Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA? While FIFA has consistently outsold PES every single year, PES has managed to develop a loyal cult following among hardcore soccer enthusiasts.
In recent years, Pro Evolution Soccer's gameplay has won praise while FIFA has stagnated. But things are different this year. Now it's FIFA 18 that's on the rise. Meanwhile, PES 2018 definitely feels stale compared to previous versions.
With that in mind, here's what's new this year, and the case for and against both games.
The Case for FIFA 18
As the dominant sports developer in the market today, EA has managed to corner the market on licenses. It sports every major league you can think of: EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, MLS. Last year, EA even managed to swipe J-League out from under the nose of Konami.
The massive number of licenses definitely has its advantages. It makes for a deeper and more interesting career experience, as leagues like the EPL and the Bundesliga offer multiple levels of their respective soccer pyramids. It also means that there are a massive number of cards to pick through in FIFA Ultimate Team—FIFA's flagship mode.
The knock against FIFA has always been its gameplay, but EA has managed to make strides in this area as well. In the second year of the Frostbite engine, the animation is much more nuanced, enabling you to pull off sorts of neat moves as you dribble around defenders. Off-the-ball intelligence is also getting better, making it much easier to move the ball up the field.
The kicker is The Journey: a story mode that's now in its second year. Starring Alex Hunter, it takes its hero all over the world, from the U.S. to Germany to Spain, and includes cameos from the MLS and the U.S. Women's National Team. It's a real showpiece for the series, and it offers a large amount of variety as you shuttle from country to country.
There's also FUT, the mode in which you open packs and buy and sell players on the open market. Many will deride it as a play-to-win mode, but one of FUT's greatest pleasures is building budget teams from one of FIFA's many obscure teams and embarrassing big spenders. And with Squad Battles and Squad Building Challenges, it's easier than ever to make a lot of money fast.
Combined with its massive community, FIFA usually has very strong legs rolling through the fall and into the new year. Put simply, FIFA 18 is the dominant soccer sim, and it shows in the level of support that it gets from EA, the number of people who are online at any given time, and the sheer number of licenses.
For many people, this will make FIFA 18 the obvious choice over PES 2018.
The Case Against FIFA 18: Plenty of players are feeling frustrated by the defender A.I., which has fallen well behind the power of attack. That combined with the renewed emphasis on pace has made FIFA 18 one big scorefest.
But this has always been the rub with FIFA. While it's great fun to play with your friends on the couch, the high-octane back-and-forth play eventually starts to feel... a little unrealistic. FIFA 18 has made strides in making the tactics smarter, but it's clear that it still has a ways to go.
Beyond that, while career mode has added new options like the ability to activate release clauses, it has a bit of a problem with making all of the leagues seem the same. And once you've played a few seasons, the lack of long-term reward can make it start to feel stale.
Oh, and they removed guest play from Ultimate Team as well. Boo.
The Case for PES 2018
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 has a reputation for being the smarter of the two soccer sims, which is evident in the way that the players interact with one another on the field. It's a much more measured game that rewards patience and strategy over the ability to execute skill moves (though that helps, too).
For that reason, gameplay is by far the strongest argument for Pro Evolution Soccer. Once you get past the clunky menus and modes, it can become a completely absorbing experience. Scoring a goal is massively rewarding in this game.
Outside of the gameplay, PES has a few other things going for it over FIFA. The career mode, while not especially deep, does have a really strong scouting system that makes it easy to find the missing pieces you need for your team. PES also lays claim to all things Barcelona, including the famous Camp Nou stadium.
Oh, and if you want to play as the Japanese National Team ("The Samurai Blue"), this is the only place you're gonna be able to do it.
PES 2018 is very much a game that caters to soccer aficionados, striving for realism wherever possible. And at its very best, it can be striking how much smarter it feels than FIFA.
The Case Against PES 18: The main knock against PES 2018 is that it doesn't come close to matching FIFA 18's licenses. And while you can install proper uniforms and crests from the Internet, there aren't enough slots to, say, put every single league in the game.
But PES 2018's problems go much deeper than a mere lack of familiar names, which after all are just window dressing. No, PES 2018's main problem is that its modes just aren't that great. Master League is hampered greatly by Pro Evo's lack of licenses, making the player pool frustratingly shallow; and the lack of major leagues like the Bundesliga—Dortmund notwithstanding—makes international play disappointing.
MyClub... well, MyClub is kind of a mess. Instead of taking the trading card route favored by other sports games, it employs a a confusing system in which you buy various tiers of scouts who have a certain chance of unearthing a top-quality player. The auction system ultimately makes very little sense, and it's badly hampered by PES' layers of no frills menus, which still look like they're straight out of 2008.
Online play is frankly kind of miserable. It's hampered by input delay, and the comparatively small community makes good matchmaking difficult. If you play online, you can't help getting matched against Barcelona or one of the other super teams, even if you pick a weaker team from outside of Europe. And without a strong Ultimate Team mode, it gets repetitive fast.
So while a lack of licenses are a problem, there are many other ways for PES to improve. And unfortunately, PES hasn't really done that in quite a while.
The Verdict: FIFA 18 is the Better Choice This Year
FIFA 18 has its issues; but beginning with last year's version, it has made great strides in breaking out of its stagnant start to the generation. The Journey in particular has been a great addition. Now its PES that's starting to feel a little stale, its notable new features being updated gameplay, refreshed graphics, and an ostensibly improved PC version.
PES still has a little bit of an edge in the gameplay department—it's really amazing how real the PC version looks when played on Ultra settings—but FIFA has a major advantage when it comes to pure longevity. Its large community and the presence of constantly updated modes like FIFA Ultimate Team ensure will help keep it going well into 2018. PES doesn't have that luxury.
For PES, the solution is not to pursue more licenses. After all, most of the big ones are just a data file edit away. Rather, it's to take a fresh eye toward its modes, which are all looking rather long in the tooth. The career mode in which you guide the rise of a single created player is particularly ripe for improvement. FIFA has The Journey, but otherwise it has neglected that aspect of its career mode.
Until PES makes these needed improvements, I just can't recommend it over FIFA. In this case, it's not always about licenses.