Fifa 17: It’s not about the Destination, but The Journey

A look at how future ‘Fifa’ games should build on what made The Journey so great. 

EA are always looking for new features to include to make each ‘Fifa’ game feel improved and unique. Perhaps the most successful of these innovations was Ultimate Team, introduced in 2014. However in 2016 EA added The Journey, a new gameplay feature which allowed the player to feel the experience of football like never before. Despite its great storytelling and realism, The Journey should be seen as a starting point to grow from.

Just a small town boy 

‘Fifa 17’ follows fictional Alex Hunter through his first professional season. Starting out in Clapham, London, he impresses in his trials and begins his career at the Premier League side of your choosing. FIFA-17-E3-1Hunter is an incredibly likeable character who instantly endears himself to the player. Unlike many young footballers who experience the life of luxury from an early age, Hunter is discovered relatively late (unless you ask Ian Wright or Jamie Vardy) which means he is humble and understands his roots. This rags to riches story is added to by the compelling relationship with his granddad, ex-star Jim Hunter.

But The Journey was so much more than just Be a Pro mode with a few intriguing cut-scenes. The player got a true behind the scenes experience of life on and off the pitch. From useful (but tedious) training, to late winners, and changing room politics: The Journey opened up the world of football like never before. Matches had extra meaning as there were requirements and goals to be met. That 90th minute winner feels extra sweet when it means that the requirement to score has also been met.

The story-mode gave an engaging opportunity for us gamers to experience what it’s like to walk out onto the pitch as a rising star. However, it never went further than that. The Journey only followed Hunter through his first season, which made the ending feel very empty. Despite putting so much time and energy into training Alex up to be a star, it never really feels like that is achieved. There was so much which was left unanswered, or simply not acknowledged at all. For most players Alex Hunter received news that he had been called up to the England squad for their next tournament: proving a great feel-good moment, but what’s the point if we don’t get to actually see it? The Journey was a great experience, but the ending felt lacking and left a lot unfulfilled.

Second Season Syndrome 

The second season can often be the most challenging for a young, or new player. This provides a great opportunity in ‘Fifa’. Hunter struggled with the pressures of breaking through into the first team, but the pressures of staying at the top could be just as challenging. Plus the second season would have to begin with England, which could offer new and challenging obstacles to overcome.

fifa17journey_02Also I’d like to see more meaningful choices and consequences in a follow-up. Opportunities for choices were mainly provided through interviews or interactions with other players. Most of these only really impacted the amount of social media followers, or the way the press would write about Hunter. Not really something which really played into the way the story developed. With so many games creating opportunities for pivotal choices which can completely alter the story, EA really needs to add some complexity to the plot.

The big question currently is whether ‘Fifa 18’ includes more than just one additional season, or follows the whole career of the new star player. By adding more than just a season of content, the opportunities for intriguing moments become almost endless. New transfers to potentially replace Hunter, transfer speculation around Alex, even having a young star threatening Hunter’s place in the team. Obviously the challenge for EA would be to extend how impactful just one season was. There’s a big argument to be made that it should only focus on the second season to make the story more concise and fulfilling, but it seems like a wasted opportunity when so many great moments, and difficult choices, would happen later in his career.

“Behind every kick of the ball there has to be a thought.” 

Dennis Bergkamp perfectly sums up how it should feel to play football: every single action should feel consequential and purposeful. Obviously this is something which is hard to manage in a  game, especially the exhibition or career matches (apart from the few important games each season). And if The Journey sequel is just one season again, then EA need to think of a way to add more meaningful moments to the game. I believe they can do this by borrowing from previous ‘WWE’ games. That doesn’t Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 9.58.06 PMmean that we should see Mourinho distracting the ref, or Barton using a steel chair. But by borrowing from the highly successful Road to Wrestlemania mode, or offering chances to relive special moments.

The Road to Wrestlemania stories are often fairly short, but they have clear endings, goals, and requirements to meet. This is something that could easily be used in ‘Fifa 18’. Imagine a new gameplay feature which could allow you to play as Ronaldo or Bale during the Euros. You could deal with being the big fish in a small pond (relatively speaking) and choose how they handle this position. With the shorter focused story there could be many twists and turns. Most importantly a feature like this would not only add a new feature to the game, but allow for more meaningful moments.

Adding a sense of challenge too, with a clear expectation, could work too. Perhaps managing Arsenal for their unbeaten season, or a two season challenge with Leicester – win the league and then stay up. Again the shorter length means that the story can be much more concise and impactful. These challenges, with cut scenes, choices, requirements, and realism could all create a unique and special experience to bring the player closer to actually feeling like a star footballer.

“I will love it if we beat them. Love it.” 

Football is all emotion and passion. It’s the main driving force behind the world’s biggest sport. ‘Fifa’ has constantly tried to capture the realism of the beautiful game, and ‘Fifa’ 17 is the closest they’ve ever come. By adding some more gameplay features which allow the player to experience the raw emotion of football, either through a sequel to The Journey or a new challenge mode, EA will truly be able to bring football back to your home.

Written by Stan Cohen

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