FIFA 17's The Journey mode was a big success, and in FIFA 18 gamers continue Alex Hunter's story right where it left off in The Journey: Hunter Returns.*

Given that The Journey in FIFA 17 was developer EA Canada's first stab at a story mode and Frostbite's debut for the franchise, it wasn't surprising that Hunter's origin story was limited in scope to the Premier League. This time the mode is going more global. In fact, Hunter starts off in Brazil while on holiday, and he continues on to America where his team is on a pre-season tour of the States. In both stops he meets people – including cover star Cristiano Ronaldo – that should be useful later in the story. Creative director Mat Prior wouldn't specify whether this larger focus for the mode this year involves transfer drama with other leagues for example, saying only, "We're taking [the mode] into the wider world of football."

Hunter Returns is broken up into six chapters, each with their own objectives. To further alleviate some of the game-in-game-out nature of the last Journey, the studio wants to make individual choices more impactful with specific story branch points. "There is actually a lot of content that is driven by user choice," says Prior, "A heck of a lot."

Regardless of where Hunter's fortunes take him this season he still has his "support system" like his mom and agent. Most of Hunter's friends and family return, which is a great move since the cast is well acted. Other continuities exist, such as utilizing your save from the first Journey. The team you're on, your overall personality (from the conversation system), and whatever trophies you won is represented as you start up the Return.

Of course, this season is a whole new world for Hunter, and as such the mode is expanding to include new characters, add more real-world players, and even give you control of players other than Hunter. Alex is a different person – particularly since you can customize his appearance at any time. The clothes are broken up into three categories: shoes, trousers, and tops, and there are over 153 different unlockable items to mix and match. Hairstyles and tattoos are also available, as are uniform individualization aspects like how you wear your socks.

Even though you're going to be making Hunter more your own singular creation, you won't necessarily be by yourself. You can play the mode with a co-op friend on a per match basis similar to picking a teammate in Pro Club mode.

When FUT Legends Become Icons
Previously, EA and Microsoft had an exclusive deal for FIFA Ultimate Team Legend players, but that ends this year. There are still big-name player cards from heroes of yesteryear – now called Icons – but now they are also available for PlayStation and PC users. The first Icon announced for the coming year is Brazilian striker Ronaldo.

Changing the Game Through Gameplay 

One of FIFA's strengths is the beauty of its many animations. The historic downside of this is that there are times when players feel locked into those animations, losing control while they play out, if only for a moment. Recent installments have gotten better at this, and EA Canada's work on this front for FIFA 18 continues. The game utilizes a new animation system that represents and calculates movement frame-by-frame, which will hopefully translate to more responsiveness and fluidity.

In past FIFAs, lead gameplay producer Sam Rivera says that all players used to share the same animations, but through using body archetypes and other non-mo-cap methods, there should be more visual variety among players. In a larger sense, Rivera says that players should explode into a run, shield the ball, and tackle differently, and players like Arjen Robben and Raheem Sterling who have a different gait will stick out.

Pulling back, teams utilize different tactics such as tika taka, long ball, counter-attack, and harass and double contain defending. On the pitch, wingers and full backs play wider, and your teammates support the ball better through more off-the-ball movement via runs and getting open for passes. Rivera says this is to try and keep the middle of the field from being too congested.

FIFA 18's gameplay also touches on areas such as better trajectories for air crosses (including new controls), more shot and volley animations, and better targeting for passes and through balls.

The details revealed today are just the beginning for FIFA 18, and we'll hear more about the above features of the game as well as areas like Pro Clubs, the career mode, and Ultimate Team leading up to the game's September 29 launch. We'll also get our hands on the title at E3, so stay tuned for additional info about FIFA 18 during the show and after.

For more on the game, check out the recent Sports Desk entry featuring my FIFA 18 Wishlist.

*The Journey Returns mode and the Frostbite engine are only available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.