FIFA 19 is different, and in the best kind of way. It’s not as if you can’t distinguish it from its predecessors, of course, but the game has gone through some major changes when compared to last year’s entry. It has arguably the biggest change in general gameplay between two titles that I’ve seen in a long time, and represents the best of both worlds in the world of football — for better and for worse.
The biggest cosmetic change in this year’s iteration of the beautiful game comes via the addition of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions. It’s been a long time coming, and the reintroduction of the two biggest club European football competitions in the world brings with it a slew of great changes. Not only do matches have a ‘big game’ feeling to them now, but the introduction of commentators Lee Dixon and Derek Rae are fantastic, changing up the commentary seen in other competitions in the game — further adding to the atmosphere of the occasion. The negative to new commentators — as you might imagine, if you’ve played FIFA for any number of years — is that repeated lines tend to become glaringly obvious after a couple of matches in either competition, hurting the immersion. It’s a great start, though, and the big match atmosphere is fantastic — bringing these competitions back to FIFA has been something I’ve been hopeful of for many years, and EA has delivered in spades.
"While EA has been touting it for quite a few years, I feel like FIFA 19 finally nails 50/50 battles in a way that feels realistic..."
When the Champions League music is finished, the applause are over, and the match officially starts, seasoned FIFA 18 players will notice quite a difference in how FIFA 19 plays. The biggest change, for me, is how movement feels in this year’s game. Not only do players feel a lot more weighty in FIFA 19, the speedsters of the game don’t quite have the explosive power that they did in last year’s game. I struggled to pull off many overlapping runs with Paris Saint Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, for instance, though I had no issues with that in FIFA 18. Defenders now track runs much better, anticipate shots quicker, and intercept slightly misplaced passes with relative ease. It’s a big change, though one that I really appreciate. It feels like we’re slowly getting closer to playing out what many of us watch on the tele every weekend, and that — for the most part — can only be a good thing.
While EA has been touting it for quite a few years, I feel like FIFA 19 finally nails 50/50 battles in a way that feels realistic, too. Smaller defenders who are pulled out of position and have to mark the big, tall number 9 will almost always lose out to a header now, whereas midfield maestros will struggle to cope with a 50/50 ball when a midfield tank is competing with them. Animation work has been refined for this and player movement in particular, and looks fluid. I found that corners were harder to pull off now as well, given the 50/50 battle refinements and AI being altered to the point where hit and hope crosses are almost always intercepted and headed away by opposition defenders.
The two other key inclusions to FIFA 19’s gameplay come by way of timed finishing and reactive flicks. The former is a new way of getting more power and accuracy in your shots, though I haven’t really seen a huge difference in how I normally play so far. Pulling off a timed finish shot is tough, as it requires two taps of the shoot button — one to initiate the shot, and the other to stop in the ‘green’ area, which will give you a more powerful and accurate shot. The trick to it is for the second tap of the shoot button to come when your player makes connection with the ball, though, again, I didn’t really see a huge difference between a normal shot and a timed finish. The only major difference is if that second tap isn’t when your player makes connection, and you shank the ball — meaning there’s a risk and reward system to it. My recommendation is to give it a go when you’re trying to crack one in from outside the box or want to give a header a bit more power, otherwise stick to normal finishing.
Reactive flicks are a slight change to the way players can react to oncoming defenders. Mapped to a flick of the right thumbstick (which controls your skill moves), players will now flick the ball up in the air in any direction you want. Timing this well, you can easily take a defender out of the equation with ease. It’s a great little change that I’ve been using quite a lot, though at times I did notice that it was unreliable and didn’t come off.
As someone who plays a lot of FIFA’s Career Mode, I was a bit perplexed as to why EA failed to mention some of the nice quality of life additions made to the mode this year. Arguably the biggest change — besides the inclusion of the Champions League and Europa League competitions, of course — is that kit badges on team kits will now change depending on what competition you’re playing in at the time. That means Premier League badges, for example, will be interchanged for Champions League badges when playing in the competition, with the same happening to teams who are promoted and relegated each season. I’m baffled as to why EA didn’t mention this at all prior to release, but this slight change up is fantastic and is one I’m happy to see finally make it into the game.
"Kick off has finally seen itself revitalised in FIFA this year, too, with a variety of new customisable game options to spice up the mode..."
Besides that, the introduction of fully customisable game plans also comes well appreciated in career mode. Mapped to the quick tactics changer on the d-pad, you’re now able to fully alter formations, attacking and defending styles, and player instructions rather than just going with basic options like park the bus or all out attack during a match. It’s a great change, and is another solid addition for players wanting to submerse themselves in all of the little bits and bobs of FIFA’s tactical options.
Kick off has finally seen itself revitalised in FIFA this year, too, with a variety of new customisable game options to spice up the mode. House Rules, as its officially known, gives you a handful of new, quirky modes to make use of in the game, ranging from survival — which sees players ejected from the field after scoring for their team — to no rules, which is exactly as the name suggests. Something I particularly liked in this mode is that stat tracking is thrown into overdrive here, meaning statistics like goal chances, saves, pass accuracy, and the like are all tracked and can be studied in the kick off menu. This is especially neat when you’re playing against mates, allowing you to dissect what happened post-game.
Alex Hunter’s story concludes in this year’s iteration of The Journey, which covers Alex, his estranged sister Kim, and friend Danny Williams’ exploits on and off the pitch. Taking control of the three characters in different stages of their career, with the former ready to take on the world stage across a range of European leagues (eventually finding himself at Real Madrid), Kim attempting to make the American Women’s World Cup squad, and Danny struggling to find his feet at a Premier League club, the 13 hour story is enjoyable, though failed to really make an impact like FIFA 17’s iteration of The Journey did. It’s too dramatic for the most part, and often fails to keep momentum rolling in a way that feels coherent and enjoyable. That said, the opening is one of my favourite moments in the entire Alex Hunter trilogy, and I thought the way each character’s story weaved in and out of one another’s was a great touch — managing to keep things interesting for the most part.
FIFA Ultimate Team, the series’ most popular mode, doesn’t see too many changes this year, though the introduction of Division Rivals — which has players competing for weekly rewards in divisions based on their skill level and results — nicely compliments the returning Weekend League. The latter, which has had its required games reduced from 40 matches a weekend to 30, will still be where most players ply their trade in FUT, though more things to do besides straight grinding for cards and packs will be a good change for players. That said, I’m still not a fan of the random pack drops and the money required to develop a good team to take online, though it will, of course, be the go-to for many.
This year’s FIFA sees a variety of notable changes to the formula, and makes for one of the better iterations of the series in quite some time. While most changes aren’t necessarily game changing, the introduction of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League licences are most certainly going to change the landscape of the series for some time to come. And while The Journey is fairly disappointing and FUT continues to dominate micro-transaction discussions, FIFA 19 is still an excellent package for football fans, and is well worth giving a crack.