With FIFA sure to be a financial smash hit every year, EA has an iron grip on the world of soccer games and simulations. As with many titles that see annual iterations, fans have thrown into question the value of forking over the full price for a game that’s more or less the same every year. Add to that the fact that FIFA (along with numerous other games) has been the topic of ethical and legal discourse surrounding the loot box system, FIFA 20 finds itself under a harsher spotlight than usual.
A new way to kick it
Although franchises like FIFA are often criticized for being the same product every year with minimal change, EA Sports has made some clear efforts to add new content. This comes in the form of Volta Football, a brand new game mode in which players go head to head in street-like matches. When first jumping into Volta, you’ll select and customize your own character. The physical traits that you select, such as height and weight, have a direct impact on speed, strength, and other attributes. With Volta being a condensed form of soccer, you can only select from three positions: attacker, midfielder, and defender. Next, you can edit your physical appearance. With Volta Football being all about the gritty streetside of the world’s most popular sport, you’re much more free fashionably than in core modes. Hoodies, tank tops, joggers, and more all add something fresh rather than the standard kits worn by pros.
After finishing your character, it’s time to jump into one of Volta’s three game modes. Story has players beginning at J10’s clubhouse on a training court, competing in tournaments and pickup matches. From here, you will grow and build your squad, eventually traveling to take on more skilled opponents. Volta League is the competitive online component of FIFA 20’s new game mode. Here, you’ll take your talents online to see how you stack up with players around the globe. The stats in Volta League are tracked similarly to Seasons and Pro Clubs; you have a set number of games to score points and rank up and climb the divisions. Lastly, Volta Tour is a single player mode that allows players to freely explore the world, taking on diverse challenges and tournament types and unlocking new regions to play in.
Volta Football is easily my favorite part of FIFA 20. The street soccer setting opens the gates for a variety of new ways to enjoy FIFA’s tight gameplay mechanics. There’s different tournament formats, match rules, and arena layouts. It was also really neat to travel to different destinations and see how each location varied stylistically. In an increasingly stale franchise, Volta is a much needed shot of energy.
FIFA 20 sees the return of the franchise's most popular game mode, FIFA Ultimate Team. In Ultimate Team, you’ll collect players through challenges, transfers, and card packs in order to build the best squad possible. From here, you can take your squad online to go head to head with other Ultimate Teams around the world and compete for prizes. If you’re not competitive, you can stick to friendlies, or just simply marvel at the dream team you’ve assembled.
Over the last few years, FUT has grown notorious for its use of microtransactions. It’s been argued that the system favors players who dump more cash into the game, giving off a “pay-to-win” vibe. Not only that, but players who do dish out some extra cash to directly purchase packs with FIFA points still have to cross their fingers and hope they get lucky with pack luck. Many have called this out as gambling in a game rated “E for Everyone” by the ESRB. Madden and NHL (other EA Sports franchises) have received similar criticisms.
While under heavy social and legal scrutiny, FIFA 19 began displaying the pack probabilities in the store. This continues in FIFA 20, and the numbers are pretty discouraging. The highest available pack in the store, the premium gold pack, costs 150 FIFA points ($1.50) and promises players 3 rare items. Upon looking at the pack probability, there’s an 18% chance of pulling an 82+ overall player (2% decrease from FIFA 19), and a 4.6% chance of pulling an 84+ overall player (0.1% increase from FIFA 19). Considering that many of the players that gamers are truly after can trickle into the mid to high 90’s overall rating, it’s clear that the packs are still strategically designed to pull you in over and over. Couple this with the fact that FIFA points are sold in quantities that would leave you with extra points dangling above if you decide to purchase one premium pack and be done with it - FIFA Ultimate Team still feels predatory. If you’ve got high hopes of bagging that 94 overall Ronaldo card or scoring that 95 overall Pelé, you better get to saving those Ultimate Team coins by the millions.
If you manage to just dip your toe into Ultimate Team and play it from a more casual standpoint, there’s admittedly still a good deal of enjoyment to be had. Finishing challenges and earning reward items is a pretty satisfying loop. Besides, the fantasy element of uniting players from different nations under one kit is neat to see. Playing couch co-op with my brother against AI opponents was a much more laid back way to play. Without a doubt, the most fun I had within FUT was in friendlies playing under house rules. Originally introduced in last year’s FIFA 19, house rules add unique twists to gameplay. These quirky modes are now available in Ultimate Team, with a few new additions. For example, “Swaps” will randomly switch three of your players with your opponent in the beginning of a match. Scoring with a swapped player grants 2 points instead of 1.
Career mode makes its return in FIFA 20, where players can create their own player or owner and take their favorite team to glory. When creating your character, you go through the same creation process as described with Volta Football, but with a few added features. After finishing your player/owner, you select a team, and each team has its own expectations, such as continental success, brand exposure, and financial income. A team like Arsenal has a strong emphasis on success and exposure, while Toulouse is a bit more lenient. I quite enjoyed career mode. Although there isn’t much spice to the gameplay, I appreciated the deep well of statistics and records available.
From world standings, to training, to accomplishments, to objectives, to manager notes, there’s a lot to look at in career mode. Career mode is less cinematic than in other installments, for better or worse. On the downside, the lack of narrative path can get boring and create a stale experience. That being said, not having a predetermined story opens the gates up for players to fill in the blanks and have complete control over the arc of their career.
FIFA 20 marks the return of one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. Features like Volta Football and the implementation of house rules in FUT provide exciting new ways to play. FIFA Ultimate Team still feels predatory, and the attempts to make the loot box system more transparent just showcases its faults. At the end of the day, the gameplay in FIFA is still top notch. Dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending all feel smooth as ever. While FIFA 20 is bogged down by the same issues that have plagued it for years, it does enough to set itself apart as a worthy installment.
This review is based on a digital PS4 code provided by the publisher. FIFA 20 is available now for $59.99 on PS4, XB1, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- Volta Football is creative new way to enjoy FIFA
- House rules are a much needed addition to friendlies and FUT
- Gameplay mechanics are as good as ever
- FUT microtransactions still feel predatory
- Overall lack in innovation outside of Volta mode