I was surprised when the first thing EA Sports and developer EA Canada announced for FIFA 20 was the Volta small-side soccer mode, a more casual offering akin to the old FIFA Street series back in the day. Is this a good decision for the franchise?
Perhaps there is no reason to be worried when Volta could be a fun experience different from the ones we’ve been having year after year. The mode’s resemblance to FIFA Street alone excites some fans, and I don’t begrudge them. But in the larger context of where the franchise is at and what it needs to do to move forward, adding another mode seems like a distraction from addressing existing gameplay problems and long-standing modes that have been left idle.
The announcement of Volta is just the beginning of what’s advertised for FIFA 20, as the developer has planned reveals for gameplay, Pro Clubs, Career mode, and Ultimate Team on the docket through the summer. Can EA Canada fight and win on multiple fronts and bring everything together? Most years the developer advertises changes in a variety of areas, but these don’t always make the necessary difference.
Some of the gameplay intrinsic to Volta, namely the one-on-one encounters, should benefit 11v11 football. However, small-side football is different in its speed, balancing, the player attributes it emphasizes, and how the A.I. reacts to your movements (including accounting for the ball going off walls). The gameplay shared between the two types of soccer only goes so far.
Volta is EA’s latest attempt at trying to capture the casual audience. The small team sizes of the mode may help in this attempt, but this niche brand of soccer is a far cry from what it is that casuals likely already identify with – the superstar players and the established team and league licenses they see on their TVs every weekend. Perhaps expanding the player-focused option in the Career mode could do this (like NBA 2K already does) in a way that Volta does not. Or maybe investing more into the Champions League experience.
Ultimately, I’m not sure EA or anyone really knows what it is that will hook casuals in. Wasn’t The Journey story mode supposed to do that? That’s gone now, and even the old FIFA Street series tried a comeback back in 2012 that didn’t stick. This was after the EA Sports Big label was retired and morphed into the short-lived EA Sports Freestyle in 2008. Has gamers’ appetites for this kind of take on the sport changed since then? How far will EA go down this road before it’s dropped as well?
Volta might get paid content after launch, so maybe that’s what this is really about. The NBA 2K series has microtransactions all over its many modes, and with loot boxes, “surprise mechanics,” or whatever you want to call them under siege all over the world, perhaps EA is positioning itself for life after Ultimate Team.
I didn’t get a chance to play Volta at EA Play, so I’ll have to wait and see what I really think about the mode. Until then, I’m certainly interested in how other areas of FIFA 20 shape up over the summer. But as it stands, Volta seems like a separate game, and it could lead to the kind of fixture congestion that fatigues the squad.
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Matthew Kato explores the wide world of video game sports in his column, The Sports Desk. Check back every Monday for the latest analysis and news in the genre from this sports fanatic.
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