FIFA 22 may have more than 700 teams, but the only one I care about is unique to my game. Thanks to the Create-A-Club section of Career Mode, I can finally go off on a footballing journey that offers the sort of stakes and intrigue you might expect from a BioWare game. Will my team of no-hopers be able to overcome the rigors of the English League 2? Can they learn to adapt to the aggressive 3-5-2 formation I’m wedded to? Will I be able to leave the kit creation screen to actually start this soccer odyssey?
Okay, I might be slightly over-egging the genuine stakes of Worle Athletic’s creation, but still, Create-A-Club is FIFA’s most enjoyable new mode in a long time, and that’s because it doesn’t do too much outside of offering you the chance to create your own drama. Like all the best RPGs, it gives you enough information to let smaller narratives play out in your head, all while giving you a larger goal to strive for, with a cast of characters you care about. The only difference between creating a club in FIFA and picking a real one is that the player names aren’t real and the kits they play in are the ones you design. I shouldn’t love it as much as I do, and yet here we are.
There’s only one [Insert Your Club Name Here]
For football fans of a certain vintage, it’ll remind you of the glory days of the PES Master League. And while I’m not even going to pretend there’s a player in my current squad who is half as memorable as Castolo or Espimas (if you know, you know), it’s still much easier to warm to players who only exist in your special little team. For instance, there’s the young Rennie who sits at the heart of my defence, who is currently a 58-rated player but I have high hopes for his future. Or there’s club captain Higgins, a jobbing 28-year old striker who is the club’s most capable player (well, until the January transfer window comes around) and I grip my pad a feather tighter every time he’s through on goal, knowing full well he’s my team’s best chance of promotion.
If you think this is stretching the definition of RPG as far as it can go, you’re probably right, but outside of me inventing my own narratives for these players, there’s training sessions where you can increase their stats, the ability to have conversations with them about their playing time, contract, or performances, and even romance a couple. Okay, that last one was clearly a lie, but outside of soccer smooching, Create-A-Club gives you a league to create your own stories in, and now you immerse yourself by creating a team instead of just inheriting one.
All about The Journey
It’s not like EA hasn’t dribbled down this road before. From FIFA 17 to 19, The Journey was the game’s actual story mode, which focused on young footballer Alex Hunter. Throughout three games, you saw him go from teen hopeful to global superstar, and along the way, had to manage dramas in his personal and professional life, as well as making surprising friends and enemies along the way. It was an RPG, no two ways about it, and could provide a blueprint for EA to really make Career Mode shine.
Considering Career Mode has been stagnating for quite some time – the biggest addition last year was the ability to simulate games in real time, rather than simply skipping to the end – it shows that there’s a huge amount of scope to do something special with this mode. Why not crib from a show like Ted Lasso and give your created club a cast of background characters to bounce off, managing egos and finances through conversations instead of shiny menus? Or look to the likes of Amazon’s All or Nothing series, where we get a more candid look at players behind the scene? Or even pinch from EA’s great RPG masters at BioWare by giving you a space around a ground for approaching and talking to players (think the Normandy, but it’s a closed off training facility in the South West)?
Little things could help sustain this momentum going forward, because I sincerely hope the story of Worle Athletic – and every other player-created club this year – isn’t just a one season wonder.
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