Update: Gamescom is underway in Cologne and during its livestream event, EA took the opportunity to show off a brand new trailer for FIFA 18. You can watch the trailer for yourself below:
On top of that, we sat down with Sam Rivera, lead gameplay producer on Fifa 18 to talk about developments made in the game. He specifically spoke about changes to career mode and AI improvements. You can see what he had to say in those sections below.
Original article continues below...
So the news is out and, drumroll, there is indeed going to be a FIFA 18 this year. Okay, so we already knew that, but with EA Sports’ E3 conference out of the way we now know a few actual details about this year’s update.
FIFA 18 is likely to be one of the biggest-selling games of 2017, with EA Sports’ franchise always likely to top the charts when it arrives.
And it's now been confirmed that the game will launch worldwide on September 29 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
We're massive FIFA fans, of course, but that means we're champing at the bit for some big meaty improvements this year after a few years of more subtle or chiefly graphical changes.
The bad news is that we’ve not seen any evidence that this will be much more than a lick of paint and some fancy new animations, although if we take the pronouncements at face value some of the most irritating problems have been ironed out this time around.
The vast majority of information about FIFA 18 has arrived in the past couple of weeks, with EA Sports getting in the mood for E3 - the summer’s huge gaming expo - by revealing that the cover star will be none other than Ronaldo (Cristiano and not the Brazilian genius of yore).
We didn’t have too long to wait until we got a chunk more information, with the first trailer revealing a few more tangible details - including a new chapter of The Journey - featuring Alex Hunter, and then we got a brand new ‘gameplay’ trailer at E3 along with the first hands ons from journalists that have filled in a few of the blanks.
The other massive addition this year is a Nintendo Switch version which might tempt a few to the console and more back to the game, although the anticipation has been tempered by the news that it won’t be on the main platforms’ Frostbite game engine.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next game in the long-running football gaming franchise
- When is it out? September 29 2017
- What will it cost? Likely to be $60/£45/AU$59
- What platforms will it be on? PS4/Xbox One/PC/Nintendo Switch/ PS3/ Xbox 360
As expected, FIFA 18 will be released worldwide for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS3 and Xbox 360 on September 29.
EA has said that fans who pre-order the Ronaldo Edition of the game on PlayStation 4, Xbox One or PC will be able access it three days early and will receive additional content including 20 jumbo premium gold packs, eight special edition FIFA Ultimate Team kits designed by artists on the FIFA 18 soundtrack and a Cristiano Ronaldo loan player for five FUT matches.
EA Access and Origin Access members will also get early access with up to 10 hours of play time starting Thursday, September 21 as part of their first play trial.
FIFA 18 first trailer
The first trailer for FIFA 18 was released and it has some incredible game engine footage for you to feast your eyes on, as well as some potentially terrible news for Nintendo Switch owners .
FIFA 18 on Frostbite
It was a pretty divisive move by EA to move to a new engine for FIFA 17, but the lighting improvements and the various graphical tweaks have outweighed the annoyances (which principally were all around the modding).
Frostbite, for those that do not know, is a game engine developed by EA Dice and rolled out to the other EA studios including EA Sports, who now use it for their sporting offerings.
The new engine did make a difference in FIFA 17; moving corner flags might not have changed much beyond your sense of realism but the changing weather effects were definitely interesting.
As shown in the game's recent reveal trailer, FIFA 18 will not stray from this engine.
Naturally the footage shown in the trailer won't be exactly representative of what you see when you're playing the game, but the footage shown has been created in the Frostbite engine.
It's not perfect; you'll still see some slowdown at times and the odd 360 no look finish from the sometimes strange AI (see below), but it's proven perfectly capable of running nicely on the next gen platforms and that's the key thing for EA Sports.
BUT Frostbite won't be for everybody because....
Hands on with FIFA 18 on Nintendo Switch
With the release of the portable-focused Switch console, relations between FIFA developers EA and Nintendo have thawed meaning that, yes, after giving the Wii U the cold shoulder, FIFA 18 will be making its way to Nintendo’s hybrid machine.
Running at 60fps in 720p in portable mode and the full 1080p when docked, it’s a surprisingly full-featured entry into the franchise, despite running on an all-new engine, rather than the Frostbite build set for the PS4 and Xbox One versions. This is no ‘portable knock-off’ version, as fans have had to stomach over the years. But it won’t be like-for-like with the more powerful console editions.
So, other than the Frostbite engine, what’s out?
For starters, there’s no story-based ‘The Journey’ option (though some form of single-player career will be present). Online play will also be more limited – no 11-a-side matches for Switch owners, just 4 players at a time. And while the visuals are surprisingly good (kit and player likenesses more than holding their own) it won’t be the same as the 4K-pixel pushing realism of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions.
With that out of the way, the Switch version brings lots of great new features. First off, it’s portable! Whether you’re playing with Joy-Cons attached on the toilet, or sat up with its kickstand on the train, you’ve finally got a high-quality FIFA game to play on the go – with Ultimate Team intact.
Secondly, it takes full advantage of the Switch’s multiple control methods. Whether using the Pro controller, a pair of Joy-Cons or a single nun-chuck for each player, you can find a control method to suit your tastes and needs.
It’s this flexibility that sets FIFA on the Switch apart from the other versions – it’s ready to go on the big screen, as a handheld, readily equipped for a multiplayer match with multiple controllers, and even supports LAN play if you’ve more than one Switch present.
But most importantly, it feels like FIFA. It may be on a different engine and an all-new console with economical innards, but pick it up and it instantly feels familiar.
The core, weighty feel of players remains unchanged and the same diligent approach to build-up play will be required to achieve 100% net.
Using a single Joy-Con for an on-the-fly multiplayer match-up feels a bit cramped, and limits the finessing modifiers pro players will be used to. But on the whole, it looks like this will be the FIFA you already know and love.
While hardcore fans will be able to dissect and bemoan every difference and omission, they’ll likely opt for the main versions anyway. For everyone else, they’ve finally got a decent football game on a Nintendo console, and a portable one at that.
FIFA 18 FUT
So what do we 100% definitely know will definitely be in FIFA 18?
Well given that FUT (aka FIFA Ultimate Team) is the gift that keeps on giving for EA – as in giving them our cash – it’s a ‘banker’ for the next game. Expect a few tweaks and plenty of attention being lavished on this after FIFA 17’s FUT turned into the kind of cash cow that has a picture of it put up alongside its rosettes in a local butcher shop.
For those that don't know FUT, it's a bit like football stickers meets top trumps meets, erm, FIFA. You build up your team and if you hit the upper echelons you get bragging rights and a ten minute slot on Fox News to tell everyone how 1337 you are. Or do we mean Reddit? One of those.
EA revealed there's going to be some changes coming to FIFA Ultimate Team in the new game. This time there's going to be with three different versions of themselves at different points in their careers, each with different ratings to reflect how they were performing at the time.
For example, you'll be able to choose between a 1998, 2001, or 2005 Michael Owen. Other Icon Players will include Ronaldinho, Pele, Ronaldo Nazario, Thierry Henry, Lev Yashin, Diego Maradona, Rui Costa and Patrick Vieira.
Other new features coming to FUT will include single-player Squad Battles, Champions Channel and Objectives. As far as we can tell these new features will only be available on the Xbox, PlayStation and PC versions of the games but not Nintendo Switch.
FIFA 18 The Journey
We also know that The Journey – the cheese-tastic foray into ‘narrative’ that EA took in FIFA 17 – will make a timely return for Season Two. The original, of course, allowed you to take Alex Hunter on a journey to the very pinnacle of every youngster’s dream scenario – being a bonus card in FUT.
If we’re all really nice to EA and send them great thoughts we may even have that thing fixed where the manager praises you for the accuracy of your tackling while also criticising you for the accuracy of your tackling.
We left Hunter as he was called up to the England team - so you might expect to begin training hard to come up with your own unique celebration so you can follow in the footsteps of Peter 'The Robot' Crouch.
At E3 2017, we were given the opportunity to play through part of The Journey Season 2, which saw Hunter under scrutiny from a possible swap to Real Madrid. With fans and coaches against him, Hunter has to perform if he wants to keep rising.
The story is still cheesy. Hunter is driven and determined, but still a relatively shallow character overall. He craves fame, as most footballers do, but beyond his ambitions, there's little to him. Even when there are moments that should elicit huge reactions – a glare from a rival striker and a deal-gone-bad – he's still relatively calm and uninterested.
In some ways, this allows Hunter to be an empty vessel that you can fill with your own emotions – both good and bad. That said we were really hoping for a bit more thought about the narrative and the opportunity to take Hunter's grandfather through the 60s - complete with referees that let anything go ("If he's not dead, it's not a foul.") and, obviously, playing in black and white and running into some of the super-stars of the era.
It's not going to happen. But a man can dream right?
FIFA 18 career mode
Career Mode has been given so little love over the past three years or so that we’re hesitant to suggest that EA will do anything significant this time around – even though it has a list of bugs, idiocies and downright strange programming as long as your new 7’6” centre forward with 90 pace and one star wrong foot skills.
If we’re wrong, and EA Sports acknowledges that this is still the very best bit of FIFA when it’s actually working, then we’ll look forward to players not getting homesick and leaving for the club over the road, youth players whose pen pics are the right ethnicity compared to their in-game avatars and computer AI that doesn’t suddenly decide on a whim to dance through your entire team and ram a shot into the flying pig that we just saw in the top corner of our goal.
When we sat down with Sam Rivera at Gamescom, he told us about a couple of changes that are coming in Career Mode in Fifa 18:
"[We are introducing] Interactive transfer negotiations which are real time negotiations with clubs. You will get instant replies, so instead of waiting for emails to come, it’s personal, so you get more connection with those transfers. Transfers are one of the most important aspects of career mode.
"There’s more actions too. With the re-sell clause, if you sell a player and the team that you sold the player to then sells him on, you get a percentage of that sale. Or you can put a clause in so that even if the club doesn’t want him to leave, if someone offers a certain amount for him, they have to sell."
So, not any of the changes that we were hoping to see, but at least it shows that Career Mode hasn't been forgotten about. The power of Frostbite is showing itself in Transfers too, with new cinematics to accompany transfer offers and for when a player joins a new team.
FIFA 18: What we'd like to see
We're still hammering away at FIFA 17, with our crop of youngsters now bona fide superstars, but after months of play we're fairly confident that we have put our finger on a few things that we'd like to see fixed, tweaked or downright altered in FIFA 18.
Any wishlist is a bitter sweet thing - and ultimately our desire for change is born out of love for FIFA. We just wish it loved us back a bit more sometimes...
Gameplay and AI tweaks
This is the biggie; any FIFA player knows that there is an inescapable feeling that, at times, the AI is letting you score rather than your own skill actively earning you the victory. Which of course makes the whole thing feel a little, well, hollow.
What do we mean? Well after producing a litany of truly (and literally) unbelievable tackles to keep you at bay , you'll find - often in the 44th minute of a game that you have been pre-decreed the winner - that the AI makes a mistake so colossally awful that it's harder to miss than score. Or your 35 hit-and-hope arrows unerringly into the top corner.
Worst in a lot of ways, are the games when you're pre-decreed to struggle and, to a man, you face a team full of Bobby Moore/Pele era defending (look it up on YouTube kids), the opposition goalkeeper turns into Peter Schmeichel at his pomp (look him up on Facebook Video kids), or your 99 finish striker hits the post so often in the same game and with such rigor you start to wonder if he/she has some kind of wood fetish.
We get that this kind of season engineering can make things more excited, and we don't want to completely dominate, but we just want this kind of machination to feel a bit more, I dunno, organic.
The AI is clearly something that the development team have been focusing on, having received feedback from players after Fifa 17. According to Sam Rivera:
"One of the things that was frustrating for some people in 2017 was that the AI was very good at defending. So a lot of people would just let the AI defend. So now we have fixed it so you have to defend as well as using the AI."
Other key things that we, in the world of the Spice Girls, really really want. Are a bit of variety: it's all very well Barcelona playing the kind of tiki taka football that still leaves Pep Guardiola slightly dishevelled, but when Stockport on a rainy Tuesday are running literal rings around Manchester United you start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, there's not enough playing styles.
To be fair, programming a human like fallible AI is tough, but this is a fairly core part of the gameplay.
Sort out the skill levels
Veteran FIFA players end up with intimate knowledge of the sliders in order to tweak the skills, principally because the skill levels aren't quite where they could be.
You could feasibly throw this criticism at many games, and at least FIFA has sliders, but the biggest issue with the skills is that they try to make you better. All the skills and tricks you pick up to beat the AI become largely irrelevant on the skill level above.
Rather than gently prodding you to improve, it just teaches you a load of skills that become redundant. Like keeping hold of sprint for 90 minutes and only ever using through ball.
Fix the career mode quirks
We've touched on some of these, but career mode is not so much an unloved child of FIFA, but a child that has been chained up in the attic for several years becoming more and more feral and ultimately doomed to appear in a bad movie about redemption.
We were going to list all the problems, but it turns out that the internet is running out of space, so we'll just pick out some of our favourite idiosyncrasies and what we'd like.
- Homesick players shouldn't move to a club in the same country
- Loaning someone out shouldn't immediately reset their brain
- Loaning someone out, saving the game, recalling the player and seeing if their potential has improved is not a cool bug in the long run .
- Player pen pics should look like the in-game player. How hard can this be?
- Even FIFA at the height of its self importance would have baulked against making a team play five games in seven days. For the love of Maradona, EA Sports, please. Fix. Fixtures.
- Make the press conferences something other than pointless
- Get rid of the now a bit strange limit on how long careers can be. It used to be about available memory/storage, but surely that's shifted from the last-gen days?
- Use a bit more common sense in other teams' transfer agendas. Manchester United buying all of the strikers is bad enough. But then playing James Wilson as a sole striker exacerbates things.
- Bring in player chants
- Stop the commentators talking about your formations in every.single.game.
- Make the referees a bit less card heavy...
- Season requirements make very little sense. Bringing youth through is great - having to bring through two youth players and make them play 50% of the games every season is ludicrous.
- Understand when the title has been won.
- Playable reserve/youth games to test out reserves etc.
- Making free kicks in practice not utterly and entirely different from in the game
- Let us use skills to beat the AI. The world's most glorious dummy should not be easily picked off by a prescient computer.
- Please feel free to tweet more suggestions at us @techradar!