FIFA 22 Ultimate Team is finally here, and after nearly a week of playing early access for this review, there’s plenty to be excited about. But there’s still work to do if FUT 22 is going to mount a title challenge – instead of settling for mid-table obscurity.
Ultimate Team is the premier mode FIFA and one of the main reasons why football fans come flooding back through the turnstiles year upon year.
The lure of building a squad packed with the stars of today, as well as the ICONS of years gone by, is almost irresistible to lovers of the beautiful game.
After the big overhauls in FUT for FIFA 22, how does it stack up once the boots are laced and packs start opening?
Check out our full FIFA 22 Ultimate Team review.
Despite all the cosmetic and presentational changes that EA has made to the FUT format for FIFA 22, it’s on the pitch where this truly feels like a new game. The gameplay has been overhauled to make for the most authentic football experience the series has created to date – and it’s a breath of fresh air.
Gone are the end-to-end nine-goal thrillers that were commonplace in FIFA 21. Instead, players are asked to take part in an elaborate chess match to break through stubborn defenses with well-timed moves.
Defending as a whole is more robust, with players much more willing to stay in position and make blocks than last year. It can take a few hours to get used to, but grinding out a result as your opponent throws men forward is just as satisfying as a 3-0 dunking.
Games, in general, feel more tactical than ever before. The first 10 or so in-game minutes are often spent sizing the opponent up and being savvy enough to adjust your gameplan mid-game feels more vital than ever.
The midfield, which has often taken something of a backseat in previous years, is now the battleground where matches are won or lost. Finding the right balance of protection for the backline and support for the frontmen is crucial, and welcomes lots of tinkering from us aspiring tactical masterminds.
There’s a lot to love in FIFA 22, especially if you’ve looked at the PES (or eFootball now) series’ more simulation-based approach to gameplay and wished it could come packaged with EA’s knack for securing official licensing.
It’s a shame, then, that the on-the-pitch action is held back by some glaring issues that are frustrating at best, and rage-inducing at worst.
Game of two halves
It’s far too common that players you control won’t lock on to the ball after it breaks loose. There have been dozens of occasions where a pressing striker will poke the ball away from a defender, only for the midfield to stand by and let the opponents gather it back up.
The same issue crops up when crossing. Seeing Erling Haaland make a busting run into the box only to sprint away from the ball when it comes in really breaks the immersion – and probably controllers.
Goalkeepers are also widely inconsistent. The new animations and AI make often make them seem impossible to beat, as they save one-on-ones time and time again. But after seeing so many shots tipped around the post, it feels cheap to then score, or concede, because they parried a tame header into the side-netting.
Finally, there’s also a real problem with swapping which player you control when defending. You sometimes have to press switch four or five times before it changes to the man who is nearest the opponent, using up precious seconds that can cost you the chance to make a tackle.
The good news is that most of these issues can be fixed in updates and patches throughout the year. Hopefully, these fixes come soon so that this prospect can live up to his full potential.
Away from the pitch
It’s not just on the field that has seen a reinvention, there have also been some major changes to the FUT modes and how you earn those valuable rewards. After years of demanding huge time and investments from its players, accessibility is the name of the game in FUT 22.
The way modes that the two main modes, Division Rivals and FUT Champions, have been changed means that you no longer have to sink in an obscene number of hours to still earn packs and coins.
Rivals now resets after each season, and you only have to win seven matches to be eligible for weekly rewards. While FUT Champs is broken up into Play-Offs and Finals, the latter of which requires you to play 20 games over a weekend. Much more manageable than last year’s 30.
The cost of all this accessibility is that unless you have the time and skill to compete in the FUT Champs Finals consistently, the rewards themselves are much leaner. It’s early days but substantial packs and coins have been hard to come by so far, and the well-documented “FUT grind” is back in full effect.
By making the pack rewards less valuable, and coins harder to grind for, FUT still has the gross feeling that it’s geared around its notorious monetization model that seems to pressure players into consistently coughing up real money for the chance of packing a Messi or a Ronaldo.
This is an issue that has plagued the mode almost since its inception, and it’s disheartening as a long-time fan and football fanatic to see that it’s still attacking my wallet, if not my time.
FIFA 22 Ultimate Team has a lot of potential. The more thoughtful, methodical gameplay makes it the most vivid recreation of the sport in the series to date, and a true joy to play at times.
There are some kinks that need to be ironed out, and the constant push towards its loot boxes feels as gross as ever, but there is a great football game here, underneath all the issues and gambling.
Overall, we’re hopeful that FIFA 22 Ultimate Team can evolve and grow as the year goes on, and live up to its billing as a future star.
Image credits: EA
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