The trading card option that began as an experimental add-on with FIFA 09 is now a real reason to own FIFA each season, says Paul Davies.
"Draft Mode is an hour long quick in, quick out excursion from the other distractions that FIFA 16 has to offer."
Last week, we met with EA to discuss the "game changing" new Draft Mode in Ultimate Team and to find out what else to expect from FIFA 16.
“To mean something” is a comment we’ve heard numerous times when EA has presented FIFA 16, and often from senior producer Nick Channon. It’s as though the multi-million-dollar enterprise that is FIFA has suddenly become self-conscious. As though being number one is not enough to justify its existence; the team is trying to leave some kind of legacy. Or maybe we’re seeing too much into this.
Whatever the reason may be – marketing most likely – FIFA 16 has more than women’s football on its side this year to make it a landmark addition to the series. Press day on this occasion was marked by the presence of Adam Shaikh, creative director of FIFA Ultimate Team for the past seven years.
He was there to talk about Draft Mode within Ultimate Team, originally intended as a test of tactical know-how and awareness of the international market, but conveniently serving as a bite-sized sampler for anyone wary of becoming too deeply involved. In essence, Draft Mode is an hour long (thereabouts) quick in, quick out excursion from the other distractions that FIFA 16 has to offer. You create a team selected from a randomised menu of players then enter a four-match elimination tournament with a chance to earn Match Coins, FIFA Points or more Draft Tokens to re-roll. It’s so simple that the entire premise is perfectly explained in a short promotional video featuring Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Watch this, and then you’ll know.
Adam Shaikh describes Draft Mode as “Ultimate Team distilled”, which is quite different to saying that it’s streamlined. The latter suggests that some elements may be missing, whereas Draft Mode has all the substance of Ultimate Team condensed, with the lure of loot making it FIFA’s answer to the grind of modern video games.
“One of the original reasons for Draft Mode was more to provide an interesting and compelling change of pace for very experienced players: high risk, high reward, and to really shake it up,” explains Shaikh. “It became obvious very quickly that this was a great distillation of the FUT experience. In an evening you could build a great team, take part in a challenging competition and get rewards at the end.” It’s also a whistle-stop tour of everything that shines about the updated Ultimate Team, such as broadcast style presentation and nine new Legends that include George Best and Ryan Giggs. Team of the Week is also incorporated, meaning that draft players in September may not be the same as those in December. The commentary is especially clever, somehow picking up on the most favourable stats from your season’s progress.
The core values of FIFA Ultimate Team are being preserved, however. “It’s always been important for us to say that everything in FIFA Ultimate Team is available for free,” says Shaikh. “There’s nothing you can get by spending that you cannot get for free. Even the auction market – basically the transfer market where you can guarantee what you want – the only thing you can use there is FIFA Coins. It’s critical for us that we focus on a great game that people want to play.”
Meanwhile, FUT is being made more user-friendly with consumer feedback being taken onboard. Examples given were that it is now possible to search for in-form versions of players, when you have a list of players from e.g. buying a pack you can now tag multiple players so you can deal with them more easily, and there are ‘suggested consumables’ to make micro management “a little less fiddly”.
"It's always been important for us to say that everything in FIFA Ultimate Team is available for free" - Adam Shaikh, creative director
It’s got to the stage now where FUT could, and arguably should, exist as a separate entity linked to FIFA as opposed to being locked to the main product. Does Adam Shaikh foresee a time when FUT becomes a free-to-play app along such lines? “Currently our FIFA Ultimate Team app doesn’t allow transfer of data, but that’s a question for the more executive people to discuss,” he laughs.
Elsewhere in FIFA 16, Career Mode has also received a lot of attention, adding pre-season training to mirror the modern schedule. There are three tournaments to test your club’s post-holiday mettle: Champions Trophy (Europe), Challenge Cup (US) and Elite Cup (Asia). For these, and to make “more meaningful” progress in general, coaches can recommend general training for the first 11, focus on individuals within that starting line-up, or target youth players perhaps intended for transfer.
In a way this reminded us of the old Speedball II upgrades, ahead of its time we have to say. Of course in FIFA 16 it’s much more serious: you can’t improve on the best (e.g. Christiano Ronaldo) and make them superheroes. Similarly you can’t change the core capabilities of a defender like John Terry. We especially liked hearing how, once you’ve assembled your most potent squad, Career Mode lets you gamble your gaming skills for greater rewards according to the difficulty setting.
Glory can be achieved in nine new stadiums that include Vicarage Road, Carrow Road, CenturyLink Field, Stade Vélodrome, King Abdullah International, El Monumental and Fratton Park. There are new authentic club chants in the audio, while on the pitch goal scorers can be made to celebrate to the camera or with their team mates on the subs bench. Finally, for our German friends, Bundesliga TV presentation has been added in the same way that Sky Sports style glitz lifted FIFA 15.
While it is our responsibility to explore the pros and cons of each new FIFA when it arrives, we’re finding it impossible to doubt the belief of the team behind it. If this all comes together as intended, FIFA 16 really ought to be the greatest iteration of the series yet.