‘FIFA 23’ review: a sturdy, cinematic end to a historic era

Final score

like death, taxes and the North London derby, EA Sports’ sprawling, generation-spanning FIFA series arrives every year without fail and usually garners the same level of anticipation and furore on release, regardless of how long it’s been going.

This year, however, offers up a new dimension to the annual ritual. FIFA 23 marks the final year that football’s global governing body will have any official association with the franchise, that’s right, EA are going it alone, with an eyebrow-raising name change to EA Sports FC only 12 months away. Does FIFA 23 live up to the weight of expectation for its last hurrah? In short, yes.

Most players will be spending a big chunk of their time on Ultimate Team, the towering cornerstone of recent years that’s muscled its way to the forefront of the series. The trading card behemoth that gives Pokémon a run for its money and the format that’s been the cause of jubilation and frustration for quite some time. This year offers up the most complete and enjoyable experience to date and gripes of titles gone feel listened to.

Jack Grealish fires off a shot as defenders chase him

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Ultimate Team in FIFA 23 is the most customisable version yet. The old chemistry system is gone, making way for a complete overhaul – sure, you still have to adhere to the general league, country and team connections but it’s no longer a hindrance to deviate from the beaten path.

The chemistry level has dropped from 100 to 33 and while it still pays to get as many players as possible that work well together, having Mbappé up front alongside Harry Kane isn’t going to make your team feel like Accrington Stanley all of a sudden.

This in itself opens up a whole new world of team curation; you can have a La Liga masterpiece with Messi powering down the wing or a Serie A dream with Haaland up top and a towering Neuer between the sticks. The important thing is that while it pays to keep the team tight, it doesn’t completely penalise you like before and crucially, players don’t need to be positioned next to each other to build chemistry. It’s as close to a fantasy team as you can get, which is worth celebrating.

The modes within Ultimate Team alone are expansive, too. Divisions are back to bring out the rage quitter in you and on the flip side, while Squad Battles give you the choice of choosing your difficulty level – a suped up game against the computer with a reward and progression system that gives you the feel of an online league without the stress.

FIFA 23. Credit: EA Sports.
FIFA 23. Credit: EA Sports.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of FIFA 23, the beautiful game is at its most cinematic yet. There’s a definite sense of grandiose with every game, with the HyperMotion2 system, while at times messy (more on that later), gives a world class replay and feels smooth.

The power shot is a fun addition, with your player taking a slowed-down run-up before unleashing a warhead toward goal (or not, as it takes time to master). It’s a fun addition that adds a bit of a character to a new FIFA addition and this is truly brought to life when playing on next gen.

The haptic feedback of charging up a ferocious power shot presents a new layer of immersion. Long through balls, big crunching tackles and even simple passes are felt not only on the pitch but in the palm of your hands; put it this way, we’re a long way from FIFA 97 on the N64.

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Actually playing the game generally feels sturdy and the control and touch offers a new sense of realism but the game’s biggest new feature, Hypermotion2, starts to get quite clunky here. Machine learning and new motion capture means that while animations are generally brilliant, it feels like you’re fighting against yourself, not the opponent, when it comes to the actual mechanics.

FIFA 23. Credit: EA Sports.
FIFA 23. Credit: EA Sports.

Through balls, long passes and even simple actions get sprayed in the wrong direction and to the opposing player, the jockeying system sometimes feels like you’re completely in control of the other team but at times comes off sluggish.

Unfortunately the set piece system has gone from being fun-focused and celebration-worthy to technically confusing. Sometimes less is more, and in this case scoring a worldie top bins with a free kick takes the prowess of a nuclear technician to get right. In short, it’s a bit much – and other year’s have it more nailed on.

It’s not enough to really detract from the overall, revised feel of the game but it’s not quite as smooth as you’d hope. Aside from that, standard modes like quick-play and training feel great. Career mode is possibly the best it’s ever been. An expansive journey through a player or manager’s career brings in skill trees that wouldn’t look out of place in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim or Cyberpunk 2077 – you really feel like as you progress, you’re fine-tuning your creation at every turn.

FIFA 23 banned russian teams
FIFA 23. Credit: EA Sports.

Additionally, brand new Personality Engine allows players to follow a certain path, kind of like Fable but with more substitutions. Different ways of training, more activities off the pitch that will have working out how you communicate on social media and choosing what to buy with your hard-earned cash, mean you’ll earn personality points in different areas. Do you want a Diego Costa or a N’Golo Kante? Well, that’s up to you.

Whether you control your player or play as the team they’re a part of, it’s still extremely rewarding to see their name in lights when they get an 8.0 rating. It also caters to the selfish player who gets plaudits for bagging five goals and not passing.

Out of the box, FIFA 23 has weight. The Barclays FA Women’s Super League and France D1 Arkema are included at launch, heralding a new era of women’s representation in the video game and there’s more to come. Both the men’s and women’s World Cups will have playable experiences with an update during the tournaments, meaning the game doesn’t just end at purchase, it grows with the year.

Let’s be totally honest – beyond some refinement, tweaking and intuitive touch-ups, there’s not a great deal of change from FIFA’s gone. But essentially, EA Sports’ FIFA series is like Match of the Day; It happens like clockwork, you watch it consistently and you’ll continue to do so even if it’s had stylistic changes or presenter swaps.

FIFA 23 is the same. It’s going to keep you occupied until next year and even if EA’s series is going through a transitional period, you’re going to buy it again and again. A name change won’t stop that and if this is the iteration we have for the next 12 months, we have a great deal to celebrate, especially in front of the away end.

FIFA 23 is out now, and is available for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, PC and Nintendo Switch. This review was played on PS5.

The Verdict

A few gripes aside, FIFA has rarely felt better. Thanks to the best Ultimate Team yet and immersive current-gen haptics that make you feel like you’re on the pitch, FIFA 23 is a stylish, expansive final bow for EA’s FIFA series as we know it.

Pros

  • Ultimate Team’s chemistry overhaul allows for a real fantasy team
  • Power shots and haptic energy bring back the fun
  • Career mode is a sprawling beast waiting to be conquered

Cons

  • Hypermotion2 is more bark than bite at times
  • Set pieces now require a physics degree and we still have no idea why our striker passed there
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