FIFA 23 puts the threat back into free kicks and corners

Player taking a free kick in FIFA 23
(Image credit: EA Sports)

FIFA 23 calls time on a decades-old partnership between EA Sports and the real-life FIFA organization, and for a swansong, brings more than the usual smorgasbord of visual upgrades we’ve come to expect from annual entries into this storied footballing franchise. 

For all its superfluous new features – and trust us, there are a few – some of FIFA 23’s most meaningful improvements come (quite literally) at grassroots level. Women’s club football and the game’s new dribbling mechanics are a highlight, though the best upgrades of the bunch come in the form of completely redesigned set pieces.

It’s only taken EA the best part of three decades to get them right, but in FIFA 23, free kicks, corners and penalties are finally given the importance they deserve. 

Top bins

In a nutshell, FIFA 23 gives you the option to exert more control over how the ball travels to its target from a free kick or corner. 

It’s only a small mechanical change: there’s now a small trajectory line that appears ahead of the ball to give you a rough idea of where it’ll end up once kicked. You still use the Left Stick (on Xbox and PlayStation) to pan the camera and change kick direction – but in FIFA 23, you can also use the Right Stick to control the level of curl and elevation. 

Both factors affect the spin and direction of the ball, which are likewise impacted by the level of power you choose to exert when holding the cross or shoot buttons. You can see these new mechanics in action during a FIFA 23 free kick set piece in the video below:

I’m an experienced FIFA player and, at first, these unfamiliar visual cues complicated things, but after I got over the learning curve I came to appreciate this new level of ball control. FIFA 22 and its predecessors didn’t give us the option to curate set pieces to this degree – sure, there’s always been a knack to free kicks and corners, but never have we had so much control over what happens to the ball once it’s left the ground. 

As such, FIFA 23 adds a whole new skillset to FIFA’s otherwise familiar gameplay. You’ve still only got around 10 seconds to make your decision before the game takes the free kick or corner for you, but this pressure rewards quick-thinking and those who’ve already figured out which set piece routines work in certain dead ball situations.

You can now even score directly from a corner or send a defender to lie down behind the free kick wall – scenarios that weren’t possible in previous FIFAs without the help of a glitch or two.

Enter the set piece specialist

FIFA 23’s redesigned set piece mechanics also give new value to certain in-game players.

Curve, Shot Power, Crossing, and Free Kick Accuracy are now much more valuable attributes than they have been in previous FIFAs, a fact that will likely please those talented real-world players – the likes of Kimmich, Kolarov and James Ward-Prowse – whose lack of pace and dribbling ability has made them largely redundant in the virtual world.

The ‘set piece specialist’ is now a genuine threat in FIFA 23, and feels like the final piece in FIFA’s puzzle of shooters, passers, defenders and dribblers. Every player attribute now has a tangible impact on gameplay, making the need for a strong showing of each skill across your team more important than ever.

A player shouldering the ball

(Image credit: EA)

The same is true of penalty specialists. Whether or not penalties count as set pieces remains up for debate, but FIFA 23 adds a new level of skill to these situations, too. Now, when you step up to the spot, you’ll see a shrinking composure ring around your on-screen player. The speed at which this ring shrinks is based on that player’s composure attribute. 

It’s a simple change from previous FIFAs – and not as comprehensive as the overhaul to free kicks and corners – but again, it makes FIFA 23 feel like a more rewarding experience.

It’s quite remarkable that after 30 years, FIFA’s developers are still making strides to capture the quirks and specialisms of the world’s game. These small mechanical improvements are far from FIFA 23’s marquee upgrades, but they truly do change the way FIFA is played.

Free kicks haven’t become any easier to pull off, mind – but the joy of sticking one in the top corner has never been more profound. 

Axel Metz
Phones Editor

Axel is TechRadar's UK-based Phones Editor, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest AI breakthroughs as part of the site's Mobile Computing vertical. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.  Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.