Locker room shot in the Theater of Dreams

FIFA 23 – Review: Going out with a bang

Not for you if:

  • You're not a fan of yearly releases
  • You are happy to keep on enjoying FIFA 22
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Ah yes, welcome to the eternal pain that is yearly sports game releases. Whether it’s FIFA or NBA 2K, this period of the year is designated to games we love to hate, but can’t stop playing nonetheless. FIFA 23 is arguably the biggest sports release of this year (same as every year if we’re being honest) and is the franchise that helps EA make off with a huge bag at the end of every year. But this one is a little different. You see, FIFA 23 is the final entry in the now 30-years-old FIFA franchise. The FIFA license expires after this year, and EA, instead of renewing the license, is making plans for a different series starting next year. So, it only makes sense that FIFA 23 would be the final, and therefore best game in the series, right? Well, let’s find out:

Before we begin, let me just say that I have spent an unhealthy amount of time playing FIFA the past few months, on both FIFA 22 and FIFA 23 after its release. I fully understand the frustrations of the community about the predatory monetization, but also about the random BS in gameplay and how badly EA tends to manage this franchise post-release. But I also understand that there is a difficult-to-explain appeal to this franchise for anyone who even remotely enjoys football.

Whether you’re playing solo on Career mode, against your friends on Kick Off, or trying your luck at Ultimate Team, it can be genuinely hard to put the controller down at times. It’s a love-hate relationship and like it or not, just like its predecessors, FIFA 23 is the best football game we’re getting this year. The lack of competition in the genre and EA’s consistency have made the FIFA series an integral part of the broader football culture. That’s the magic of the FIFA series, it appeals to both the casual player and the Ultimate Team die-hard fans.

Neymar celebration in FIFA 23

TL;DR

FIFA 23 is hard not to recommend to anyone who is a fan of the sport. Stunning visuals, a simple-to-understand yet difficult-to-master gameplay loop, and the addictive Ultimate Team formula make this game the perfect time-sinker.

All images in this article are in-game screenshots taken from FIFA 23 running on the PlayStation 5.

Presentation

What’s all this HyperMotion2 fuss about?

What can I say, sports games are always good-looking, and they basically serve as a demonstration of a system’s technical capabilities. FIFA 23 is no exception. This year, EA introduces the HyperMotion2 engine, and they’re very in-your-face about it. HyperMotion2 is EA’s new graphics and physics engine, derived from FrostBite that previous installments (FIFA 21 and backward) were running on. They seem to be taking a huge bet, putting so much visibility on a graphics engine, but after watching it in action, I get it.

The graphics are a noticeable step up from last year’s FIFA 22, which ran on the first version of HyperMotion, on current-gen consoles. From the looks of it, EA was laying the foundations with FIFA 22 and used a full year of development to refine any rough edges. It looked good last year, but it looks even better now. The performance has also improved drastically. Aside from the full-on crashes, that happen much more often than I would like, FIFA 23 runs on a rock-solid framerate of 60fps, at native 4K.

  • VVD on FIFA 23
  • The CL experience on FIFA 23
  • Tried my best to re-create me as a manager in FIFA 23

Cutting-edge, buttery-smooth visuals, that’s what it’s about

In FIFA 22, the player models were completely reworked. Some players, like Ronaldo and Mbappe, were custom-made from the ground up for those specific players and were as close to reality as you can get. This year, it looks like everything else got reworked. The pitch looks dramatically better than it did in the previous game, and so does the whole stadium and the crowd. Animations, player motion, and the overall atmosphere of the game is on a whole different level this year. Especially when playing in Career mode, you can feel the intensity of the atmosphere and it can easily send chills down your spine.

The faces of the players are a bit of a mixed bag. Some look eerily close to reality, while others are quite hard to look at. EA absolutely massacred Darwin Nunez in this game. Player motion, however, is second to none, and even though the physics can get a bit wonky at times, you can eliminate mistakes caused by poor animations almost completely. At least on the local play modes, as online play is a whole different story that we will delve into in the Gameplay section.

In terms of presentation, FIFA 23 does an absolutely wonderful job to work on the football spectacle. Pre-match visuals with full analysis, splash screens in the visual themes of each national league, and European competitions like the Champions League recreate the biggest moments of the football culture right in your living room console. In Career mode and Volta, negotiation cutscenes, pre- and post-match interviews, combined with light-RPG aspects help build a difficult-to-find sense of realism.

FIFA 23 still needs polishing, and the menus need a lot of work

But it’s not all as rosy as it may seem. Honestly, the performance may be up to par with expectations and is definitely consistent, but the number of visual bugs can be a little overwhelming. Players clipping inside the goalposts, the crowd disappearing, scorecards and menus glitching out and never recovering are just some of the issues I came across during my review period. I have seen worse, but so many visual glitches for a game you’re buying at full price is not a good look. Hopefully, these will get ironed out quickly.

The menus in FIFA 23 are the typical FIFA menus you might be familiar with from previous years. Tiles, usually in a horizontal arrangement, that you have to scroll through. The issue I have with them is the same issue I had with the Modern Warfare II Beta menus. They might look good, but they’re a pain to navigate. It takes way too much time to go from the start of a menu to the end of one, and some of these menus being dynamic means that you can’t rely on muscle memory to input commands quickly. Not to mention the abysmal loading times when going from menu to menu. Firing up a match in Kick Off might as well be faster than going from one menu to the next.

They did my boy Odegaard dirty in FIFA 23
Man, they did my boy Odegaard dirty in this one.

The sound is great, but the soundtrack is a little lacking

The FIFA series has always spoiled us in terms of sound design. The stadium atmosphere on offer has always been exemplary, and honestly, it just gets better year after year. Fans cheering your team on can really get you pumped in big games, and the crowd will always let you know when you mess up with their disappointed sighs. The club anthems that are played before a match starts and the sounds of a fully packed stadium can give you literal chills, especially when playing with surround-enabled headphones. We tested FIFA 23 on a PlayStation 5, and some sounds like the ball hitting the posts or the half-time whistle were coming off the built-in Dualsense speaker which was a nice touch to add some intensity when playing far away from your speaker system.

Commentators do a fantastic job, as always. The voice-overs are on par with what you’d expect to hear when watching a PL match on SkySports, meaning commentators having a heavy bias against your team, and making mean remarks for the smallest of mistakes. Banter aside, there’s some very good voice work on display, but as always, the limited amount of voice lines per situation will make you get tired of hearing them quite quickly.

The soundtrack in FIFA games has always been one of the brightest points in the series. More often than not, the dev team will include some real bangers in the EA Sports TRAX mix, that will live in your head rent-free for the rest of the season. Sometimes, they even scout out some real gems that will blow up a few months down the line. Heat Waves is the most recent one that comes to mind, appearing first on FIFA 21, and then on literally every club and radio station. This year, however, there wasn’t a single track that stood out to me, and that was a bit of a letdown. Maybe they’ll grow on me, who knows, but as of the time of writing, this year’s playlist seems a bit too thin on bangers.

  • Crowd when playing Liverpool at Anfield

Gameplay

While there are many that tend to argue how yearly sports games are “the same game with a different skin on top”, those of us who actually play them on a yearly basis can tell that this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s actually a lot that changes from one game to the next gameplay-wise, but these changes would not be apparent to those who are not too invested in the franchise. These changes are in reality a large number of minor tweaks that affect the gameplay significantly when applied together. So what’s different in FIFA 23?

Taking a more tactical approach

I know what you’re thinking; FIFA and tactical are two words that don’t belong together. We all know that the FIFA franchise is known for being a tad too arcade-y and too focused on constant action rather than strategic play. However, EA’s tuning on this year’s game shows that they really are trying to change things up, one step at a time. Last year’s FIFA was a bit too fast, and attacking constantly was the most viable method of beating your opponent. Pacey players dominated that game. While pace is a major factor in FIFA 23 as well, the gameplay has slowed down significantly, and defending is now easier. Having faster players does not guarantee a win anymore.

How your whole team reacts when you’re off-possession has changed significantly this year. It’s surprising how much better you can handle situations where you’re at a disadvantage when your defenders are not brain-dead. Applying defensive tactics now alters completely how your defensive line adapts to the opponent’s runs. It’s not just about changing formation. As a result, defending is now more effective and constant all-out attacking is not the solution to all your problems. Dribbling as an attacker is more important than ever, but pulling off skills is much more difficult. At the same time, while tackling has been powered up, that does not mean that you don’t need to time your tackles correctly. Refs are a bit too trigger-happy with fouls, and cards, on FIFA 23.

It’s important to note that the new physics engine brings quite a few new issues to the table. The random BS that FIFA is known for is now at an all-time high. There are instances where even if you time your tackle correctly, the ball bounces back to your opponent’s feet. And that happens way too often. Random ball bounces that can put either player at a disadvantage are a huge issue this year. Fouls are also a huge issue, with many blatant fouls not being given even as an advantage, but if you hold off an attacker with L2 (or LT) for too long it’s automatically given as a free kick. As always, there’s a slew of other issues that will make you want to smash your controller on your screen. It can be hilarious when it happens in local Kick Off, or even in Career, but Ultimate Team is where these random issues are the most apparent, and that can be infuriating.

Huge changes to set pieces

Free kicks, corners, and even penalties have received a massive overhaul this year. Aiming when taking free kicks has changed and it’s now more difficult than ever to get them right. There’s a steep learning curve, but once you learn how to approach each FK situation, and get some confidence, you can actually be deadly accurate in FIFA 23. Now, instead of an aiming crosshair, you have a trajectory curve you need to use to aim your shot. It’s more difficult to line up with the goalkeeper’s blind spots or weak zones. The FK Accuracy, Curve, and Shot Power stats are now very important for all set pieces, as they should be.

I’m actually happy with these new set-piece changes, as hitting free kicks on Ultimate Team used to be a bit too easy after you got some in-form cards. The only change that I’m not too sure about is the penalties. There is almost no aiming involved when taking penalties now, you just have to time your shot correctly and point in a general direction, with the AI handling all the rest. Even when defending a penalty kick, sometimes the goalkeeper will dive in the direction of the ball on his own, without you moving him. What’s this all about?

The new set-piece mechanics on FIFA 23
A look at the new set pieces in FIFA 23.

Career Mode is still one of the best things about FIFA 23

Career Mode is one of the main attractions of every FIFA game, alongside Ultimate Team, and that’s why these are the only modes I’ll be diving into in this review. If you’re interested in Volta or Pro Clubs, I’ll just assume you know what you’re getting into since they’re not as nuanced as Career or FUT.

Career Mode in FIFA 23 lets you take control of a manager or a player of your own making (or a real manager/athlete) and guide them to greatness. I only had time to do a manager run for this review, but I would assume that the player campaigns play out in a similar fashion. You get to pick a team to begin on your quest to success, set a difficulty setting, a budget limit, and even how aggressive the AI of the opponent teams is. It’s a full-blown simulation that spans multiple seasons and contains very realistic depictions of how chaotic transfer windows and knock-out battles can be.

You can micromanage every little thing in this mode, and it can be a little tricky getting everything right at a higher difficulty level. You can manage the youth academy training regimes and mold young players into a most valuable weapon for when the time comes to give them a contract. You can send scouts to different parts of the world to uncover hidden gems for your team. You can be as careful or as trigger-happy as you like with your budget and still have some of your signings be huge flops because that’s exactly how football is sometimes. And even if you do manage to win the league or a European trophy, achieving success by your own measure doesn’t mean much unless you accomplish the objectives your team’s board set for you at the beginning of the season.

  • Why is Pep always angry?
  • Pre-match player presentation on FIFA 23
  • XL Tifo

EA has absolutely nailed the spectacle aspect of football

Say what you will about EA, but they know their football. They managed to absolutely recreate football’s most iconic stadiums and the spectacle that surrounds the sport in Career Mode. Matches that have a big cultural impact, like the El Clasico or the Manchester Derby feel like important events over the course of a season. And that’s reflected in the commentary, in the way your opponents always step it up a notch on a special occasion, even in the post-match interviews and the players’ eagerness to take part in an important match for the club. It’s not always about winning trophies, even though the Champions League and the other European competitions have a shine of their own. If you’re a fan of the sport, you’re going to absolutely love the weight these moments are given in FIFA 23. They feel just as thrilling as a real-life match day.

Ultimate Team is a bit of a mixed bag in FIFA 23

The biggest change in FUT this year is how chemistry works when building a squad. There are no links between players anymore, each player has their own chemistry rating. Each player can contribute up to 3 chemistry points to the team for a total of 33 chemistry points. These points are now only affected by a player’s league, team, and nationality. If a player is playing off-position, he can’t contribute to the team’s chemistry at all, which makes Position Modifier consumables essential. According to EA, there are no penalties for not having a team with full chemistry in FIFA 23, and each player performs ‘at least’ on par with his base stats even if they are on 0 chemistry points. That begs the question: why bother achieving full chemistry at all if there are no negative effects if you don’t have it?

Aside from that, these new changes make creating mixed teams on full chem next to impossible. I’ve only managed to get full chem squads by using players from a single league or a single nationality. That means if you wanted to make a mixed Premier League/Bundesliga squad, you’ll have to do it without getting all chemistry points. Oh, and managers don’t contribute anything to chemistry now, so why bother having them at all? These are changes for the sake of change and contribute absolutely nothing of substance to the game. If anything, they limit your options when creating a squad, and that’s why you see people running teams with the same 10-15 players even at the start of the game’s life cycle.

Division Rivals is frustrating, but hard to resist

At the same time, playing online is more frustrating than ever in FUT. It seems like the winner of each game is a complete toss-up, with all kinds of random BS going down. Random ball bounces, your team abandoning their positions and making space for attackers out of nowhere, or slow-as-hell CBs catching up to the paciest of wingers with random bursts of speed out of the blue; this game’s got it all. But that sweet, sweet satisfaction of beating your opponent by scoring an injury-time winner when you were 0-3 down at half-time is unmatched. FIFA 23 also adds crossplay to the mix, so you can even play co-op Rivals with your friends who are playing on a different platform.

Chasing that meta team

All frustrations aside, early-game FUT is the best FUT. Everyone is running gold teams, and it’s hard to pack an in-form card that you can use. SBCs are hard to complete, but once you get a special card, it’s ridiculous in-game and it feels like a substantial upgrade to your squad. Objectives are necessary if you want your team to be on top of the current meta since completing objectives is the easiest way to get free packs. Squad battles and Rivals rewards are also something you wouldn’t want to skip, although the rewards that these offer this year seem a bit dumbed down compared to FIFA 22.

There is a new in-game currency added, in the form of Moments stars. You earn these by completing challenges in the Moments game mode. In Moments you are placed in tight scenarios and you have to complete a certain challenge in a set amount of time. There are many different sets of challenges for you to complete, and I assume more will be added over time. Each challenge rewards you with 1-2 stars, depending on difficulty. You can then go and use these stars to open packs, so that’s a nice way to get some extra packs. Sadly, there are only gold packs available at the Moments store for the time being, but still, these make for some good SBC fodder, unless you get really lucky and pack something good.

FIFA 23: Final thoughts

All things considered, there’s a lot to like about FIFA 23. It’s the last game in a long-running series that has proved vital to the gaming industry getting as big as it currently is, and EA made sure to go all out for this one. The moment-to-moment gameplay has been tweaked and the current meta is a slower-paced, defensively-oriented one, although that might change over its life cycle. There are a lot of game modes to delve into here, with Career Mode and FUT being the standouts, as always. Even if I don’t like some of the new changes they’ve made to Ultimate Team, at the end of the day I can’t deny I had trouble putting the controller down.

There is a lot of game for 70€ in FIFA 23, and there’s no doubt that you’ll have fun if you purchase it, as there’s sure to be something that scratches your itch. As I said before, if you’re a fan of the sport, there’s nothing on the market that can match what FIFA 23 offers. Just go for it. If you’re a bit skeptical about all the issues I described and you’re still content with last year’s offering, I suggest waiting until the World Cup starts when the new WC mode is introduced, or the Holiday Sales roll around, where I suspect you will find FIFA 23 on 40% or even 50% discounts.

Many thanks to Bandai Namco EU for providing the review unit we used.

George Makridis

Posts published: 146

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.