Poor Ciro Immobile. He must barely be processing his national team’s non-attendance at the World Cup after winning the Euros last year. The last thing he needed was for me to pick him for my Dream Team campaign in eFootball 2022’s Season 1 update. A lone superstar in a squad of 40-something-rated no names, his has been a campaign of frustration and impotent rage. We have that in common, Ciro and I.
This was to be the artist formerly known as PES’s grand redemption. The launch of eFootball 2022 could hardly have gone worse for Konami last autumn, comprising a bafflingly sparse swathe of content, an ugly game of football on the pitch, and the kind of critical reception usually reserved for Activision movie tie-ins of the 2010s.
This first substantial update had a lot riding on it, and the feature list sounded promising - among the hilariously named Stunning Kick controls and the licensed Japanese and Korean Leagues lay a substantial mode to sink one’s teeth into. Finally, in Dream Team, we have something to do.
Which brings us back round to Ciro Immobile pulling on a Parma shirt and taking the field with 10 sub-Sunday league players. Like an old school Master League campaign, Dream Team hands you a team of hapless fictional players at the start, with a decent selection of licensed and unlicensed leagues from around the world to pick a team from. Unlike Master League, you build your team here by earning GP by winning matches (or making use of Konami’s mercifully generous daily login bonuses) and spending it on player cards. This isn’t like signing a player in the old sense - once you own that player card, you’re free to develop its stats as you please.
For example, you might acquire the unremarkable Serbian Dušan Vlahović and decide to spend all his XP on aerial ability stats, making him a monster target man capable of finishing any cross. But you might also take him in wildly different directions, focusing on his passing or defensive awareness. There’s the nucleus of a great idea here. Football games tend to settle down into pretty boring matchups between the same 22 players after a while in online multiplayer, but with this player development system every Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe you play against in eFootball 2022 will be slightly different. I suspect everyone will just choose to develop their pace stats regardless of player or position, but you can’t blame the game for that.
There are, inevitably, quite a few things getting in the way of you being able to enjoy that new feature. The first and most crippling is in matchmaking. For the longest time, I worried I wouldn’t be able to write down what happened at the end of an online match because I’d simply never reached that point. On PC, connection dropouts are rife, and since they often happen while the opponent’s winning, they’re probably not rage-quitting. I have also had a bona fide rage-quitter who didn’t take kindly to my 92nd minute winner, nor my luxurious un-skipped celebration. That one’s on me, but the fact the game offered me nothing by way of reward for playing that far and having an opponent rage quit is on eFootball 2022.
Third in the triumvirate of connectivity annoyances is the scarcity of online opponents. At the time of writing, the game isn’t in Steam’s top 100 games, meaning there are fewer than 10,000 concurrent players daily. All that bad press at launch has evidently had an effect, and the upshot is that it takes ten billion years to find an opponent now and when you do, their team is often wildly superior to yours. Not to be a sore loser, but when you look at the lineups and notice that their worst player is Barcelona legend Carles Puyol and you only have one player rated higher than 45, you know you’re in for a rough ride.
And in case you were wondering, here’s what happens when you do complete an online match. All players fielded earn XP which can eventually be turned into improved stats, and your ranking in the online league system goes up or down depending on the result. You also earn a small amount of GP for competing, which of course buys better players. If your match was part of a limited-time challenge (of which there are currently two) you’ll earn extra GP for completing objectives, such as securing three wins from five games.
Structurally, that’s enough to make building your Dream Team interesting. Player ratings are also affected by their team-mates, in similar fashion to FIFA’s chemistry mechanic, which adds another wrinkle to picking out the right XI for your playstyle. But the rabbit hole goes deeper still - tactically, eFootball 2022 offers massive customisation in formation, pressing and countering styles, and lets you set up several tactics like macros that you can switch between mid-match depending on the situation. This isn’t completely new to the series, and latter-day PES was almost as capable on the tactical front, but there’s a more involved set of menus now.
What was it that couldn’t be achieved by a theoretical PES 2022, that only this free-to-play model could? Why has it been released in such small, unpolished fragments? What’s the point of it all?
Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the players on the pitch about all this new tactical nous. The reworked and much-touted AI gets itself into all kinds of positioning trouble, with players sometimes leaving their spot to cover another’s and end up awkwardly running four feet apart from their team-mate independently of your control. Back fours leave enormous gaps for strikers to bolt through, and in those moments after a tackle or a misplaced pass when the ball’s in nobody’s possession, everyone seems profoundly confused. It almost seems as though everyone’s too polite to actually go in and claim it. As for the defending controls, putting in a shoulder barge or a foot on a surging attacker feels like trying to pop a balloon with another, slightly more deflated balloon. Challenges have a way of pinballing the ball around from shin to shin, and when that happens everyone stops and waits for a moment, simply ball-watching.
That’s all the more frustrating because there’s so much subtlety to the movement and passing controls. There really is a great game of football in here somewhere, waiting to be pulled out from the morass of half-implemented changes, and it’s most evident in the huge variety of dribbles you can pull off. Short bursts of pace, abrupt stops and turns. Feints, sustained sprints, deft sidesteps and cutting one-twos are all in the thumbsticks, and when you spray a pass out into space you really believe the ball’s going on a realistic physical trajectory. For its part, the new stunning kick offers a new weight and pace of shots and passes, broadening your arsenal further. In that sense, it still flows more freely than FIFA and seems so much less mired in pre-baked animations.
But that great football game is still buried too deep, even with the arrival of this major update. There’s a lot more to play and do in eFootball now, but still no clear answer as to why Konami blew up a massive sporting franchise and presented this as an alternative. What was it that couldn’t be achieved by a theoretical PES 2022, that only this free-to-play model could? Why has it been released in such small, unpolished fragments? What’s the point of it all?
It certainly isn’t a matter of a lack of talent at PES Productions. I don’t believe for a second the developers don’t know how to make a better game than this - we need only look at the last few PES games for evidence to the contrary. These are vastly talented, experienced, passionate people, working as best they can on a deeply flawed concept with a spectacularly poorly communicated plan. They don’t deserve chastisement on social media, though they’ll inevitably get it. But equally, eFootball 2022 still doesn’t deserve your time yet.