EA Goes Big with FIFA 17's Story Mode

EA Goes Big with FIFA 17's Story Mode

The mega-publisher hopes to restore their soccer series' tarnished reputation with some pretty big changes to this year's installment.

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We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

It hasn't been a great generation for FIFA, the sports juggernaut that has been EA's single greatest source of revenue since the advent of the microtransaction-driven Ultimate Team.

Since its next-gen debut back in 2013, FIFA has been criticized for being overly cautious with its feature sets as competitors like NBA 2K and even Madden have sped ahead. Last year was the most disappointing entry yet, hampered as it was by problematic AI and the overly limited introduction of women's teams. Once universally praised, the narrative around FIFA has perceptibly shifted, with many hardcore fans feeling that Pro Evolution Soccer now has the advantage.

In that light, EA Canada had to get bold, and that's just what they've done with this year's entry. In addition to shifting to the Frostbite Engine - a move that will hopefully result in more vibrant and exciting interiors and stadiums - FIFA 17 is introducing a full-blown story mode. In this year's version, you will star as Alex Hunter - an up-and-coming star through whose eyes players will experience life in the English Premier League. His journey will include plane trips, meetings in the manager's office, and the moments in the tunnel before the start of a game. It looks to be a big improvement over the often sterile career mode, which was functional, but not especially compelling.

It's a risky move out of step with FIFA's traditionally risk-averse approach. For years, the mindset around the series has been, "Don't cook the golden goose." Clearly, though, that mindset is no longer enough. FIFA is going big with their story mode, and that's a good thing.

On the flipside, this new story mode represents a clear risk for FIFA. There's a reason that sports devs don't usually pour resources into such ambitious modes: it's really hard to do them well in such an abbreviated development cycle. On top of that, it takes away resources from other features that might need attention.

At its best, FIFA's story mode stands a chance of transforming its single-player and allowing it to go one up on NBA 2K, which has been eating its lunch. At its worst, it could end up being a cheesy, linear experience that feels fundamentally unsatisfying and does a poor job of capturing life in the EPL.

But even if it ultimately disappoints, it's good to see FIFA go big with this year's version. It's a risk they had to take.

What FIFA Should Avoid

Of course, this isn't new territory for sports games. NBA 2K has featured a full story mode over the past three entries, with NBA 2K16 - which featured a story by Spike Lee - being their most ambitious effort to date. It was ultimately a pretty poor story, but it was nevertheless a tremendous selling point for what has become the business' most respected sports game.

In following in NBA 2K's footsteps, FIFA 17 would do well to keep the performances toned down while featuring as many familiar faces as possible. Part of the charm of NBA 2K15 was that you could hang out with real players like Andre Drummond; and while there was some of that in NBA 2K16, it was more dominated by your character's fictional family. The fact that FIFA 17 will include real-life managers like Jurgen Klopp suggests that EA Canada will focus more on interacting with actual stars, which is encouraging.

FIFA 17 will also hopefully avoid another pitfall from NBA 2K: hype that doesn't match your character's performance. In NBA 2K, your character's stats are initially so weak that they can barely make a layup, which jars heavily with the relentless assertion that you're on the way to being an all-time great. While it's difficult to balance, FIFA 17 will need to take care that its main character's progression jives with the story.

On the other hand, FIFA 17 should emulate NBA 2K in seguing effortlessly into a second season divorced of the main storyline but still featuring some of its trappings. If The Journey only covers a single, linear season, I'll be a tiny bit disappointed.

In developing The Journey, FIFA will also hopefully take inspiraiton from Madden's outstanding "First Interactive Experience," which couches a tutorial in an exciting hypothetical game. In Madden 15, it was an NFC Championship Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. In Madden 16, the Cardinals and Steelers fought an epic Super Bowl. Both managed to feel like sports movies in the way they intercut in-game action with moments set in the huddle. If FIFA can accomplish something similar, it could be something special.

Having spent so much time beating the drum for an honest-to-god narrative in sports games, it's encouraging to see FIFA 17 move in this direction, which should appeal to casuals and diehards alike. It could be a spectacular failure; but after three years of malaise, the time is ripe for FIFA to retake the sports crown. This is a good start.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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