eFootball – or PES before it – was once regarded as the pinnacle for football purists, but it’s clear that the transition from a big budget top tier rival of FIFA to a free-to-play offering hasn’t gone well so far. I mean, eFootball 2022 got lambasted for a terrible launch and it just never seemed to recover. Now though, eFootball 2023 kicks off a new season in the hopes of delivering an experience worth getting involved in. Given how it literally costs nothing, surely eFootball 2023 deserves a second chance to win you over?
Truthfully, I’m not sure it does, but you can be the judge of that as I explain why eFootball 2023 is like a game of two halves. With one half being bad and the other being not so bad.
Let it be known that eFootball 2023 isn’t a brand new offering, but instead eFootball 2022 with a name change and a day one update to add/alter a few things. Therefore, if you’re already familiar with last year’s iteration, don’t expect wholesale changes, nor a fresh achievement list to tackle.
Focusing on the most important aspect of eFootball 2023, the gameplay, and it has constantly evolved since the original launch. But it’s quite polarising. Off the ball, players float around as if running on clouds and are nimble enough to put a foot in whenever the opportunity arises to win the ball back. On the ball, you might as well be wearing wellies as it’s akin to trudging through mud, with the usually fleet-footed Kylian Mbappe transforming into a lumbering Harry Maguire. Whether dribbling, turning, or gearing up to make a pass, it’s incredibly sluggish both online and offline.
What’s noticeably good is the positioning of defenders ensuring none shall break through, as well as the keenness for attacking players to run in behind, awaiting a killer pass to be played. It’s impressive to watch because, as mentioned before, anything not involving the ball seems pretty good.
The more attentive you are however, the more you witness idiotic behaviour by the AI at critical moments. Frustration arises as you switch to a defender, only for them to step up inside their own box to let a forward dawdle past, or an attacker pulls up unnaturally as soon as you’ve played the pass. Questionable AI aside, the ball physics generally give off a very simplistic feel every time you give it a whack, and that makes shooting rather unsatisfying.
On the whole, it’s just so far away in terms of mechanics compared to what’s expected from the former football game behemoth. I feel compelled to remind myself and those interested in eFootball 2023 though, that this is a free-to-play version and it’s at least playable now. In-game bugs and visual monstrosities are less frequent too, with character models looking acceptable.
That’s not the case for the user interface and the main menu especially, which is ugly and minimalistic. In addition, visual assets on the menu banners often fail to load, while switching between screens and navigating them is slow-going. It’s a good job there aren’t many game modes included really, because it’d be a pain to scroll through the different ones. And before you ask, no, the famed Master League mode still hasn’t arrived as paid DLC yet, despite being a highly requested feature.
As far as game modes you’ve still got only two choices here: Authentic and Dream Team. The latter is a budget version of the myClub mode found in eFootball PES 2021, where the idea is to build a fantasy team to use against the AI or other humans online. You earn coins through playing matches and then you use these to purchase players for your team. Gone are the days of getting lucky to obtain a Ronaldo or Neymar, instead just search and buy whoever you wish, with set prices attached to each player.
This squad can be used in eFootball League, a PvP option in which you climb the divisions by winning matches. An Online Quick Match is also available, but both of these won’t be very welcoming to newcomers. You see, the Dream Teams built over the last twelve months or so have carried over, meaning you’re up against the best of the best in the majority of matchups. It’s great for early adopters sure, but a brutal initiation for those dipping their toes in the eFootball waters for the first time; unless you’re willing to throw cash at it and succumb to microtransactions, garnering ridiculous players in an instant.
The fact that new tour events are added regularly is helpful to a certain degree however, as the bulk of these let you face off against the computer and earn rewards which will aid in growing your Dream Team. Just keep your ideal squad limited to players who feature in the leagues that Konami have struck deals with though. The biggest omissions seem to be from those plying their trade in the Bundesliga, but hopefully the addition of footballers in the Mexican league, LIGA BBVA MX, can ease the pain.
As for the Authentic game mode, this allows you to play a single match locally against a friend or an AI controlled team. Having a measly twenty-six teams to pick from is disappointing, despite bringing in Italian giants AC Milan and Inter. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect in a demo. The only positive is the ability to compete in PvP events using a range of clubs and international teams during a limited time period. Doing so can earn more rewards for your Dream Team, which is obviously the main draw here.
Ultimately, you can argue eFootball 2023 is an improvement on its predecessor, in terms of bugs, gameplay and visuals. Furthermore, you could absolutely sink time into the Dream Team mode, but it’s incredibly off-putting to newcomers due to this not being a new game. The name change and update doesn’t actually alter things massively, with the experience evolving over the entire year beforehand. There are still issues with the gameplay too, especially in regards to on the ball actions, and that ensures enjoyment is scarce. When you factor in the poorly implemented menu system, it’s disheartening.
Much like Manchester United in the post-Sir Alex era, eFootball 2023 is a shadow of its former self, but signs are there to suggest it will eventually become a decent free-to-play football game. It’s not yet though, and it’s not worth your time unless you’re seriously short on cash and desperate for a football fix.
eFootball 2023 is out now on the Xbox Store