FIFA 22 Ultimate Team goes big on seasons, reduces weekly match requirements
But no word so far on changes to loot boxes.
EA Sports has reduced the weekly match requirements for FIFA 22 Ultimate Team's Division Rivals mode, and leaned more heavily on the seasons model.
Division Rivals - the most popular mode in Ultimate Team - pits players against each other in ranked matches.
With FIFA 21, EA implemented a cap on the number of games that contribute to the Weekly Score accumulation in Division Rivals. After completing your first 30 games of FIFA 21's Rivals, the matches stop adding to your Weekly Score.
In FIFA 22, Division Rivals is now a seasonal competition with a brand new progression system designed to be less demanding and keep players at the right skill level.
"Division Rivals is one of the most popular modes in FUT, but we know it's not been the most intuitive system for players and not everyone can play 30 matches every week," FUT producer Azlan Mustapha said during a recent preview event attended by Eurogamer.
In FIFA 22, how you climb the divisions and earn rewards has changed significantly, with Division Rivals moving to a new ladder system where each division is made up of ranks, stages, and checkpoints, the latter of which prevent losing progress in a bid to ensure players remain at their appropriate skill level.
Winning a match moves you forward one stage. Losing a match moves you back one stage, unless you're on a checkpoint. If you keep drawing, you'll stay at your current position.
If you win two matches in a row you start a win streak, on which you progress an additional stage for every consecutive win. Win streaks continue until you draw or lose.
All players start in Division 10, which means the placement matches of previous games in the series have been ditched.
There's now a new Elite Division, which is a step up from Division 1. This is for the best FUT players in the world, EA Sports said. Progression within the Elite Division changes to the skill rating system from FUT 21. All players in the Elite Division are ranked based on their skill rating, with the top 200 on the global leaderboard.
If you make it to the Elite Division, you remain there throughout the rest of the current season.
(Standard matchmaking in Division Rivals, meanwhile, looks for opponents in neighbouring stages and divisions, while taking into account the player's physical location, EA Sports said.)
Players in the Elite Division matchmake only with other Elite players based on skill rating and the player's physical location.
Weekly rewards have been tweaked, accordingly. You receive your reward based on the rank you're in when the week ends. The higher you climb in divisions and ranks, the better your weekly reward. You can then upgrade your weekly rewards by winning more matches each week.
One of the biggest changes with Division Rivals is it is now a seasonal competition tied to the overall FUT season, each of which lasts around six weeks.
Whether you win or lose, you make progress towards your seasonal rewards. You can earn up to three milestone rewards per division, based on the division you're in.
At the start of each season progression resets to a lower division for all players. The division a player rolls back to depends on which division they finished the previous season in.
Division Rivals is also used to earn qualification into the ultra hardcore FUT Champions competitive event - aka the Weekend League.
FIFA's Weekend League has been criticised for putting too much pressure on players to cram in loads of games over a weekend, or face the prospect of losing out on coveted rewards. It's an issue we looked into a few years ago with FIFA 18, although EA Sports has improved matters somewhat since then.
For FIFA 22, EA Sports is spreading the FUT Champions competition structure throughout the week, with the introduction of the Champions Play-offs and Finals.
"Our goal with FUT Champions this year was to improve accessibility and reduce the overall commitment required to participate, with fewer matches in the week," FUT lead producer Mike Barnucz said.
To that end, EA Sports has moved to a points-based system this year, rather than wins, so you still make progress even if you lose.
"The updates to Champions aim to strike a balance between the previous time commitments while still offering a competitive experience and rewards," Barnucz added.
To qualify for FUT Champions, you continue to earn Champions Qualification Points in Division Rivals. Once you have enough points, you're automatically entered into the Play-offs, and your Champions run for that entry begins when you are ready to play.
The Champions Play-offs are the first leg of the overall FUT Champions competition, and it's open for the duration of the FUT season, which lasts around six weeks.
You progress through a limited number of games on your own time, earning points towards Champions ranks and rewards. These are awarded at the end of your run in the Champions Play-offs.
If you earn enough points, you unlock a Finals Qualification Token, which grants access to the Champions Finals. (If you failed to make the Finals, you can always return to the Play-offs after re-qualifying through Rivals.)
The FUT Champions Finals take place on weekends, using the same duration that was used for the Weekend League in FIFA 21. But the Finals Qualification Token gives you the flexibility to enter the competition on your schedule.
Within each FUT Season, you have a limited number of attempts at the Champions Competition with a single entry good for an attempt at the Champions Play-offs, and a Champions Final if you qualify.
When you start the Play-offs, you are competing for the first set of rewards and a chance to qualify for the Finals, where you can further increase your rewards.
In the Finals, where you finish decides your additional rewards. If you finish all your matches in the Finals, you can claim your rewards instantly. If you still have matches to be played, your rewards will be granted at the end of the competition, based on where you finished.
Elsewhere, EA Sports has added a new mode in FUT Friendlies called co-op public matchmaking. This is a casual drop-in experience playing FUT using one of a list of pre-made squads with a new partner against other co-op opponents.
"This avoids a situation where both co-op partners want to use their own squad," Barnucz explained. "It's also a great chance to try out some of the best players in FUT. The squads will reflect recently released player Items in the game, so you'll see appropriately balanced teams."
EA Sports has also expanded the FUT Stadium feature introduced with FIFA 21. It now has a new VIP area, where you can show off your club allegiance and give fans a place to watch the match at the centre of the stands. VIP areas can also have a featured tifo.
There's crowd customisation, too. New options include crowd cards, two-stick banners and crowd flags.
While all these changes to Ultimate Team sound welcome, EA has yet to detail whether it will make any changes to the game's controversial loot box system in response to increasing pressure from governments and authorities worldwide.
Will EA Sports change its billion dollar a year cash cow so it is not pay-to-win, as it is now? Will it retain the preview pack experiment that's still running during the dying embers of FIFA 21? Will it ditch loot boxes entirely, going full pelt for a battle pass system? EA has yet to say.
EA is slowly unveiling FIFA 22 amid an investigation by the UK government into loot boxes to see if the law should be applied to them.
In December 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched a review of loot boxes alongside a wider review of the Gambling Act 2005, and in June 2020 announced a public call for evidence. The government commissioned Abertay University to assess this evidence, and the hope is a report will be issued by the end of this year. If so, the government may act at some point in 2022.
While EA maintains Ultimate Team's loot boxes do not constitute gambling, in a recent regulatory financial document the company acknowledged a change in the law could significantly impact its business.