FIFA09: Ultimate Team – 1st impressions

I’m on record as calling Master League in PES the best game mode ever created. I’m also on record, many times, as judging Manager Mode in FIFA (particularly in FIFA09) to be an empty, rather pointless experience.

I’m not into playing online. So, for the past 6 months, it’s been Manager Mode or nothing for me and FIFA09. I’ve been trying to get into Manager Mode. I’ve tried to milk it for what it has to offer. Things were progressing recently… but now along comes something called Ultimate Team.


There is one thing I want to say straight away about Ultimate Team. I want to shout it from the rooftops. For the first hour of playing Ultimate Team in FIFA09 I was reminded, again and again, of Master League.

Is Ultimate Team a Master League for FIFA? No, not quite. But it’s getting there. It’s approaching the ballpark.

Ultimate Team is a downloadable expansion for FIFA09. You get a five-match demo for free, after which you have to pay to unlock the full game. I paid my money after playing two matches in the demo. I knew it was going to be worth it.

It’s now 3 days since I first played Ultimate Team, and I have to say that I’ve already got my money’s worth. (About £8.50.) Even if it’s all downhill from now on, I’m satisfied with my purchase. And it won’t be all downhill from now on. All the signs are that I’m just getting started.

It’s a tough one to summarise. Before, I had only a vague idea of what Ultimate Team was. Imagine Master League re-engineered with Pokemon-style playing cards, and without a league mode… No, that’s doing UT a disservice. Let me try again.

You start off with a Default team of no-hopers (sounding familiar) that you have to build up into, well, an ultimate team capable of beating the very best. You play matches—tournaments, or one-off ‘club matches’, online or offline—that accrue ‘coins’ which you use to buy new card packs, that can contain new players, new grounds, new skills, new contracts for your existing players…

I created my club, and named them Allover Rovers. It seemed like a good name at the time. You have one permanent player whom you create before starting, just as in Be a Pro. I created myself, naturally, as a skilful central midfielder. Here I am playing in my team’s dodgy current home kit:


There’s a huge amount to assimilate. It’s intimidating at first. There are purchasable/tradeable cards for everything. Stadia, kits, attributes, managers, coaches… all these and more can be picked up or laid down, traded in, or pasted into a virtual Panini sticker album…

I was lost for most of that first session. What the hell is this? That? Uh? Luckily the anchor is the game itself, FIFA09. As in Master League, there is real pride and a sense of achievement—of incremental progression—to be had from playing Ultimate Team matches with your team, with your players. There’s a whole Team Chemistry gameplay mechanic that’s much more important (and involving) than its Manager Mode equivalent.

I lost all but a few of my first games. I scored no goals. After about ten matches, and enough ‘coins’ earned, I had enough to search online for the Left Midfielder I badly needed, and a better striker to replace my Default striker. Results picked up. Then they dipped once more. At the moment I’m on a weird losing run of several matches, and I desperately need to save for a speedy winger, or another good striker.

Again: does this all sound suspiciously familiar, or what?

Ah, but Ultimate Team lacks a sturdy, comprehensive offline mode. If I could play with my team—Allover Rovers—in an offline Master League-type setup, I’d declare the eternal football game war eternally over, and FIFA the winner. But as things stand all you get to do with your Ultimate Team is play online against other Ultimate Teams, or play offline against single-instance CPU teams. However, there are a range of offline tournaments to play, and I will do so next. I also may—may—play online, just to see what it feels like.

Oh, and this new expansion pack has a new commentator. Step forward Mr Clive Tyldesley, the commentator whom I rate as the best I’ve ever heard on a football game. Icing, meet cake.


  1. Hi not-Greg. Is the player on the photo a somewhat accurate depiction of your real self? Do you have a bald haircut in real life? It’s great news that we have a Zinedine Zidane type of player in our helms.
    Cheers mate!

  2. steph_wheeler – I do indeed shave my head in real life. I started doing so about ten years ago when I started going thin on top. After a few months of denial and ‘strategic combing’ (you’d better pray you never find out what I’m talking about there), I picked up a set of hair clippers and went for the shaved look, and have never regretted it.

  3. That day will always haunt me greg, I look terrible with a skin head!

    The game sounds brilliant though, although like you. I’d prefer if it was all offline. So you do ‘trade’ these cards with other people online? Or is there just a bank of random generated players within the game?

    Sounds intriging all the same, if its not included in FIFA10. I may have to pick up a copy of FIFA09 when it drops in price.

  4. Don’t worry not-Greg. We still love you the same and your great website. I sympathize with you guys. (I have my reasons. . . . I myself am concerned :-D).

    Chris Bauer’s new podcast is very interesting. He talks about Ultimate Team and Be a Pro. The podcast has some familiar points, which you raise here, about online mode. He also talks about the issue of using manual controls online. . . . Also there seem to be some problems with Ultimate Team with regards to finding a team that has similar star rating to you. Apparently, the majority of those you will find online are already flying high in terms of development, having bought gold cards from the outset, etc. and being much more active than other users.

    Maybe you can discuss that in your next blog. Can’t wait for your “2nd Impressions'” post. . . . Please do eventually give Become a Legend a go. I have no interest in it whatsoever but others have raised more than enough interest.

    The wait for new PES / Fifa news continues. Where is that weekend podcast Suff promised us?

    Take care mate.

  5. Paww – I have still to play Ultimate Team online, despite that being its main thrust. I’m loving it offline at the moment, as far as it goes (not far enough).

    Trading is indeed possible online. There’s a mini-eBay within the Ultimate Team mode that exists solely for the purposes of buying/selling/trading the cards between humans. The players are only one aspect of it. There are cards for stadia, kits, managers, physios, special conditions in a match (e.g. you can boost your striker’s shooting for 30 mins, etc.), and many more categories to boot.

    The cards come in Bronze, Silver, and Gold packs, which cost an escalating number of ‘coins’ each, that you earn by playing matches and fulfilling certain criteria. It’s not just the result. You get bonus coins for possession, for no yellow cards, etc. I think there are about 20 parameters determining how many coins you earn per match. It’s all very deep.

    Off the field, there are certain elements that guarantee a Master League-style struggle early on. You need a particular card to extend a player’s contract, for example, and you often get a couple of them in every pack. But often you don’t get any, and if you haven’t got enough coins to buy another pack then you have to deselect the player(s) for your next match or risk losing them for good. Then you have to spend whatever you earn from your next match on another pack, to try and get that pesky contract card. It all makes for a slow progression, as it’s very hard to save coins for Silver packs (i.e. better players, stadia, etc.) when you’re almost always having to buy new Bronze packs to get the contract cards that you need to get your best players to play!

    There are paid packs as well, which cost 20 MS Points on XBLA. I doubt I’ll ever bother with them, as I prefer to try to progress using the in-game mechanic of accumulating coins and using them to buy the existing packs, or trading with other players. After fruitlessly wating ages to get a Left Midfielder in a Bronze pack, I picked up a much-needed Left Midfielder on the trading market the other night—very nice indeed. I hear there is already—predictably—an elite group of players who have bought their way to the top by purchasing Gold packs for real money. That’s fair enough—it’s their money and they can spend it how they choose—but I prefer to tootle along with my painful slow progress. I’m still trying to save for my first Silver pack after 5 days with the game.

  6. steph_wheeler – see my last comment ^^^ for a lot of what will be in the 2nd impressions of Ultimate Team.

    Re. online, it’s all moot for me as I may never play UT online at all, and if I do, it’ll only be a couple of matches here and there.

    And tomorrow’s post will be about Become A Legend. Yep, I’ve played it at last.

  7. Allright — you’ve sold me. I’m about to start up Ultimate Team mode and see how it goes. 🙂

    Would love to get that “Master League” feeling back — as the current PES Master League doesn’t have it either.

  8. Sounds brilliant greg, very tempted by it.

  9. ck & Paww – Be sure to take full advantage of the 5-match demo. I think that’d be long enough for you to decide if the full game’s for you or not.

  10. I loved the game. Like you, I felt that it re-captured the old Master League feel, but there is one hitch (and it’s a biggie). Player contracts. I don’t get the point of building an ‘ultimate team’ that you can’t keep around. Contracts are short (a handful of games) and contract cards are few.

    Do I have to buy pack after pack looking to extend my contracts, and just ditching 90% of the cards therein? What’s the point of developing a player you won’t be able to keep, because you’re constantly turning over teams?

    Maybe there’s something I’m not getting here, but it sure looks like a fly in the ointment.

  11. I guess you’re supposed to build a team around one or two players, and continually rotate the supporting cast?

    If Gold packs are 5,000 — that’s about 10 games, or in all practicality the turnover of an entire team. So if I’m saving for a gold pack, in the meantime, I’ve lost all my other players — even buying bronze packs is about at a game per pack ratio, so I’ll be filling in the gaps with low-rated players saving up for my gold pack at which point I’ll have a handful of really good players, that probably don’t play the same system and who I won’t be able to keep for very long in any case.

    Now, if I’m missing something, somebody correct me, but this is how I read the game (after 2-3 days play).

    It’s a clever idea, but not being able to keep players means there’s no real building to be done. It’s more “play some matches, get some new players, play some matches.”

  12. ck – I’ve maintained the same core of players in my UT XI since Day 1, so it might be a peculiarity of your setup. Maybe the game randomly gave you loads of players with contracts all synced up to run out at once?

    One thing you might not have caught onto is that the players whose contracts are down to 1 can be put in the reserves and will stay there indefinitely until such time as you get a contract card to bring them back.

    I haven’t had so many players’ contracts all run out at the same time that it’s been unmanageable. I’ve always been able to keep the players I wanted to keep. Occasionally I have to play a game or two with one or two of my better players in the reserves, and then top them up after getting a new pack. It is a pain constantly having to rebuy Bronze packs to get the contract cards. I still haven’t got a Silver pack to my name. I’m still playing on world Class difficulty and it is tough to get results with average players.

    Still, I’m enjoying it as far as it goes. One idea that I’m working on at the moment is to do a ‘Silver pack rush’, i.e. rest all the players I have to and just play as many matches as I need to with the remaining players until I get to that Silver pack level.

    I’m also playing online—and enjoying it. I know, I can’t believe it either. It feels different with your own team that you’ve built up and held together with hard work. (It is possible!) Tomorrow’s post will be all about it.

    If you do take your UT XI online, one thing to be wary of is that the game doesn’t give you that helpful warning about selected players being on the last games of their contracts. I lost my only Left Midfielder that way. 🙁

  13. Yes, I can put guys in the reserve, but unfortunately, they’ll stay there, which is the equivalent of not having them at all.

    Here’s my point — in the tournament match I’m about to go into, 4 of my starting eleven are on their last contract. I bought a bronze pack of cards solely to get contract cards, and wheeee I got one. So now should I buy 3 more bronze packs? I don’t want any bronze players, or another ‘strict ref’ gameplay card.

    Further, the bronze contract card only keeps one of my silver players around for another 3 matches. A silver pack will require 4-5 more matches to earn, and by that point, I’ll have 7 or 8 of my best 11 with a contract of 1.

    So how do I keep this team together? Because I don’t see a way, and it makes me wonder why I bothered building it. Maybe I’d just be better off running through a succession of crappy bronze players who don’t play together well, and save up for a Gold pack every 10 matches or so?

    The core premise for me is that you build a team, but I’m not going to be able to keep the team I’ve built together, sadly.

    I think that I jumped too far forward in that I’ve picked up a bunch of silver players in the trading zone, and now I can’t maintain them. Maybe I’ll just kick them all to the curb and build a different team.

    (^ Do you know what ‘kick them to the curb’ means? Is that an Americanism?)

  14. ck—‘kick them to the kerb‘, is what we’d say 😉

    Sounds like you have bitten off more than you can chew with your Silver players—kind of like getting some big-name players you can’t afford in a mid-season negotiation in Master League, and then finding yourself facing a Game Over. Ultimate Team has a similar mechanic built-in, and just like ML’s pitfall it is avoidable. I’ve still only got two Silvers in my squad, and one of them is me! (Well, he’s that not-Greg player whom I created and have since trained up a bit.) My Bronze players are all decent, 60+ Overall rating, and I’m slowly but surely getting close to my first Silver pack. I’ve looked at Silver players in the trade screens and I could get a few there if I wanted them, but I feared the exact scenario that you’ve run into.

    Also a small squad size is important. About 20 players seems to be best. This is something that has to be carefully managed, especially at the moment. Because as of today the game has started adding all players from all new packs to my squad without asking me if I want them first. Eh?!

    Try going down to a core set of players, rotating some of them to Reserves when necessary. After a while you should always have enough contract cards to keep the wolf from the door, and start to build up those coins. It’s definitely possible to build a team and keep it together, I promise you. Or at least, to keep the players you want to keep.

    If you take your XI online, I cannot emphasise enough to check all player and staff contracts before every match. You don’t get the friendly warning, so it’s all up to you. I didn’t just lose my Left Midfielder (one of my best players). I lost my manager too at one point. Goodbye hard-won Team Chemistry. I had 5 player contract cards and 3 staff ones just sitting in my deck too. Gutted.

  15. I re-started my team, and am sticking with Bronze players for now, concentrating on building my teamwork.

    I still maintain that the contracts are too short, and I don’t think the math is there to support 11 players of any level, regardless. I think you’re supposed to rotate your squad continually, around a core of players.

    Tough break regarding your manager — there *extra* aren’t enough staff contract cards to support a manager, plus first team coach, etc.

    Here’s a question about the game economics — do I ever get more than 400-600 points per match? If that number went up to 3-4k, then I can see sustaining a team built from gold players, but otherwise, it just isn’t possible.

    Am I missing the point thinking I’m supposed to build a team, rather than play with the players fate deals me?

  16. ck – After last night (50/50 between offline and online play) I’ve got five Silver players in my team, and I’m keeping the team together without too much trouble. Whenever one or more of them hits the 1 game contract mark and I have no contract cards, they go in the reserves. It’s never for more than one or two games. Other players—Bronze players—fill in for them. I’m keeping a squad of 20 together, although the game is annoying me now by moving EVERY new player from every new pack straight into the squad, disrupting my carefully-ordered deck.

    I also lost my Physio through online carelessness last night and only noticed after a few games of my team always being knackered. I picked up another Physio on the slooooooow trading screens. They’re my only two staff members at the moment—Physio and Manager. My new manager has a +2 Negotiations modifier, which means that I get +2 on the contracts of every new negotiation. Maybe this is helping me out a lot too—why not have a mooch around for a manager with that modifier?

    I have got as many as 900 points for winning a game, a 3-0 win offline. Playing on World Class boosts the final tally.

    Last night online I played against several 5-star teams (got badly mauled once, but only narrowly beaten the other times). There are tons of these five-star teams around now, packed out with Gold players, Morientes, Torres, Fabregas, etc. etc., and presumably Gold managers, physios, etc. I think your current troubles with the game would be a massive permanent front-page topic on EA’s Ultimate Team forum if it was a common issue. I’ve popped into that forum a few times over the past week and don’t remember it cropping up, and it’s not there at the time of typing. [EDIT: just found this thread.] If it’s happened to you it’s bound to have happened to others, though, so there’s got to be some discussion on there somewhere.

    I have yet to see my first Silver/Gold pack, but I imagine they have beefed-up contract cards too. It’s just a question of getting over that hump and building up enough coins to always have a cushion.

  17. Hi not-Greg, i was curious about this game mode – but you convinced me – im going to download over the weekend – it sounds great!

  18. Neil – hope you like it, and remember you get a 5-match demo before having to buy the full game. It is worth the eight quid IMO. I’ve paid lots more for many games that barely make it out of their boxes, and just sit gathering dust.

    All this cheerleading for Ultimate Team is making me look more and more at PES, and at what has been done and NOT done with PES in this console generation. If—IF—Konami can somehow pull the sword from the stone with PES2010, there’ll be no one happier than me, but as things stand EA and FIFA are beating the living daylights out of PES.

  19. Konami won’t even find the stone in 2010. I’m sorry, but they have not shown us indication number one that indicates that they get it. 2008 was awful, and 2009 was only bearable in that it wasn’t as buggy as 2008.

    The king is dead. Long live the king!

    For me, if FIFA ’10 can serve me a greater variety of goals, I’m kicking Konami to the corner, because even the kerb doesn’t play PES anymore.

  20. i completely agree with the contract situation but you have to understand that anyone bad at fifa who rushes into a 5 star team fall apart within 20 -30 games as they constantly get thrashed by 1 star killers

  21. matty g – I haven’t been back online with my Ultimate Team for a week now, as BaL has kind of taken over for the moment. But I hear things are even worse online with the 5-star teams, as was inevitable really. Still, it makes it all the more satisfying to play them with lower-starred teams.

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