As a boy that hails from a nation obsessed with football, I have always loved soccer games. During the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) times, I loved the Goal series that was hugely popular back then. And, of course, there was Captain Tsubasa, which employed a very cinematic and turn-based gameplay system and was also a total blast to play.
But everything changed after EA Sports’ FIFA series. The first entries to the series used a 3D-looking isometric view at a time when most football (or as Americans call it, soccer) games were basically comprised of 2D sprites.
After the series switched to proper 3D graphics with the “Virtual Stadium” technology of FIFA 96, EA Sports was now sure to dominate the market.
But during those years, every year was a new excitement for football-crazy gamers because every new iteration and every sequel brought new features to the series, employed better graphics and continued to make FIFA better.
Even though it has had a pretty intense rivalry with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) over the years, the FIFA series arguably managed to be the victor in the competition, forcing its rival to first switch to a “Season Update” sales model and then to finally go fully free-to-play with the upcoming eFootball.
But it turns out, FIFA series already have a lesser-known free-to-play version that the company offers in select countries.
But first, let’s roll the tape back a little again.
Electronic Arts is generally notorious for its shady business practices – being recognized as so with the prestigious “Worst Company in America” award, snatching the Golden Poo trophy in 2012.
And the company is no different when it comes to its greed for money, which is clear as day when you consider that this is a company that has been selling fundamentally the same game since FIFA 17 – as every next iteration after it used the same game engine, Frostbite, that is heavily criticized for being unsuitable for a football game – for totally exorbitant prices, especially when fluctuating currencies and inflation is concerned in developing economies where football is most popular.
I’m not even getting into the whole charade of FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) card packs, which converted a proper football game into Texas Hold’em Poker when they were introduced as the new cash cow for EA Sports.
FIFA 17 was a game that at least offered a change and warranted an upgrade thanks to its switch from the Ignite to the Frostbite game engine. But ever since, there has been no improvement in player movement animations, and whatever physics changes EA promised since then have never lived up to expectations.
Let’s give the devil his due though. The pace in technical development of video games had to get slower over time; it would be pretty unrealistic today to expect video game makers to be able to progress as fast as they could during the 1990s, which was a time that saw a proper switch from 2D to 3D graphics, and every new game set the bar higher. But over time, games have become so realistic that developing them even further in terms of graphical or mechanical qualities has become harder and harder. Take Cyberpunk 2077, or the Mafia 1 remake for example. They already look so fantastic and lifelike that developing better-looking games will be harder and harder by the day. The same goes for the FIFA series, which, to be honest, has to use a simple formula (it’s a football simulator, anyway) and there already is little room for improvement. But EA has added some pretty good modes over the years, including the beloved “Journey” mode that lets players enjoy a football game based on a plot with a proper cinematic theme. Unfortunately, EA removed that mode in recent iterations.
So, basically, EA has done everything they could to entertain FIFA fans, but what they have been failing to do for the last six years is to integrate better physics and player animations and finally remove those janky movements in order to produce a more realistic-looking football simulator.
They have failed at this, and will continue to fail for at least one more year as evidenced by the fact that the upcoming FIFA 22, which continues to use the same Frostbite engine and lacks better animations and movements. It goes without saying that it will also sell for unreasonable prices, especially if one buys the more expensive editions bundled with virtual FUT packs that don’t cost EA a dime to produce. They are virtual goods that are comprised of several lines of code that don’t have any risk of shortage, anyway. So EA can never fail to meet the demand from FIFA hardcores on that end.
But apparently, there is one FIFA game also based on Frostbite but at least justifies its existence, purely because it’s “free”: FIFA Online 4. Let’s take a look.
To be brutally honest, there really is no justification for criticizing EA Sports merely for introducing a free-to-play FIFA. As FIFA Online 4 is also based on Frostbite, it is sure to offer a pretty close football simulation compared to its expensive-to-buy counterpart played extensively by millions of FIFA fans around the world.
Of course, the experience can never be exactly the same in the two games, one of which is sold for high prices while the other is free.
FIFA Online 4 does not come with all the modes that FIFA 21 has. It is online-only and is offered exclusively in Asian countries, as far as my research goes. There is so little information on the internet about it, and maybe that’s because it’s not available in the Anglophone world. Many Asian countries, including South Korea, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Vietnam apparently have it, and the game has just recently arrived in Turkey with early access too; and everybody here will be enjoying the game when it is officially released on Sept. 2.
Another interesting thing is, EA Sports does not distribute the game itself. A Russian game company called “101XP.com” seems like the official venue to download and play the game. There must have been some sort of outsourcing by EA Sports to a company that, I guess, is mainly active in Asian countries.
The Moscow-based website has a dedicated section for FIFA Online 4. The only thing you have to do is to sign up and download the game to play it if you are living in one of the countries where the game is available.
Even though the Turkish translations on the 101XP website are generally rough, I didn’t have a hard time navigating my way around.
After downloading its client and running it, the PC-only FIFA Online 4 starts to download for installation, which is done via the client app.
The whole situation surrounding the game does look so mind-blowingly unofficial. You have to sign up as a member of a Russian game company, whose website includes some really bad translations to play an American-made game not even offered in English yet and is only released in local languages. To be honest, 101XP seems to have done a good job distributing the game so far as millions in Asian countries love playing it. Now that I had a chance too, there was no way I wasn’t going to try it. It was “free,” after all. I did not regret playing it. Here’s why.
Free-to-play games exist to make money from a free game. Game developers use every tactic in the book to get people to spend their hard-earned cash on a free game. When we look at the numbers, we can easily see that some managed to do it well. Take Fortnite. Epic’s battle royale shooter is free to play, but a survey has found that nearly 70% of its fans spend money on the game. Only three out of 10 people play the free game for free. When you consider that the average payment stands at $85 per person, not $60 or $70 that are the price tags of most popular paid games, you can understand that Epic has chosen the right path to make a fortune; offering the game for free, getting people hooked on it, and subconsciously forcing them to pay actual, real-world money. As many gamers playing Fortnite don’t want to look like a default character in the game, they spend their money to buy virtual skins.
But Fortnite is nowhere near a pay-to-win game. Whatever it offers is purely cosmetic, and has no effect on game mechanics.
Things are not so bright on EA’s side though. Ever since the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) mode was introduced in the series, it has always been called pay-to-win, especially in the upper echelons where only the best gamers compete with the best players money can buy.
Nevertheless, the company apparently wants a better brand perception in Asia it seems. In FIFA Online 4, things are not so pay-to-win compared to the FUT mode in paid versions of the game, say FIFA 21 or FIFA 22.
There are two modes when you start the game: You can either pick a team to play with real-life squads or make your own “Fantasy Team” (the FUT equivalent in FIFA Online 4) from the ground up with the players you get from card packs or buy on the transfer market.
Yes, it is still a grind to be able to gather every talent you want in your team without spending any money, but it is significantly easier to open a card pack and get a high-quality right-winger that averages 80 out of 100 in footballing abilities. That’s because of the new system EA uses in the free version of FIFA. It is not as hard as FUT to obtain the card of a high-class footballer; if you can learn to live with an Mbappe that averages 75 or 80 instead of his true performance, which would easily top a score of 95. The grind starts right here; you play more and more to develop the skills of a player. If you don’t develop him, you’ll have an underperforming athlete on the pitch. But at least it’s not like FUT, where you start off with the worst of the worst to make you feel obliged to purchase card packs to be able to play at a decent level.
Also featuring a transfer market like the full game, FIFA Online 4 lets gamers buy and sell cards featuring a broad spectrum of real-life footballers. The more a player’s abilities are improved, the more money they will sell for on the market.
Also having 2v2 and 3v3 modes, you can team up with your friends and enjoy some football action for literally zero dollars. And that’s the best thing about the game itself. If you are not playing competitively and just want to have some fun, just tell your friends to install it and have a blast online if you are living in one of the countries that the game is available. If you are living in a place where FIFA Online 4 isn’t available yet, I’m pretty sure a virtual private network (VPN) service would work just fine, but you have to have a super fast internet connection to be able to compensate for possible ping spikes caused by distance to servers and a speed drop caused by the VPN. It goes without saying that the English version of the game is still in development so you may have to dabble with foreign languages if you do not feel confident enough to tinker with the game code for English language support, so keep that in mind. There are several simple tutorials on YouTube to get you going, though.
The Turkish version of the game comes with Turkish commentator support, which is a super cool feature we have been waiting for in the main FIFA series. Nebil Evren and Murat Kosova, two well-known commentators apparently did a fantastic job. They really add soul and reality into the game and it feels fantastic to hear them speak as if you were watching a proper football game. Another "feature" we FIFA fans have been waiting for years is to save our controller configurations properly. EA Sports has been literally ignoring FIFA fans' demands for years now and has yet to solve the glitch many players face while trying to save their custom controller configurations. Fix it already EA – spend like a day's worth of FUT card pack sales to finance a solution that is so badly needed. I am so sick of reconfiguring my controller settings before every single session on my PlayStation or Xbox. It was the same on FIFA 17, and it's still the same on FIFA 21. There is no guarantee; some people do face the issue and some don't. But I personally know many people having this extremely annoying glitch and nothing helps solve it, especially under two-controller and two-user configurations, also known as good old couch multiplayer.
Long story short, give FIFA Online 4 a shot. It’s a proper alternative to the paid version, and it’s online only so you will always be facing real people in the matches. Plus, it’s completely free to play. But remember, while you can always treat yourself to a microtransaction responsibly, don’t let that “free-to-play” comfort lure you into bankruptcy. It’s a trap. And as EA Sports is behind this title, being cautious sure is the way to go.
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