Ultimate Team is primarily an online experience. From its wealth of game modes pitting you against other players, to its vast transfer market, it simply wouldn’t work purely offline. Sure, you can play the offline game modes, but it’s never quite as satisfying as putting your skills and created team to the test against another player. Knowing that not only your skill, but your team management is superior to your opposition, it’s a good feeling.
Not everyone likes playing online, though, and that’s understandable. There’s not much enjoyment in being goaded into rage quitting by players abusing the 30-second pause system after scoring. Nor is there much fun in getting rekt by someone with an infinitely stronger team than yours and spending the next 12 minutes of your life sitting through it in fear of losing your Match Completion bonus. It seems like EA has listened to the cries of those who’d prefer to test their team against an AI opponent in FIFA 18, and Squad Battles is actually far better than most fans would have expected.
Squad Battles is an offline game mode that takes four user-created teams and puts the AI in control of them each day. These are picked at random from the community and range from teams with lower ratings and chemistry, all the way up to some formidable opponents. You select the team you want to play against, choose your AI difficulty, and play the match as you would any other. The higher the difficulty you play on, the more potential points you’ll be able to bag. The end result and your performance in the match determine how many points you’ll actually earn, with higher difficulties also bringing multipliers, too. Your total points accrued over all of the games directly affects what rewards you’ll get at the end of the week. The rewards at the top end of Squad Battles’ leaderboards are actually pretty enticing, with Mega Packs and hefty amounts of coins on offer for the very best players each week. Even at the lower end of the rewards on offer, Squad Battles doesn’t skimp out. Playing just 15 games each week should be enough to net you a couple of free gold packs and maybe some coins, too.
It’s the way Squad Battles dishes these rewards out, though, that makes it so enjoyable. The leaderboards are constantly refreshing every couple of minutes, taking into account the average total points of players and adjusting the boundaries for each rank based on this. While this does mean it’ll be a lot harder to get the best rewards if everyone jumps on and performs well, it also ensures that the rest of the community’s performances are factored into the experience, maintaining a healthy bit of competition. This, combined with the refined and dynamic offline gameplay in FIFA 18’s Squad Battles ensures that every match is a battle to grind out the maximum number of points against a challenging opponent.
Go a goal or two ahead and the AI will get more aggressive and go on the offensive even more, desperate to pull a goal back. On higher difficulties, the AI will even try and fool you with fake shots and silky skill moves, weaving in and out of your defense. The somewhat predictable routine plays of the AI aren’t present in Squad Battles, and when combined with a great team plucked straight from the community, it makes for some really close matches. Playing against the AI in Squad Battles is far more enjoyable than in any other mode, and it’s a very welcome addition to the plethora of modes already available in Ultimate Team.
Whether or not Squad Battles will have the legs to stay relevant in FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team remains to be seen, especially with the likes of FUT Champs offering the best rewards and an intense, competitive experience. However, for those simply looking to get some solid rewards without venturing into the full online experience in Ultimate Team, Squad Battles ticks all the boxes.