EA UFC 3's premier multiplayer mode Ultimate Team is shaping up to completely revolve around its pay-to-win microtransactions, with the publisher seemingly set to wade into yet another controversy regarding its use of microtransactions.
Ultimate Team is a game type that EA uses across many of its various sports franchises, with it tasking players with building a team using cards that represent their real-world counterparts. While there has always been an element of paying real cash to get better players in these modes, with them being tucked inside randomized packs akin to loot boxes, they've typically remained thoroughly playable regardless of whether or not you've invested cash into them. UFC 3 changes that, making the game mode so reliant upon opening packs that, judging from its closed beta, it's incredibly difficult to imagine players being able to succeed in it without spending money.
I've been a FIFA player for a long time, and while I have inserted extra cash into its Ultimate Team mode here and there, the amount I've invested has been negligible. In FIFA 17 and FIFA 18 I didn't spend a dime, and playing against friends who had injected a surplus of cash into the mode, I never really felt at a major a disadvantage. Sure, they had higher rated cards of certain players by virtue of them opening more packs, but it's always been perfectly manageable to build a high-rated team of inexpensive players, or play its card trading market to increase your number of coins. It wasn't ideal, and I'd still rather not have been asked to funnel microtransactions into a game I'd already paid for, but it wasn't debilitating.
UFC 3 changes this by making each of the five fighters in your team fully upgradeable solely using loot boxes, which are purchased using either its in-game currency or, you guessed it, with real money. While Star Wars Battlefront 2's loot boxes were particularly pernicious and gave players distinct advantages for forking out more cash, in UFC 3 a player can essentially make themselves untouchable by spending an exponential amount of money on the mode, equipping their fighters with abilities that dramatically increase their stats and afford them new abilities.
Although EA tried to argue against its Battlefront 2 microtransactions being pay-to-win, if the full retail release of UFC 3 retains the same system as its beta when it makes its way to store shelves in February 2018, there's no denying that this is the case in its Ultimate Team mode. Starting out with an average fighter (that I also obtained from a pack, as each fighter can only be unlocked by way of finding them in a loot box), my strikes, grapples and takedown moves each barely did a lick of damage to my opponents. Only after forking out coins for loot boxes was I able to increase my stats, but even with low-level cards equipped, the damage I could inflict on my opponents was pitiful.
Taking my AI opponent to the ground, I landed between 20 - 30 solid hits to his head, a sequence that would have been stopped just a few shots in if playing in the game's normal modes. However, even after enduring a lengthy battering, my opponent emerged relatively unscathed, even getting back up onto his feet and continuing the fight. I was required to take him down a further two times and repeat this process until finally, mercifully, he went unconscious and gave me the KO victory.
This ridiculous battle occurred with a variety of ability cards already equipped, along with a couple of boosts / perks that, again, can only be obtained via loot boxes. It's easy to see how a player putting a few hundred dollars into UFC 3 would emerge with an immediate advantage, and one that would surely see them emerge victorious against any rivals with a fighter such as mine. This isn't a case of players being able to pay for minor advantages — my fighter was so hilariously underpowered that a light breeze could have knocked him over, if not for the easy AI the mode initially confronts you with. Though UFC 3's other multiplayer modes aren't affected by these microtransactions, considering that Ultimate Team is routinely the prime offering of EA's sports franchises, it's a shame to see it buried beneath loot boxes.
Though this is only UFC 3's closed beta, its Ultimate Team mode is built from the ground up to revolve around obtaining cards which can only be "earned" in its loot box-esque card packs. Without these cards fighters are left completely useless, and obtaining better ones can transform your team from a gang of amateurs to an undefeated mob of hard-hitters. If this is the way EA intends to implement this system in the final release of UFC 3, then it looks set to be the most egregious example of microtransactions in a retail release yet.