Following its split with soccer’s governing body, EA Sports’ FIFA series is no more, but make no mistake: EA Sports FC is a solid game with a host of welcome improvements. The bones of this longtime franchise remain sturdy and familiar, like a well-run club. The suite of changes to Ultimate Team makes for a satisfying squad overhaul, and manager and player career modes gain smaller, welcome updates.
Gameplay remains largely the same: solid and familiar. The biggest change is the feel of the ball – it’s loose, with matches tending to have more 50/50 moments, and it’s wonderful. These loose-ball situations add to the storylines of the matches and moments. It’s empowering when cover star Erling Haaland snatches a ball acrobatically out of the air to finish a play. It all feels more true to life and purposeful. There’s a controlled chaos in these situations that makes the game a little more realistic than last year’s. I enjoyed it and the more methodical pace of games, which, in turn, makes star players stand out more.
The new PlayStyles feature improves EA Sports FC 24’s gameplay. Players can unlock special abilities for select soccer stars to mold them to their playing style and give them an advantage. This means special animations for clean tackles, power shots taken more quickly, or wingers getting an extra sprint boost to leave defenders behind. It is satisfying to use players like Trinity Rodman, who are quick and have the ability to beat a defender with pace just like she does in real life, or ping a driven pass 30 yards to someone’s feet.
This is also the best the series has looked. The animations are more fluid and realistic. If you watch Haaland on TV, you’re going to notice how he kind of hops before swinging his arms, arching over, and sprinting like a human battering ram. Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez looks like a gazelle thumping quickly, powerfully, chaotically, and purposely. Their video game counterparts move similarly, which ups the realism. Even the kits, updated for this release, move more authentically as they bounce off of players. However, sometimes, the shirts bounce in a comical way, pulling you out of the immersion. Another tiny change is how authentic stadiums and crowds feel, with flags waving and crowds rowdier and louder than ever. And if you make a mistimed tackle, you watch the ref in first-person mode run to your player before deciding his fate. These little details add up in a positive way.
EA’s most significant upgrades are in Ultimate Team with a large swath of meaningful changes, including one substantial addition: Women are now a fully integrated part of the mode. Stagnation set into the mode over the last two years thanks to a lot of the same players being featured and the fact that you had to grind countless matches to unlock players that usually aren’t as good as who you can earn by opening packs. Adding the women has reinvigorated my interest — and my playtime.
I formed a team with Rodman and Alexandra Popp on each wing and felt nothing but glee as I rampaged down each sideline, providing crosses for Haaland and scoring wonder goals with the outside of their boots. What a great way to inject the “fantasy” into Ultimate Team in a gratifying and equitable way.
Unlike EA’s NHL Ultimate Team mode, the women fit seamlessly and handle well against their male counterparts. Sure, not all women goalkeepers are very tall, causing a disadvantage for some shot-stopping, but I haven’t noticed it too much with my 5’ 9” Canadian goalie, and my women wingers have dominated with their pace.
And then there are UT Evolutions. I run multiple teams in UT that are all pretty solid, but sometimes less popular leagues and teams (such as Team USA) don’t get a lot of new or powerful cards. You can make up for some of this with skill, but an 80-rated center-back is gonna have a tough time with a 90-plus striker.
The new Evolutions aspect of UT makes it so you can upgrade your favorite players’ skills, traits, and even proficiency with their weaker foot. It’s a joy to upgrade players, and I can’t wait to keep squads competitive this way.
Less exciting is one of the Evolutions is already behind a paywall. It’s obscene to spend 50,000 in-game coins or real money via 1,000 FC points (just under $10) on it; you just don’t earn enough unless you dump a lot of hours into the mode each week. Of course, EA wants players to spend more money for better teams. Grinding can only get you so far if lady luck is on your side. It’s an annoying aspect inherent to card-collection modes like this; it isn’t getting any better and just outright feels bad. It’s also disappointing if you have a tradeable card to upgrade, as once you begin upgrading it, you can no longer sell it. Everything feels against you unless you spend more cash, and I don’t like any part of it. Thankfully, microtransactions are only an issue in this one mode.
In spite of that, the addition of the women and Evolutions brings the fantasy of Ultimate Team to life. Players with multiple positions also don’t require a position change card to move from a striker to, say, a left-wing position and keep chemistry – which adds to their speed, shooting, or other stats – this year. This makes team building and tactics less rigid and provides a breath of fresh air.
Lesser updates have been applied to the manager and career modes, but adding new features to both is welcome, even if neither is impressive.
Manager mode has a new aspect where you hire coaches to make your team more proficient in a tactical vision like wing play or parking the bus on defense. But hiring coaches isn’t the most exciting feature. Sure, you can improve your midfield with the right personnel, but between managing this and my players’ stamina each week, it just doesn’t do enough to hold my interest for more than a season. When I simulated games, it seemed like my team never cared about my tactics anyway, which just made the experience flat and pointless.
The player career is slightly more fun as you upgrade your avatar with the new PlayStyles, turning them into a bona fide superstar. But again, the experience doesn’t do enough to hold my attention. Going from FIFA to EA FC could have been a great opportunity to do even more with these modes or bring back a story mode. As such, it is nice to have these updates, but Ultimate Team boasts the greatest changes, which seems like a missed opportunity to usher in the name change.
Sadly, Volta remains a forgettable diversion; it just doesn’t hold your attention well. It’s a messy, bad arcade version of soccer with uneven power-ups. Playing futsal and street soccer is fun, but Volta doesn’t recreate the control and pace of the real thing, instead opting for avatar customization and leveling that devolves into just being able to run fast and score ridiculous goals.
Dropping the FIFA license doesn’t make this a better or worse game. If you’re already a fan of EA’s soccer showpiece, you’re going to enjoy the rebranded EA FC, even if every mode wasn’t transformed like Ultimate Team. And honestly, since every major soccer game has fallen off or isn’t made anymore, EA’s soccer title is the best one available by default.
It isn’t perfect, but EAFC has sucked me back into a mode I was about to give up on, has some of its slickest soccer to date, and hasn’t missed a beat in its transition to a new name. But it misses a chance to usher in its new era with something bold, deciding to remain mostly true to form. And that’s a shame. Regardless, I’ll be pinging passes with Rose Lavelle for months to come.