For the first time in many years, it feels like FIFA has actually taken some significant steps forward in important areas. The series has grown increasingly stagnant with each of its annual entries over the last few years, and the lack of meaningful improvements in areas that desperately needed them has been met with widespread frustration from fans, so to see FIFA 22 finally make some much-needed changes both on and off the pitch is encouraging. Don’t get me wrong, this is still very much an iterative upgrade – that’s just the way it is with annual sports franchises – but the tweaks that EA Sports has made in this year’s game are mostly all for the better.
The headlining change in FIFA 22 is, of course, HyperMotion Technology, a catch-all term being used to market the fact that essentially, the game has rewritten its animations system to make for smoother movements and more realistic flow of matches. Unlike the big flagship changes of past FIFA games, HyperMotion Technology (which is exclusive to the PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Stadia versions of the game) isn’t something that you can instantly point to- it’s not something that becomes immediately apparent, and honestly, if you only ever play FIFA casually (or not at all), it’s not even something that you might notice.
"This is still very much an iterative upgrade – that’s just the way it is with annual sports franchises – but the tweaks that EA Sports has made in this year’s game are mostly all for the better."
But it definitely does make a difference behind the scenes. Unlike previous years’ games, where it often felt like player movements were defined by very disparate animation files being stitched together – which often led to jerky movements and hilarious glitches – things feel much smoother in FIFA 22. Players transition from phase to phase much more organically, and the notable visual polish makes everything from passes to runs to blocks to aerial duels feel more authentic.
It’s not just a visual change, either, even though that is a big part of it. The core second-to-second on-pitch action has also seen some changes. That, of course, does happen with every new FIFA game, and FIFA 22 has made changes that are for the better. Defenders are smarter about their positioning, goalkeepers have been improved to an almost ridiculous degree, and pace has been de-emphasized- not entirely, but in areas of the pitch where it makes sense, at least. You can still blast pass defenders with a Marcus Rashford or Neymar with sudden acceleration to chase down a carefully threaded through ball, but someone like Leon Goretzka is going to be much more comfortable sitting in the middle of the park and distributing the ball with crisp passes.
Rather than making pace an all-encompassing part of the game, then, FIFA 22 limits it to players and situations where it makes sense, which means that slower build-up play with smart passes is more important in this year’s game. That doesn’t mean that the game is inherently harder or that goals are more infrequent. Once you’ve adapted your play style and begin using your players to their strengths, you can still score bags of goals in a single match- but rather than just brute forcing your way through defences, you’re now picking them apart, so those goals do feel much more earned. Of course, FIFA as a series has a tendency to undo its changes with post-launch patches (FIFA 21 did so as well), so it remains to be seen whether this year’s changes will stick. I hope they do though, because I genuinely believe they’ve improved the moment-to-moment action on the pitch.
"Rather than making pace an all-encompassing part of the game, then, FIFA 22 limits it to players and situations where it makes sense, which means that slower build-up play with smart passes is more important in this year’s game."
FIFA 22 has made some long overdue improvements off the pitch as well, with Career Mode seeing some of the most significant ones. In the twenty-odd years I’ve been playing FIFA, the vast, vast majority of my time has been spent on Career Mode, so to see it going through a torturously long period of stagnancy over the last few years has been more than a little aggravating. FIFA 22 does make some notable changes though. Player development builds on the foundations of last year’s game and feels much more effective, and watching an academy player turn into a permanent fixture in the starting XI feels incredibly gratifying. Sharpness and Fitness have been tweaked as well, and have a much more potent impact on a player’s form- and unlike FIFA 21, players in FIFA 22 don’t drop to dangerously low levels of stamina just 60 minutes into a match, which is a big improvement.
New pre- and post-match cutscenes and goal celebrations add to the atmosphere, while deeper analyses and stats at the end of matches are always fun to pore over. Commentators also have more things to say about specific topics, such as a player in flying form, or a manager on a winning streak, rather than sticking to generic remarks that can apply to most things. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Interactions with players still feel meaningless, interviews with the media are still awfully repetitive (and often make no sense in context of how your team is performing), and transfers still need an overhaul, all these years later. Ultimately, FIFA 22’s Career Mode is definitely a step forward- but hopefully, future games will continue to build on it, because it’s still far from perfect.
The ability to create your own club is another major addition in FIFA 22’s Career Mode, but honestly, I’m a little let down by the creation and editing tools on offer here, which range from being disappointingly limited to offering so much freedom that they end up neutering any and all challenge. The editing options available for everything from your stadium to your kit to your club’s crest are way too restrictive, which is a big problem- when I’m making my own club, I want to make my own club, not something that feels like a haphazard combination of limited options provided by the game. On the other end of the spectrum though, FIFA 22 lets you choose the star rating of your team and your starting budget, which means you can just start off as a five star team full of world beaters that also has a starting transfer budget of a billion of whatever currency you’re playing with.
"FIFA 22’s Career Mode is definitely a step forward- but hopefully, future games will continue to build on it, because it’s still far from perfect."
At that point though, what’s even the point of playing? Rather than creating a fake club using limited tools, with fake highly rated players with an endless war chest, I would rather just play as a club that actually exists and is already in that position. And sure, I can always start out as a smaller team with a limited budget, but given the fact that FIFA 22, like all other FIFA games, doesn’t have a lot of lower division leagues in most countries, that feels like a pointless exercise.
Player Career, I feel, does a much better job of handling progression, thanks to a number of significant overhauls, most notably to actual progression. You start out as an unknown quantity who is mostly a bit-part player coming off the bench, and by completing individual objectives handed to you in each match and by training well, you increase your manager rating, allowing you to rise through the ranks and cement your spot in the team. At the same time, if you don’t train and perform well, your relationship with your manager will deteriorate, which might even lead to you being put up for loan, or even a transfer.
Meanwhile, completing objectives and doing well in training also nets you XP. Leveling up rewards you with skill points, which you use to improve your player’s attributes and overall rating, while you also regularly unlock specific perks, of which you can equip three at a time. The revamped progression mechanics in FIFA 22’s Player Career are easily the best and biggest change in the mode, and give you a much greater control over how your player progresses.
"The revamped progression mechanics in FIFA 22’s Player Career are easily the best and biggest change in the mode, and give you a much greater control over how your player progresses."
Ultimately, for the first time in a number of years, it feels like FIFA has actually made some meaningful changes to its core gameplay with FIFA 22. The on-pitch action is slower and more methodical and encourages a play style more focused on picking apart oppositions rather than relying solely on overwhelming pace, while several modes have also seen some much-needed and long-overdue improvements. Of course, many improvements still need to be made, and I’m hoping next year’s game will have a much better Create-a-Club mode, but as things stand right now, FIFA 22 is the best game this series has delivered in a long time.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Pace is de-emphasized, with a greater focus on build-up play; Career Mode has seen some improvements; Player Career's revamped progression gives much greater control over how you grow.
Transfers and and interactions with players and media in Career Mode still need to improve; Create-a-Club options are awfully limited.