I lost my first two matches in FIFA 22 by a net eight-goal deficit against an AI difficulty setting I beat nine out of 10 times in previous entries. I quickly realized that FIFA 22 isn't just an incremental update — at least, not on the field.
Where the previous entry revamped weary game modes, FIFA 22 evolves the beautiful game with on-the-pitch adjustments that make hitting the back of the net more rewarding (and challenging) than ever. New animations and improved graphics add authenticity to what was already a stunning soccer simulator. And although changes to game modes take a backseat this year, a few welcome features arrive in Career and Volta.
FIFA 22 doesn't address the deficiencies of the franchise's game modes, but it alters the gameplay enough to feel fresh. It will challenge you to adjust your playstyle by relying on precision passing and midfield dominance rather than a dump-and-run approach. Not everyone will take to the slower playstyle, bugs and glitches get in the way, microtransactions remain, and the similarities to the previous entry will make some feel that FIFA 22 is nothing more than a re-skin. But if you can overlook these problems, you'll be rewarded with the most realistic soccer sim to date.
Visual updates create a truly next-gen experience
Every menu, animation and stat sheet was given a visual makeover. The colorful, graffiti-heavy aesthetic remains, but with a fresh coat of paint. You'll immediately notice the new simplified home page which lets you quickly enter your game mode of choice, along with background animations that flex the power of the latest consoles. One of my favorite changes is the new stats page found during halftime or in the game summary. More info, including expected goals and penalty kicks, is shown on a clean, modern interface. Where EA consistently deserves praise is with FIFA's licensed soundtrack which includes jams from Glass Animals, Swedish House Mafia, and Kero Kero Bonito.
Other changes, however, are...odd. Like the "toggle fullscreen" option to go from the main page to a full-screen trailer video. I don't know why anyone would watch a short video clip on replay, but hey, it'll prevent burn-in on your OLED TV. Moreover, EA didn't think to use the power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X to improve performance, as navigating across menus remains frustratingly sluggish and load screens aren't yet a thing of the past.
The aesthetic redesign begins in the overly elaborate startup sequence (where you meet the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry before starting a training session) and follows you to the field where player animations are more realistic than ever. The updates are subtle at first, but the more I played, the more I appreciated the overhauled animations — of which, there are 4,000! These improvements are the product of what EA calls HyperMotion, a motion capture technology that combines with machine learning algorithms to create organic, realistic movements.
New gameplay is more authentic, less fun
The resulting gameplay feels very different from before. Players now react to the placement of the ball in less predictable ways, and tend to be smarter about how they shift and pivot their bodies to trap, pass or shoot. An example of this is when I accidentally dribbled the ball too close to the touchline with FC Bayern defender Alfonso Davies. In previous FIFA entries, Davies would have lunged to catch up, missed, and allowed the ball to roll out. In FIFA 22, Davies did a Herculean slide, tapped the ball backward with his toe to keep it in, then popped up immediately to regain possession.
EA's renewed dedication to realism makes the game feel slower which, at times, can be frustrating. The extra millisecond it takes to get the ball off your foot can be enough time for a defender to dive in or get in the way of your pass. And because the pace has decreased, the field feels larger than before, making chasing the ball down as the defending team a chore. On offense, you won't benefit from the streaking runs of a Leroy Sane or Ansu Fati anymore — punching through a sturdy defense requires deliberate ball movement, vision to find open players, and tika-taka one-touch passing. It's as if the FIFA gameplay team sacked Jurgen Klopp and replaced him with Pep Guardiola.
Attempt to through-ball your way through the defense and you'll find yourself on the back foot through most of the game. This is especially true against the rejuvenated AI which punished me when I attempted my "I'll just outrun them on the flanks" tactic that worked so well in FIFA 21. Adjusting your strategy for the new gameplay can feel cruel, and I wouldn't be surprised if many FIFA faithful feel these changes make the game less fun to play.
Game modes get minor but welcome tweaks
Off the field, Career Mode and Volta received a handful of welcome tweaks. In Career Mode, you can now manage or play on a custom-created team. You'll pick a name, crest, kit (home/away). The star rating and team focus determine your computer-generated squad. Once your team is created, it will join a league by booting an existing team of your choice. I made Laptop FC and joined the EPL as a four-star team. As someone who loves the managerial element of sports games, I found the feature to be a fun way to make your career more personal.
I rarely dip my toes into Player Career Mode, but FIFA 22 might bring me on board for the long haul. That's because the first screen you'll see after creating your player is an RPG-style upgrade tree where you use skill points to increase your stats. Next is Perks, three unlockable slots that give your player specific upgrades. But perhaps the best new feature is the three-match objectives given by your manager in each game. Complete them and your reputation with the skipper will go up, raising your chance of being chosen for the starting 11. Unfortunately, doing so early on can be tricky when you're subbed in late and given 5 minutes to raise your rating by a full point. These objectives are a fun idea for revitilizing the player mode but some tasks are nearly unachievable, which results in your player losing valuable time on the pitch.
Then there's Volta. EA isn't just hanging onto the street soccer mode, it's giving it more attention than any other mode this year. In some ways, Volta is dialed back. There is no story or franchise mode. Instead, you can choose between Volta Squads and Volta Battles. In the latter, you play against random AI to earn points and progress through events. The gameplay hasn't changed much, offering a fast-paced arcadey alternative to the standard game. Adding some spice to the play are new abilities enabled when you fill a Skill Meter. These give you superhuman speed, rocket-powered shots or crushing tackling abilities. I see them as power plays — when enabled, the opposing team's best option is to keep hold of the ball until the abilities wear off.
The other big change to Volta happens only on weekends. Called Volta Arcade, it consists of four-player party games with eight at launch, including Dodgeball, Foot Tennis, Team Keepaway, Disco Lava.
FUT continues to reward play-to-play
Ultimate Team still encourages you to defeat your online foes and spend your real, hard-earned money doing it. Again, FUT received only minor changes; In Division Rivals, a Seasons progressions structure rewards playtime and gives you more ways to earn rewards. FUT Champions is now split between Play-Offs and Finals, that is if you qualify by getting enough Champions Qualification Points in Division Rivals. And new stadium customizations let you craft an environment specific to your team.
As it stands, FUT's reliance on loot boxes only gets EA a yellow card caution, not a red card expulsion. Various governments are looking into microtransactions, but until they rule pay-to-win mechanics illegal, they will remain in FIFA and EA's other sports collections. If only EA would opt for a Battle Pass system instead of forcing you to play the lottery with your money. As a consolation, you can preview (see inside) one gold and one silver pack every 24 hours which would be fine if those packs ever contained anything useful. Our advice stands: don't spend money on player packs.
FIFA 22 evolves the franchise with revamped gameplay, improved graphics and new animations, all of which transform the look and feel of the game. While the presentation is fantastic and the on-the-ball mechanics are more realistic than ever, not everyone will appreciate the slower, more methodical pace of play. And while Career and Volta get a few new tricks, FIFA 22 fails to plug the many gaps (and bugs) plaguing the franchise's game modes. Not even EA's infamous cash-cow in FUT received much of an update this year, which makes this release a hard sell to anyone who didn't take issue with how the previous games played.
FIFA 22 is a good soccer simulator, but it isn't what the franchise needs. The game is still full of bugs, menu animations feel sluggish, and some game modes are underdeveloped, especially those that don't ask for your cash. Instead of fixing those issues, EA chose to reinforce areas where the franchise already excelled. Those changes set the franchise up to feel like a truly next-gen experience, but they don't do enough to set this entry apart from those before it.