A few weeks ago, I wrote a post praising the challenge and rewarding nature of FIFA 18’s addition to the long-running Ultimate Team mode, Squad Battles. Playing at my standard difficulty, I found the AI to put up a much tougher fight. Coming back strong after conceding, proceeding to pile on the pressure on my tiring defense in the closing minutes. It almost feels like an enhanced AI compared to other game modes. At least, it does when it’s working well.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Ultimate Team, and specifically, in the Squad Battles mode, I had found myself getting frustrated. How could I have given away a foul for being tackled? Why did my player’s pass (where the arrow was pointed directly at the receiving player) end up going straight to an opponent stood in the rough vicinity? And why, oh why could the opposing team literally walk through my suddenly sluggish defense to pull a goal back right after conceding?
I’ll hold my hands up now and say that I’m by no means the best FIFA player. I’m prone to making awful decisions on the offensive and shake my head in disappointment when I play a through ball instead of simply pass it into a player’s feet. We’ve all been there. However, when playing Squad Battles, there was stuff that even I, an average FIFA player, was adamant was out of my, or any human’s control.
Head over to the FIFA Reddit and you’ll find a fair few fans with the same kinds of issues. User bartoszg11 posted about how the difficulty levels are just massively inconsistent. Facing off against two similar teams, he managed to lose 2-0 on World Class, and then crush the second team with similar stats on the higher Legendary difficulty 5-1. Bartoszg11 isn’t alone, either, with plenty of comments on his post voicing similar, frustrating stories.
Other players have had more blatant instances of the AI playing dirty in Squad Battles. Some fall more in line with the standard FIFA issues fans have been struggling with for years now. Just take a look at poor stehilton94’s red card for being fouled. These are a problem, sure, and it’s something the community has been crying out for EA Sports to fix for years now. However, the more concerning issues in FIFA 18’s Squad Battles are those which hinder your own team.
Let’s start off with a prime example courtesy of Reddit user mxmadman374 via Chuck_Morris_SE. Provided are three examples of Raheem Sterling, a player with 91 Pace seemingly getting stuck in cement on the pitch as he tries to reach a pass. In this instance, it’s not the fact that the pass was bad, or that the AI made the right decision to follow the ball, but the fact that the game was straight up hindering the receiver from getting to the ball. Other fans mention issues regarding stray passes and BelovedBastard’s example here probably best highlights the problem. And, just to really hammer the point home, DatWhiff’s compilation of infuriating defensive plays not only highlights the imbalance between offensive and defensive players in FIFA 18, but also shows what happens when the AI “decides to score” as fans put it over on Reddit.
It’s important to stress that last bit here, too. This isn’t something that just happens from the get-go in a match. It’s sporadic, though it does tend to happen most when your opponent is in a tough spot. The AI turns on the magic and suddenly you’ll be left with sluggish, unresponsive players while the opposing team ping-pong passes it up the pitch with a god-like level of finesse.
From a general gameplay perspective, having the AI mess with your team’s stats or performance in a game is problematic. However, it becomes even more of an issue when it’s happening in Ultimate Team – a mode people quite literally throw hundreds to thousands of dollars at in order to get the best players for their team. Yet, what’s the point in spending all this money and having an amazing team if their passes, control, or pace are seemingly nerfed whenever the AI fancies? Sure, Squad Battles is just one offline mode in Ultimate Team. There’re still plenty of other offline and online game modes for players to choose from should the dirty AI in Squad Battles really rub you the wrong way. That’s not the point, though.
Squad Battles has so much promise and was generally well-received when players first started diving into it. It offers great rewards without demanding you spend an exorbitant amount of time. We’re looking at you, Weekend Leagues. In its current state, however, Squad Battles undermines the value and quality of your team, and for a game mode that is based around increasing both of these things, that’s a serious problem.