FIFA 15 and FIFA 16 were somewhat disappointing, especially considering the potential FIFA 14 showed when debuting the franchise on the current generation of hardware. A lot needs to change, and it seems that this is what EA Sports is trying to do with FIFA 17. We don't know if the final product that we will be getting on September 29 will match our lofty expectations, but this is clearly the most ambitious FIFA of this generation - perhaps ever - and these are the five new pillars supporting it.
This has been the most heavily promoted new feature coming in FIFA 17, and deservedly so. This is a completely new game mode, which will not replace any other, and it will allow players to follow the career of a fictional footballer in the Premier League. It'll be a mode where your actions off the pitch will be almost as important as those on it.
Players will take control of Alex Hunter, a very promising young player in the early part of his career, and you'll be able to choose the Premier League club from which he will start his journey. There will be plenty of cutscenes, and you even have to make decisions and interact with people via dialogue wheels like you would if it was an RPG (EA Sports even consulted Bioware's for this part of the game).
The decisions and actions of the player will have repercussions on several elements of the campaign. For example, if Alex Hunter is reckless when challenging for the ball, he may also react badly to a nasty tackle from an opponent. On the other hand, his involvement with colleagues and the coach can also have an impact on his performance on the pitch. The Journey is something we have never seen in a football game, and it looks like an interesting proposition from EA Sports, even though we doubt it will overshadow Ultimate Team or Career mode.
New Graphics Engine
The Journey is only possible in FIFA 17 as a result of switching the game engine. Ignite, which was announced as EA Sports' engine of choice for the current generation, seems to have not met the requirements of the FIFA team. Enter Frostbite, which is being used across an increasingly wide range of EA products. The engine was originally built at DICE but is now handled by a separate Frostbite team operating out of the same location in Stockholm. It's the technology that supports titles like Battlefield 1, Need for Speed, Star Wars Battlefront, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, and Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The biggest benefit of Frostbite is that it allows for greater player detail, as well as facilitating the cinematic sequences essential for providing the more dramatic scenes found in The Journey. Transitioning from Ignite to Frostbite, along with many of the FIFA 17 features, is a process that has been going on for over two years now. A telling fact that reveals just how much EA is betting on the new game.
But what impact will the new engine actually have in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay? From what we've seen so far, very little. FIFA 17 seems a lot like... FIFA. When the game is presented in its typical format, with an elevated side-on camera showing a large section of the pitch, it's hard to tell there's a new engine under the hood. EA Sports promises more detailed players, better stadiums, and other new graphical enhancements, but for now, the only real benefits that are easily identified are associated with The Journey.
Redesigned Set Pieces
Every year there are revisions to the set pieces in FIFA, but they are usually fairly minor and only touch certain elements. For FIFA 17, EA Sports has completely revamped the set piece system, with significant changes that will have an impact on how you handle these moments.
With free kicks you can now move the player in several directions and push them further or closer to the ball. You can even control the pace of the run up to the ball, and obviously, the direction and the curve being put on the shot. According to EA Sports, the new free kick system was influenced by input from James Rodriguez, Real Madrid's Colombian maestro. The penalties will have a similar mechanic, allowing the player to change their angle to the ball, the distance, and the run in. This will impact the "ball's movement and curve," according to EA Sports.
For free kicks where you will likely want to cross the ball, or corner kicks, there will be a new targeting system. This will allow you a lot more control over where the ball will land. It's a big change from past systems that worked according to the amount of power put into the pass. We assume that the attributes of the player will impact the pass accuracy, but we're just assuming. Finally, changes are also being made to throw ins. You can run a few meters along the line, and even fake the release of the ball.
There were some surprising announcements regarding FIFA 17's official licenses, and we believe there's more surprises ahead (again, just a hunch, we've no inside source whispering secrets in our ear). The highlight is the inclusion of real coaches in the game. This was already already semi-present by way of names and photos in Ultimate Team mode, but in FIFA 17 coaches will be fully recreated within the game (it's a first for FIFA, however EA Sports already had the official coaches fully recreated for the Euro and World Cup games). For FIFA 17, EA Sports will only feature Premier League coaches, and only a few were confirmed - EA won't commit to recreating all the coaches in-game, but some big names have been confirmed. The new Manchester United manager, José Mourinho, will be fully recreated along with Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool), Josep Guardiola (Man C) and Arsène Wenger (Arsenal).
As for new league licenses, the only announcement so far was the Japanese league. The "J1 League" will be accurately recreated and introduce 18 clubs with names, emblems, and realistic kits. Another important nugget of news is the exclusive deal for the Spanish league, La Liga. This will not have any actual impact on FIFA 17, but it will be a blow to their main competitor, Pro Evolution Soccer. EA Sports also announced a partnership with Juventus, which will allow them to recreate the official stadium with more detail and offer realistic 3D versions of all the players in the team.
Gameplay and AI Tweaks
Despite all the big-name news, such as The Journey and the Frostbite engine, EA Sports assures that they haven't forgotten gameplay - and we all know FIFA 16 needed several improvements. The physics system and interactions between players, remains one of the more highly prioritised areas, and FIFA 17 will feature an evolution of that. Protecting the ball with the body will be an even more important element, and you can now do it in 360 degrees. Another novelty is that you can now try to "push" the opponent back, or forward, depending on whether you are defending or attacking. Strength should be one of the key attributes for this.
Passing has also changed, and according to EA Sports, it will now be easier to pass the ball to the team mate you actually intended - something that FIFA 15 and FIFA 16 were worse at compared to previous iterations. Shots also received some tweaking, both when it comes to how the ball moves in the air and on the ground. It will be possible to do a hard ground shot, and while heading, you can now direct it down for a bounce.
Artificial intelligence has been slightly improved, too, and will now be better when it comes to analysing open space on the pitch and identifying real opportunities to create danger. The runs made by AI controlled players will apparently be much more realistic, and they will even make fake runs and change their direction to deceive the opponent.
FIFA 17 is clearly an ambitious project for EA Sports, and it's possibly the most important FIFA since the transition to the new generation of hardware. In recent years we've witnessed a decline from FIFA, and EA Sports has to quickly change course, especially with the recent performance of PES fresh in mind. All these new features are impressive on paper, but we only hope they can actually combine to form a cohesive and a fantastic football simulator.