The Game of European Domination
When the initial Euro 2012 announcement was made the most interesting feature was without doubt the new “Expedition Mode” which to begin with was shrouded in mystery. I’ll be honest; we got pretty excited about EA’s vision for the mode (as I’m sure you did too) but sadly that enthusiastic hype didn’t quite materialise when the DLC launched on April 24th.
Even though Expedition Mode didn’t fully deliver this time around that doesn’t mean that the idea itself is a bad one and with a few changes we firmly believe that it could become something quite special. So without further ado, let’s find out how to make Expedition Mode great.
The Map and Progression
One of the first analogy’s we were given about Expedition Mode was “It’s like Risk the board game” and at a first glance this appeared to be true, however the way you expand your European dominance is in fact nothing like our beloved Risk.
In Expedition Mode the nations are bound by their qualification group which makes sense in terms of natural seeding, but not when you’re traversing the Expedition Mode map. To plug the geographical gap EA added “Roads” to link countries together, but there’s something about a link that bridges large volumes of nations you can’t actually play, that just doesn’t feel right.
The Fix: Instead of the qualification group model another way of making Expedition Mode feel more coherent would be to group nations based on their location – Northern Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and Southern Europe. When you beat a nation you unlock the ability to play any other country that shares a border with it and links across seas are provided accordingly.
To expand to another European location you’d have to beat everyone in the zone you’re currently in and the new region would also have to be adjacent. For example if you completed Western Europe, your next available region would be Central Europe and so on.
As well as making geographical sense, this model would also provide the visual eye candy as you watch your European dominance spread across the land in swathes of your custom team colours. Think, Dad’s Army title sequence.
Quite simply, Expedition mode contains far too many matches that you’re forced to play as part of the modes core design. Playing each nation once (53 total) represents over ten hours of match time alone so how EA expected us to plough through 150+ matches offline, I really don’t know. Especially when the Qualification stages were binned because telemetry showed that most players skipped them. Time can indeed equate to value in some instances but what Expedition Mode forgot about in its fantasy quest was quality and variety.
The Fix: To complete Expedition Mode you should only have to beat each nation once and the game certainly shouldn’t force you to play nations more than that as a way of slowing down your progression. If people want to play nations more than once in the hunt for better players that’s fine, but it has be a player choice, and not part of a rigid structure.
The main goal of Expedition Mode is to build the ultimate European dream team on your way to dominating the continent. However the way player rewards are structured doesn’t really lend to that because you actually end up spending two thirds of your time in Expedition Mode receiving reserve and substitute players who certainly aren’t in that “dream team” mould.
The other issue is that the player rewards are completely random. On the one hand that creates natural variety but what it inhibits is the ability to strengthen the areas of your team which need the most attention. If you have a poor pair of centre backs but you randomly receive strikers from the first five nations you beat, how is that helping your squad?
The Fix: The first thing to do would be to get rid of reserve players as rewards completely. They aren’t any better than the players you get assigned at the start of the mode so why would you want to play matches to acquire them? If player rewards focussed instead on the first eleven and substitutes only you’d be guaranteed to get a player much better than your initial squad every time, which is sort of the point.
It would also be nice though to have the ability to choose the type of player to receive, eg defender, midfielder, forward. This would slash the random assignment odds to a much more digestible probability and even if you didn’t get the exact player you wanted, you’d still get someone capable of filling the role you’d identified.
The ability to choose player roles would also enable you to think tactically when playing weaker nations. They might have a very average team overall but most nations do contain at least one star player, which you’d be able to try and target with this reward system, avoiding much of the dross.
Big Nation Spamming
Expedition Mode prevents big nation spamming quite simply by preventing you from unlocking big nations at all. You normally have to play a few smaller nations at least twice before they’ll be unlocked and then you have to build a road to them as well.
Our geographical design would see that change, so especially when you hit central Europe containing Germany, France and Holland in close proximity the potential to get great players fast is clearly an issue. Expedition Mode shouldn’t hand you a great team on a plate but it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from acquiring great players at all.
The Fix: Unlocking Spain shouldn’t be any more difficult than unlocking Luxembourg for instance. If you’ve beaten a nation that shares a border, you can play them. What you need to avoid though is people unlocking Spain, playing 20 matches in a row and then breeding a Catalan monster. So for the five Star nations you could have a three game cool-down, middle of the road nations could have a two game cool-down and everyone else none.
This would prevent spamming of the best teams, without being unreasonable from a design perspective and it would also encourage you to continue to explore the rest of Europe to enable second and third matches against the best teams if you wish to hunt for other players.
Team Form, Fatigue & Rotation
Ok, so we already know that playing nations three times over to get a decent player is annoying but what compounds that model further is that each time you play a nation, from their team selection, to their formation it’s an identical match. That makes progression in Expedition Mode feel like a real grind at times and whilst 53 nations is a huge pool of teams to choose from, if they all setup the same every time you play them, with no fatigue present, that variety gets lost.
The Fix: If FIFA’s form model was added to Expedition Mode it would at least add some variety to playing teams multiple times. If you saw Germany on the map in high form you may choose to avoid them for a few games whilst you acquire some better players. Alternatively seeing, Spain’s confidence in the gutter may prompt you to make an early assault.
Team Form would affect your dream team as well though and if you lose a match in Expedition Mode you should be punished not by losing a road, but by losing any built up form, morale and perhaps chemistry. The form of other nations should be changeable too and if you beat Germany in high form, that should reduce them to normal or low form, making any second game a bit easier.
The other big thing missing is fatigue, which means you can play the same team over and over and so can the CPU. Fatigue would shift Expedition Modes focus from creating the best team, to creating the best squad and that’s where it really should be in my opinion. It would also force the CPU to rotate their own team too meaning you at least get to play against different variations of line-ups.
I’m actually a big fan of the Mosaic Pieces in Expedition Mode you’ll perhaps be surprised to hear. I think some of the more synonymous tournament images are great, and as a little reminder of previous happenings they add a lot of depth and history to the mode. However, as great as they are as a collectible, the mosaic pieces are not enough to carry the weight of an entire mode and as with the matches, there’s simply too many of them.
The Fix: As with the match volume the Mosaic Pieces (and any collectible for that matter) quite simply need scaling down. Reduce the volume to one received per match and make sure those 53 images are more killer and less filler. You shouldn’t have to work to get them either, they’re a pleasant addition, not the be all and end all. If anyone has collected all 183 mosaic pieces in Euro 2012 hit the comments and we’ll refer you to a great doctor.
Ok, so you’ve played your matches and you’ve built your team of European football stars, what next? Well in the existing Expedition mode it’s sort of game over. When you create a team you feel happy with you just sort of stop playing, because there’s no where left to go. A lot of time and effort (53 matches = 10 hours+) has gone in to your custom team and yet you have no where to celebrate or test that squad building achievement.
The Fix: It’s a glaringly obvious suggestion but Expedition Mode online could be really special even if it would encroach a little on Ultimate Team. That said, I’ve actually got no problem with building your Expedition Mode team offline because I think that works a lot better, but once you have a team you’re happy with you have to be able to go online and test that against the FIFA community.
A watered down Head To Head Seasons format would have worked quite nicely with perhaps just five online leagues to progress through as opposed to FIFA 12′s ten. But surely within the Euro 2012 framework a version of the actual tournament structure to play online would be the way to go. You’ve conquered Europe to build the best team, now conquer online and prove you can beat the FIFA community.
As a first toe dip in the water, Expedition Mode actually did a fairly good job of showing that there is still plenty mileage left beyond the existing FIFA infrastructure that we’ve become so accustomed to. The presentation is also exemplary and EA’s new found design flair is a much underplayed strength which is now slowly spreading across the FIFA landscape.
What Expedition Mode failed to do sadly was to consider what FIFA gamers actually want, and there also seemed to be a lack of appreciation for the internal competition. If you can build a fantasy team in Ultimate Team with less hassle, apart from the Euro branding why would you play Expedition Mode? That’s a really important factor and 150+ matches and 183 mosaic pieces, shows it wasn’t considered nearly enough.
But, the idea is a fantastic one and with a few fundamental changes made it could offer something really different and fresh compared to the usual FIFA fare. I really hope that further down the line we do see Expedition Mode again, because as I’ve said a few times, the potential the mode has is truly massive but it has to be punchy, and aggressive in the way it progresses your European journey and not a grind.
A good start then but with just a little more risk, Expedition Mode has the firepower to be truly great.
Are you a fan of Expedition Mode in it’s existing format? What would you do to improve it? Hit the comments and let us know.