 13, Clubs has not seen any grand revolution, but there are some quiet, yet important additions and tweaks to the mode, very much directed towards fan feedback. Two major changes have been made – first, that the Seasons format has been fully implemented within Clubs, and second that the Virtual Pro has been split into the Online Pro and the Career Pro.
The Online Pro is now solely reserved for Clubs matches and stored online, preventing the worst of the boosting (which utilised FIFA 12’s sliders to terrific effect), and the VP hacks which became widespread over the last couple of years. Combined with that, there has been rebalancing to the stats of the online pro, a completely rewritten set of accomplishments to achieve, and the inclusion of Online Pro boosts in the EASFC Catalogue.
I’m really pleased with the changes to accomplishments. There are a few new types of accomplishments including ones which reward interception, chance creation, and key passes, and many of the flawed/ridiculously hard accomplishments have disappeared. There are no more accomplishments attached to your match rating or gaining Man of the Match, which would be fine in theory but were really awkward to get thanks to the poorness of the match rating system. I’m still of the opinion that the accomplishment system should make way for something else (or perhaps nothing), but this atleast is the accomplishment system done right.
The EASFC provides a secondary way to improve your Online Pro. Each boost improves your Virtual Pro’s stats by one across each main category (i.e. Ball Skills, Physical, Shooting, etc) and there are five boosts for each category, with more unlocked for higher levelled EASFC accounts. I don’t really see the point of this feature necessarily, but I don’t think it’s a major problem. This isn’t a way of buying success – and Clubs did once feature something like that. It’s just a secondary levelling system attached to your entire FIFA progress, rather than just your Online Pro.
As for the balance changes, it’s quite hard to say at this stage. Looking across the positions and attributes there is definitely more balance between the different roles. Where previously there were certain roles (like box-to-box and target man) which were on the weak side, they do now seem more viable options. In general though, the balance which will matter is more a question of how Online Pros will balance against the generated players, and until people start getting higher rated Pros it’s very, very hard to know. What is fairly certain, is that it will be better this year, what with the generated teammates’ attributes improving as your Online Pros’ do.
The suite of Clubs features have all had a bit of rearranging this year. Your Online Pro hub is now alongside the Clubs hub, and, Pro Ranked Matches have been replaced by/renamed as Drop In Matches. Drop In Matches now serve as the only way, other than playing with your Club, that you can gain accomplishments, but unfortunately the feature is still usually rendered unplayable by the people that play it. My first drop in match was ruined, in particular, by my goalkeeper, who happened to be captain, who was deliberately sabotaging our team so that he could make more saves, and hence, get more accomplishments.
It wasn’t helped by how many of us were playing out of position. Unsurprisingly, there are a disproportionate number of strikers and attacking midfielders to what is actually needed on a football pitch, and the Drop In Matches seem to just want to get 11 people together regardless of what their Online Pro’s positions are, and as such, you get strikers in defence and so forth. Whether you can ever make a pick up style mode like this work is hard to say, but one thing is for certain, it needs more work and more thought, and top priority would be a way to kick griefers and boosters.
Finally, there are a couple of new filters to allow you to avoid people who do/don’t play with ANYs, and do/don’t play with human goalkeepers dependent on your preference. This is actually a really important change, but unfortunately, the filters aren’t working as of now. The fix is sorted, but there is no ETA for its deployment yet. Some other problems have cropped up too – I and my teammates have experienced a handful of hard crashes, as well as an issue where you get stuck in the pregame arena. The latter issue seems fairly common, so hopefully EA can get to the bottom of this one quickly.
If the gameplay in Seasons can be described as hectic, the gameplay in Clubs is simply more so, and this stems primarily from the range of different tactics you can employ once you are able to control more than one player at once. Pressure is an overly effective tactic in Seasons where you are dealing with one player who might be charging you and one who might be containing you, but in Clubs you can be pressured by far more players, far more effectively.
It’s actually quite an interesting point in relation to FIFA’s gameplay in general: the only reason pressure isn’t worse is because you are fundamentally constrained by the one-player-at-a-time nature of head to head FIFA. An additional issue is perhaps exacerbating the pressure problem further – you can select Legacy Defending from in game Clubs menu (the same apparently goes for assisted keeping, which was meant to be locked to atleast semi this year).
The unique nature of Clubs presents similar problems in attack, and I’ve found matches on Clubs to be really lacking in the midfield department. Because attackers can move freely, they can simply sit in the hole between the defence and midfield – once there, it’s very easy to just pass/clear the ball up the pitch to them. The defenders won’t mark tightly enough to compete for the ball, and the midfield will usually be too far up the pitch to help at all.
The tendency therefore is that a lot of teams take the easy option – 5 at the back, 2 CDMs, ultra defensive, and counter attack – and sadly it’s still far too effective a tactic. The system effectively gives you seven defenders and three attackers, and while in real life that would make it very difficult to forge attacks, in FIFA 13 it simply doesn’t.
I was hoping that with FIFA 13, I would never again have to deal with people who didn’t use an ANY, but unfortunately the borked filter has meant that I’ve indeed come up against it quite a few times. The situation is much unchanged – the human players spam the request pass button and the AI will, almost without fail, make the pass work, often performing quite preposterous chips and blind 180 degree spins to serve the pass receiver with a ridiculous likelihood of success. In this particular area you get to see how effectively the CPU can use assisted passing when it is forced to make a pass. The CPU is still massively stupid if left to its own devices, but if exploited in the right way is an absolute crutch, and possibly the most unrealistic playstyle FIFA offers. The filter fix cannot come fast enough.
The series of improvements and rejiggings that Clubs has received this year should, once all is working, make for a better year for Clubs than the last one, but it is still fundamentally undermined in gameplay – the sure signs of a game which is designed, and balanced around a 1v1 and 1vCPU experience. With the new filters, plenty of balancing and the accomplishment changes, the primary issues with Clubs are now ones of gameplay. For me, and I suspect most people, the experience is still going to be a frustrating one, but we are moving in the right direction.
Other than the two main online offerings above, there isn’t a great amount to pick over. Online Team Play, Unranked Head to Head play, and Online Friendlies all return as do the Online lobbies, but there are no changes of note to any of these areas, which primarily serve the bare necessities of being able to play with friends. Outside of the three major online modes, Seasons, Clubs, and of course, Ultimate Team, everything feels a bit bare bones and a little antiquated.
There are no changes to the online modes which are really striking. We have got a series of minor, but useful improvements which will make a meaningful difference to players for the next year. It is very much a year of evolution rather than revolution – but FIFA’s online modes are already up there with the best in business. You could always ask for more in both Clubs and Seasons, and I’m sure there will be many upset that Clubs still doesn’t feature any real customisation options – but the Online Modes are held back far more by gameplay than by any factor of their own design.
There is still plenty of room for improvement – there hasn’t been a great deal of innovation for FIFA’s online modes since early 2010 when the Seasons format was first used in the World Cup game – but what is there is delivered well, and, with the exception of the few mentioned teething issues, polished to a high sheen.