I had just suffered an embarrassing loss to Norwich City, and it was time to face the press. They peppered me with questions: Why had I lost to an inferior team? Why didn't I make any adjustments in the second half? Why had I let one of their attackers bag a brace?
Moments like these represent the best of FIFA 20's career mode, which hasn't quite been overhauled, but nevertheless features some substantial changes. Some of the biggest are its new press conferences, which represent a major step up from the days when you would pick from some light trash talking options from a basic text box (if you noticed the press conference at all). They tie into a newly updated morale system, another one of the mode's major improvements and are intended to represent the ups and downs of the season.
I've gotta say, I like them a lot so far. Other sports sims, most notably NBA 2K, have press conferences, but they usually feature a series of perfunctory and extremely general questions. They're cool to start, but the novelty of talking about giving 110 percent tends to wear off fairly quickly (as it does in real life, I'm sure).
By contrast, the press in FIFA 20 will question your tactical decisions, your moves in the transfer window, and the performances of individual players. How you answer has a direct impact on the morale of the team, which can in turn affect their stats. It makes for a solid bit of roleplaying that also has a tangible effect on how your story unfolds.
Updates like these make FIFA 20's career mode feel far fresher, even if in many ways it remains much the same. Out of all the sports sim career modes, FIFA has probably changed the least this generation, leading to louder and louder complaints with each passing year.
Admittedly, FIFA 20's career mode rests on a fairly solid foundation, despite what the fans might say. At one point it felt very advanced, featuring as it did dynamic storylines, international coaching opportunities, and fully customizable leagues. It made the experience feel so alive that at one point I played six full seasons with West Ham, only stopping when I finally claimed the treble.
But as successful sports teams will tell you, if you're content to rest on past success, you're only going to get older and less dynamic as the years wear on. In FIFA's case the storylines had begun to feel stale; the limitations of player progression and transfers became frustratingly apparent, and the overall lack of depth began to tell. Fair or not, many players felt that resources were being diverted toward FIFA Ultimate Team, leaving career mode to rot.
The first indication that things are a bit different in FIFA 20 is that you can actually customize your manager. This is a side effect of Volta, the new street soccer mode, and it's an immediate improvement over the six or so generic managers that were available in the past. I created a lady with a boyish haircut and set about preparing West Ham for the season ahead.
Once you're through the manager customization stage, the familiar flow of FIFA's career mode starts to take hold. You're given the chance to take part in an international tournament, and you're left to setup your scouting network and begin scouting for potential transfers, same as in past years. Still, there are little additions to the presentation here and there: league-specific themes for the interface, new locations during the transfer negotiation scenes (the latter of which still take an annoyingly long time to complete).
It further diverges when setting up your squad. If your squad is unhappy, you're apt to see little frowning emojis next to some of your players. These players will suffer large decreases to their stats, so by and large you want to try and keep them happy.
That's not always easy though. Unlike in past years, morale has a tendency to fluctuate pretty wildly in FIFA 20's career mode. You'll be flying high one day, your entire squad over the moon after upsetting Manchester City, then crash the next. It's actually fair to wonder if the mood swings aren't a little too extreme, as it seems as if you're always a hair away from having a borderline mutinous team on your hands.
On the other hand, the morale system in previous games was always a little too forgiving, and I imagine that moods really do fluctuate pretty hard in real life. Think about how you feel as a fan to watch your team lose to Norwich or Newcastle, then imagine what it must be like to be a player as fans hound you on social media and the press breathes down your neck. I'm guessing at a certain point most of us wouldn't even want to leave our room, let alone suit up for another match.
One thing I do think FIFA 20 is missing is the ability to calm down players who are feeling upset. This year's version does feature little conversations with players, similar to the ones in Football manager, but you can't initiate them on your own. That makes the improved player interaction feel more perfunctory and limited than it should.
One element I haven't been able to see in action yet is the new dynamic progression system, which promises to have a dramatic impact on how players develop. The idea is that if your amazing 18-year-old scores bags of goals, his potential will rise and his stats will go up more quickly. This basically makes progression dependent on skill rather than an arbitary potential rating. This has the potential to break the game, as it will open the door for basically anybody to be a superstar, but with most players going a couple seasons at most, it makes sense to speed things up a little bit.
I think it's a stretch to say that these changes revolutionize FIFA 20's career mode. What they mostly constitute is a large step in the right direction, particularly when it comes to player interaction and dynamic storytelling. They serve to make FIFA 20's career mode feel a little deeper, a little more alive, and most important of all, a little less stale. Because lord, FIFA's career mode had sure gotten stale.
As for the rest of what FIFA 20 has to cover, I'm still in the midst of playing the final release, so you'll have to wait a little longer for my full review. But here's a little sneak preview: FIFA 20 is really damn good this year—possibly the best it's been all generation. I think a lot of fans would say it's about time.