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How To Make Expedition Mode Great

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.

Match Volume

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.

Player Rewards

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.

Mosaic Madness

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.

Expedition Online

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.

Summary

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.

Join the discussion
  • sam

    Without online it is useless. I have played a few games and have Gerrard, Milner, Giovinco and Ferdinand but can’t see myself playing any more. Furthermore, it is ridiculous not to have teams like Wales etc. Well done EA you stole my money once more. Good show. I have already won the online tournament (first attempt) and feel this game has zero longevity. Online you ONLY face 5* teams no matter what team you pick, the gameplay – I feel at least – has got worse than FIFA 12 and the AI is still boring to play against.

  • icedillaNL

    make it for pro clubs, play with your team offline to build a squad and use it online, also would give the substitution a usefull function, glitches (in my opinion) will be less interesting (you can win players in the matches), maybe putting in a extra mode where you can put a player on the line. Lose it goes to the opponent win and you get theres. (no matter if they quit, the danger is it needs to be solid and glitch/hack proof and thats going to be a problem.) Expedition could be a great addition to pro clubs, with the right (and honest) AI. you dont have to use your pro, you can chose it or play with a player you won.

  • Walker

    @Sam

    “EA stole my money once more.” Er no, you were stupid enough to buy it.

  • Mike

    I pretty much agree with all things in the article, but wonder how Expedition mode could be re-worked to be something between Career mode and Ultimate Team. My main problem with Career mode (aside from how boring it is to play against the AI, who plays/controls every team in almost exactly the manner/style), is that the feedback loop between playing well and reward (building your team, playing against better teams in higher leagues) is really … really … obnoxiously … slow. Expedition mode could potentially fix this by creating a better and faster task completion –> reward system where winning = better players = ability to play better teams = repeat.

    For instance:

    Use regular league teams
    (no national squads; licensing is apparently a problem)

    Map progression is geographical
    but not bound by leagues
    Play your way, for instance:
    across France to reach Spain
    across Spain to reach Portugal
    across Portugal to reach North America
    etc
    without having to beat everyone in the league

    This might create some replay value
    to play the mode over again from the beginning
    since each run-through could see you playing a rather different set of teams
    (I think)

    In the beginning,
    you can only play against teams
    with a maximum of 1-star level above your current rating
    (Presumably you start as a 1-star team)

    You can’t just jump into playing Real Madrid or Manchester City
    You have to work up to them
    This would, theoretically, create a reason to keep playing over time
    You build your team by winning games
    and you build your ‘expedition’ by working up to the better teams

    Doing it this way, there is no longer any reason to do the
    1st game = reserve player, 2nd game = squad player, 3rd game = starting XI player
    because a starting XI player on a team 1-star above your current rating
    will be an improvement to your squad
    but not completely asymmetrical with what you currently
    (i.e. you would never be able to have a team with Messi and then ten 55-rated players)

    Losing games could cause you to give up one of your players to the other team
    making the stakes a bit higher

    Currently, losing only makes the ‘expedition’ take a longer time
    which is frustrating
    but not, ultimately, anything really crappy

    To equate it to gambling
    in the current Expedition mode model
    the house can not win
    it can only slow you down
    Upping the consequences of losing could make the game more dynamic
    (it also creates a reason to keep playing
    since once you have a great team, you need to maintain it)

    And yes, an online component would be very very nice

  • Rasmus Hansen

    i’m one of the sad people who acquired every single piece in the mosaic.. wow i feel like a nerd now

  • mfmaxpower

    So glad you guys did this article – I was very excited by the concept of Expedition Mode but utterly disappointed by its final implementation.

    For me, I think the key question will be whether or not we see this installed as a regular game mode in FIFA, whether it’s a one-time thing, or whether it’s used only for these tournaments.

    Personally, I think it has potential as a regular game mode, but it would need some serious tweaking and improvement. For one, if it were to be added as a mainstay in FIFA, would it need to be converted to a club competition? After all, FIFA is about clubs and typically does not have all that many national licenses.

    Regardless of whether it becomes a regular game mode, if we’re ever to see it again it certainly needs improvement. Most importantly, IMO, is that fewer games need to be required, and player rewards must be changed. I also love your ideas for form, fatigue, and chemistry being added – there’s plenty of potential here for adding strategic depth.

    Also, I would suggest an alternative to your idea for taking this mode online – I’d make it either single player or multiplayer. Make it like Risk in that you can play a campaign against friends.

    IMO it’d be a wasted opportunity if we don’t see Expedition Mode again. Plus, it would be nice to have a single player alternative to CM in the regular FIFA versions. And it’ll be interesting to see whether EA decides to stick with this mode for the next World Cup or revert to including a more standard qualifying campaign.

  • http://twitter.com/nickjh82 Nick Harrington

    This mode would have absolutely owned if it was online, like a Euro2012 UT almost but basically gambling players instead of buying packs.

    Great article, I’d definitely like to see an improved version of the mode in the future.

  • kenneth

    i hate have nothing to do with real football.. make a fantasy football game and use it there instead..

  • Paul Smeltzer

    Mine’s simple, I used to have my own unofficial expedition in the World Cup games in 2006 and 2010 when I got bored of the EA’s efforts to entertain me, basically, I’d take a team (England) and just play everyone and see how many matches I could go without being defeated. Okay, it wasn’t as boring as it sounds now, but it was better than what EA came up with, and mine was a lot more simple. Plus, instead of awarding myself with a piece of a photograph -_- I awarded myself sip of vodka instead……..Ohhh, that’s why it was fun.

  • Brendan

    @Rasmus Hansen Don’t feel too bad, I stopped at 140 :) Don’t ask me why. Probably because I just missed Qualification that much & was determined to get some use out of this buggy DLC.

    So many basic features missing, how about adding compare attributes when deciding to accept a player? Like the idea of form/fatigue.

    I really hope EA don’t have the interns throw the World Cup game together over a weekend like they did w/ this EURO DLC. Such a disappointment.

  • David Bryant

    Hey guys, not being rude honest I’ve been on holiday! Thanks for the comments in here so far, excellent stuff as always and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

    Really feel this could be something special even in full FIFA releases but tbh I think the next time we’ll see it (if we ever do) will be in WC2014.

    Here’s hoping they listen to the communities feedback.

  • Andrew

    Put this into FIFA 13. Based on the announcements so far they’ve changed practically nothing and this……

    Change it to this format and put it on with the option of clubs or countries. It would win.