For as long as I've been playing, FIFA has struggled with the basic question of speed. Turn it up too far, and fans complain about pace merchants and a lack of realism. Turn it down, and fans will complain that its boring and pine for the days of FIFA 15 The quote from the classic Simpsons episode "The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show" seems to fit here: "You kids don't know what you want! That's why you're still kids! Because you're stupid!"
Anyway, joking aside, it remains a sore point for the series. Last year's version was an especially strange one: a fast-paced, press heavy soccer sim that was also something of a grindfest. Fans complained endlessly of missed shots and defenders that could flawlessly track back and dispossess attackers in one-on-one duels. This year's version attempts to rectify that; cynically, you could say that this is just another spin of the constant annual sports game carousel, but if you're more optimistic like me, you can at least say that the FIFA team is responding to community feedback.
I would compare this year's version to FIFA 16, which from a gameplay standpoint was probably the best balanced version of this generation (I complained about its pace at the time, but I've since come around on it). It feels extremely slow at first, especially compared to last yeear's version. But after adjusting to the speed, and especially the nerfed acceleration, I started to appreciate some of the changes to the gameplay.
Most of the updates appear to be in direct reaction to last year's critiques. Defenders were criticized for being able to perfectly follow attackers, so contains have been nerfed in this version. Everyone complained about missed shots, so finishing is being reworked. There's more of an emphasis on one-on-one duels in this version, perhaps because of the new Volta mode, and the AI is deliberately tuned to be more spread out to encourage them. One result was that my players had an easy time beating their man with simple skill moves, whereupon I was able to send the ball through to someone like Mohamed Salah, who would be a couple yards off his man on the wings.
The later matches I played wound up being enjoyable back and forths, especially when it was Liverpool vs. Manchester City. It felt more tactical before, but I also felt like my skill on the ball had a large to play as well. I saw goals scored on headed crosses, sweet little interplays, and a couple long distance worldies from well outside the box. Of course, FIFA being FIFA, I also had one sequence in which the ball went off the post at least three times, so not everything was different.
While I was initially a bit flustered by what felt like sluggish acceleration-directing my midfield felt like steering the Titanic-it eventually felt okay. Honestly, I'm always a little nervous about writing these types of articles, because I know there's still a huge amount of tuning to be done. I imagine that FIFA 20 will feel very different when I get more hands-on with it in a month or two, as it will feel very different at launch. And even if EA gets everything right-as it did with NHL 19 at the outset-it could still drop a patch and break everything. That's the way with sports games these days.
Honestly though, any positivity around FIFA's gameplay is welcome. Ever since its transition to Frostbite, it has struggled with major input delays, frustrating animations, and other issues. Even in FIFA 20, I still get the feeling of being locked in lengthy animations at times, limiting my options in tight situations.
So if I sound hesitant to give the gameplay updates my full-throated endorsement, that's probably why. Still, it's nice to know that EA is listening. And if FIFA 20 is to go out on a high note, this seems like a decent start. FIFA 20 will be out September 27, and you can find release dates and more right here.