We've reached an important marker for this year's batch of sports games. Black Friday is traditionally when games like FIFA 20 enjoy price cuts, in-game promotions, and an accompanying influx of new players.
That makes this an opportune time to check in with this year's version of EA's popular soccer sim. As you may recall, I was fairly positive on FIFA 20 when it was first released?—positivity that was evidently shared by enough critics that it garnered a nomination for Best Sports Game at the Game Awards. But after probably a hundred hours or more with FIFA 20, my thoughts have changed a bit.
With that, here's what I said during my review, how I'm feeling about FIFA 20 now, and my general recommendation on whether or not you should pick it up during a Black Friday sale.
What I Said in the Review
I was largely positive but a bit circumspect when it came to reviewing FIFA 20. I found it fun to play, and I was at least optimistic about Volta's appeal to newcomers. Most of my praise was around the gameplay, which I found more balanced and nuanced than in previous years, but I also cautioned that a new patch could upset the balance at any time.
As I noted in the review, FIFA 20's big addition was Volta—a street soccer mode reminiscent of the old FIFA Street games. Comparing its overall aesthetic to a 90s drug PSA, I found it amusing for a few hours, but ultimately repetitive. I opined that it would be a good fit for casual players learning the ropes, and that down the line its sponsored goods would handily replace FUT's microtransactions.
This was my conclusion:
FIFA 20 revives the old Street series with a new mode featuring futsal and outdoor soccer, but it's the core gameplay that shines brightest this year, bringing down the pace in a way that feels nuanced and enjoyable. With additional updates to Career Mode and FIFA Ultimate Team, this year's version is easy to recommend to lapsed fans and newcomers alike.
A pretty solid recommendation, ultimately. I think I could have boiled down the whole review to, "It's FIFA. You know what you're getting." But as the gameplay seemed better than usual, and it had a pretty ambitious new mode, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Where FIFA 20 Stands Now
Well, my fears were realized when it came to the balance patches. September and October both saw a flurry of updates, culminating in a patch that effectively broke shooting. This infuriated both pros and casual fans alike:
With shooting being so heavily nerfed, and heading being almost useless, players started dropping back and playing extremely tight, heavily defensive formations. This could prove frustrating, especially after successfully weaving through ten men in the box only to have a shot at an open net bounce off the goal post. This is on top of problematic defensive switching, errant passes, and a host of other oddities.
All sorts of conspiracy theories have flooded social channels in the months since release: scripting is resulting in predetermined movements; EA is trying to frustrate people into buying new packs; rubber banding is keeping games close. But the real crux of the community frustration is the feeling of not being able to control their own fate in FIFA. Even with an amazing team, it often seems as if you are doomed to lose anyway due to random gameplay glitches or spotty servers.
Words can't explain how horrible the gameplay was for me in WL. The game was not playable from Bulgaria. The German Server is the biggest cheat code that can ever exist. If you won't add servers for everyone in the world, remove the servers for the others as well @EASPORTSFIFA pic.twitter.com/8wp4QXTVbF— Krasi (@KrasiFIFA) October 28, 2019
Server performance has been an especially big talking point among fans since launch. Many report high latency, sluggish performance, and huge amounts of inputs delay when playing online. In a detailed analysis, one Reddit user attributed it to what they termed "network smoothing," arguing that EA's main concern is the appearance of smooth gameplay at the expense of input delay. While unconfirmed, their posts make for interesting reading.
I'll be the first to admit that my perspective is skewed by the fact that I predominately play FIFA Ultimate Team, and therefore spend most of my time interacting with an overwhelmingly juvenile and toxic community. But there's a reason for that: the other modes are stale. While admittedly anecdotal, Volta already seems to be dead, at least on the online side of things. The top comment with 435 upvotes on the post that I linked: "What's Volta." Maybe there are plenty of people still enjoying the single-player elements, but I personally bounced off the mode not long after release, and I haven't thought about it since.
Career mode, unfortunately, also has its share of problems. While I wrote hopefully that press conferences and other narrative elements would refresh the mode, it's once again been undone by glaring technical issues. It was enough to get a #FixCareerMode hashtag trending not long after release.
None of this should be new to veterans of the series. FIFA has been racked with problems ever since transitioning to Frostbite in 2017, and every year like clockwork new issues with balance patches and online performance rear their head. You have to wonder when the community will eventually tire of all these problems and just quit. It speaks to the power and popularity of world soccer that fans (including myself) just keep coming back for more.
Buy In or Wait Til Next Year?
To end on a positive note, FIFA 20 recently received a new balance patch. It purports to fix shooting, and I can confirm that finishing goals is indeed a lot easier. And as some have pointed out, the overall gameplay definitely feels more realistic; certainly compared to last year, which boiled down to ridiculous spin moves and crazy goals from 20 yards outside the box.
Otherwise though, the shine is definitely off FIFA 20 as we head into Black Friday. Volta appears to be dead, career mode has issues, and the servers are slow as always. If you go in expecting a big leap over the last couple versions, you'll probably find yourself disappointed.
On that note, if you haven't already bought in, I'd consider skipping FIFA 20 and waiting until next year's version hits. Next-gen updates are always a crapshoot when it comes to sports games, but the enhanced technology of the PS5 may finally resolve some longstanding tech issues, which in turn might be enough to get it back on a positive upward trend.
In any case, if you do buy FIFA 20, please take a look at our list of wonderkids with high potential. And if you like this series, let me know in the comments and I'll see about taking on NBA 2K20 next.