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 welcome improvements. The bones of this long-running franchise remain as sturdy and familiar as a well-run club. A suite of changes to Ultimate Team makes for a satisfying squad overhaul, and the manager and player career modes get small, welcome updates.

The gameplay is pretty much the same: solid and familiar. The biggest change is the feel of the ball – it’s looser, matches have more 50/50 moments and it’s fantastic. These loose-ball scenarios add to the storyline of matches and moments. It was powerful when cover star Erling Holland acrobatically plucked the ball out of the air to finish off the play. It is more true to life and intentional. There’s a controlled chaos in these situations that makes the game a little more realistic than last year. I enjoyed that and the more methodical pace of the games, which makes the star players stand out more.

The new PlayStyles feature improves the gameplay of EA Sports FC 24. Players can unlock special abilities to mold selected soccer stars 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 get past defenders. It’s satisfying to use players like Trinity Rodman, who is quick and capable of beating a defender at speed like he does in real life, or pinging a driven pass 30 yards to someone’s feet.

This is the best performance of the series. Animations are more fluid and realistic. If you watch Holland on TV, you’ll notice how he hops, arches and runs like a human battering ram before swinging his arms. Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez looks like a striking gazelle, quick, powerful, clumsy and deliberate. Their video game counterparts move similarly, adding to the realism. Updated kits for this release also move more authentically, bouncing off players. However, sometimes, the shirts will pop up in a comical way, pulling you out of the sinking. Another minor change is how authentic stadiums and crowds feel, with flags flying and crowds rowdier and louder than ever. And if you make a wrong tackle, you’ll see the ref in first-person mode for your player before deciding his fate. These little details add up in a positive way.

EA’s most significant upgrades include meaningful changes to Ultimate Team, including one substantial addition: women are now a fully integrated part of the mode. Stagnation has been set into the mode for the last couple of years, the same players have appeared and you’ve had to grind countless matches to unlock players who weren’t as good as you’d earn by opening packs. Adding women has reinvigorated my interest and my playtime.

I was teamed up with Rodman and Alexandra Popp on each wing and felt nothing but joy as I ravaged each sideline, providing crosses for Holland and scoring spectacular goals with the outside of their boots. What a great way to add “fantasy” to the Ultimate Team in a satisfying and equitable way.

Unlike EA’s NHL Ultimate Team mode, women fit in seamlessly and fare better against their male counterparts. Sure, not all female goalkeepers are very tall, putting some shot-stoppers at a disadvantage, but I didn’t notice that much with my 5′ 9” Canadian goalie and my female wingers dominated with their speed.

And then there are UT Evolutions. I run a lot of teams in UT, they are 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 centre-back will have a tough time with a 90-plus striker.

UT’s new Evolutions feature does just that so you can upgrade your favorite players’ skills, attributes and proficiency alongside their weakest foot. It’s a pleasure to upgrade players, and I can’t wait to keep teams competitive like this.

The least exciting of the evolutions already behind a paywall. Spending 50,000 in-game coins or real money via 1,000 FC Points (just under $10) is obscene; Unless you put a lot of hours into the mode every week you won’t earn enough. Of course, EA wants players to spend more money on better teams. Grinding can only get you so far if lady luck is on your side. This is an inherent annoyance to these types of card-collection methods; It’s not getting any better and feels downright bad. It’s frustrating if you have a tradeable card to upgrade, once you start upgrading it, you can no longer sell it. Everything feels against you unless you spend a lot of money, and I don’t like any part of that. Fortunately, microtransactions are only an issue in this one mode.

Despite that, the inclusion of women and evolutions brings the ultimate team fantasy to life. Players who hold multiple positions won’t need a position change card to move from striker to left wing and maintain chemistry — which adds to their pace, shooting or other stats — this year. It makes team building and tactics less rigid and provides a breath of fresh air.

Fewer updates have been applied to the Manager and Career modes, but the addition of new features to both is welcome, even if neither is impressive.

The manager mode has a new element where you hire a coach to make your team more tactically adept, like wing play or stopping the bus in defense. But hiring a trainer isn’t the most exciting feature. Sure, you can improve your midfield with the right personnel, but between managing this and the stamina of my players every week, it doesn’t do enough to hold my interest for more than a season. When I simulated games, my team never seemed to care about my tactics, which made the experience flat and pointless.

Upgrade your avatar with new playstyles, turning them into the ultimate superstar that will make players’ careers a little more fun. But again, the experience doesn’t do enough to hold my attention. Going from FIFA to EA FC is a great opportunity to do even more with these modes or bring back the story mode. As such, it’s nice to have these updates, but Ultimate Team has the best changes, which seems like a missed opportunity for a name change.

Sadly, the Volta remains a forgettable diversion; It doesn’t hold your attention very 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 speed of the real thing, opting instead for avatar customization and leveling to be able to run faster and score ridiculous goals.

FIFA dropping the license doesn’t make it a better or worse game. If you’re already a fan of EA’s soccer showpiece, you’ll enjoy the rebranded EA FC, even if it doesn’t convert every mode like Ultimate Team. And honestly, since every major soccer game is discontinued or no longer made, EA’s soccer title is the best available by default.

It’s not perfect, but EAFC has drawn 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 an opportunity to boldly begin its new era, deciding to stay mostly true to form. And that’s a shame. Regardless, I’ll be pinging passes with Rose Lavelle in the coming months.



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