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into the title and that which still needs to be done

A certain predictability surrounds some of the club leagues around the world. Rich teams like Real Madrid, Juventus, and Manchester United drain drama from their respective leagues, where top honors are really only contested amongst a few clubs. While the FIFA franchise itself has turned into a predictable top-of-the-table juggernaut for EA Sports, that monotony masks some of the hard work that goes into the title and that which still needs to be done.

The changes in FIFA 14 can be felt throughout the game, and many of them add extra layers to the experience. Players’ actions in relation to the ball feel more free and unpredictable, leading to less reliance on canned animations. The fact that you have to be more careful with your first touch – lest you lose control of the ball – is a good change, and led me to be more thoughtful with my actions. This also dovetails nicely into another added aspect of FIFA 14’s gameplay – body shielding with the left trigger helped me keep possession, even if my careless first touches slowed down my attacks and got me into predicaments in the first place.

Some of the new features expand areas of the game, but don’t always make it a deeper experience. Look under the surface of the gameplay and despite its improvements, it falls into the same ruts. Canned sequences mean that tackles still magically send the ball straight to the feet of an opponent, true battles for 50-50 balls are rare, and players still fall down after routine shots or insignificant contact. Although my defensive AI showed less confusion in their own box, the defensive help button wasn’t extremely useful since my players often wouldn’t engage the opponent player when called. On the other hand, AI attackers still mess around with the ball too much and can blunt their own counter-attack with questionable decisions.

Elsewhere, Ultimate Team adds new ways to build chemistry via Chemistry Styles. While it makes it harder (and possibly more expensive) to build that perfect team, I like the flexibility to change players’ styles and attributes. If I want a certain player on my roster but my play style isn’t suited to his skills, now I have a way to make him more useful. I also like the way managers are more important thanks to the manager chemistry variable (as opposed to formations) and the fact that players have loyalty-based chemistry with your team. This is higher if you buy that player in a pack (vs. winning them, for example), which is a slight attempt to bring the fun back in buying packs instead of always hitting the transfer market for individual cards. Moreover, it seems like I was getting more coins while playing, which could also be another incentive to buy packs.

FIFA 14 also expands its breadth with the addition of co-op play to the Seasons format, and a new scouting mechanic for the Career mode. The latter tasks you with setting up scouting network (separate from the one for youth players) to do your due diligence for transfer signings. While it’s just a more convoluted way to get you to the same end result as last year, good scouts cost you money and it adds drama to the transfer windows. Different scouts can offer up different players, and the accuracy and speed at which you get their evaluations of players depends on the scout’s skills. Be sure to tweak your instructions to scouts, as this changes who they find. It’s frustrating when they come up empty – especially since there are only select countries they can visit – but you can also use the old search method if you’re looking for a specific player that doesn’t appear in your scouts’ Transfer Network.

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