Last year I came down harsh on my verdict for FIFA 18. I just didn’t enjoy every match resulting in over 10 goals and I couldn’t stand the fact that I was expected to play up to 40 games every weekend just to try and compete with the best in the world on Ultimate Team. Judging by the quality of FIFA 19, it sounds like its predecessor was a huge wake-up call for EA. FIFA 19 is what FIFA 18 should have been. It is the result of a formula that has almost been perfected. Despite being a hardcore FIFA player, this year there is plenty to keep even the most casual gamer (but serious football fan) interested.
The inclusion of the Champions League is EA’s biggest offering for single player enthusiasts. You’re reminded from the moment you load up the game for the first time that EA finally has the license to include club football’s greatest competition into the world’s most popular football title. As the Champions League anthem roars louder than your TV volume’s settings, you’d be fooled into thinking that FIFA 19 is primarily about presentation rather than anything of real substance under the hood.
Instead, this is actually the first time that I have truly bought into the hype of the gameplay marketing terms that EA have used to showcase the new mechanics. In particular, EA has introduced a new precision ball control system, which although sounds like a gimmick, is far from it. The right stick is now far more than just a trick stick. Instead, it is what allows you to control how your player opens or closes his body when taking the first touch. A player with poor control stats is more likely to require multiple touches. Players with better ability can even flick the ball up in the direction you desire, which allows you to line yourself up for a volley or sometimes even draw a foul if the opponent uses high pressure. In fact, the gameplay generally has gone through an incredible amount of refinement that only us FIFA veterans can appreciate.
One of the biggest changes is how both teams players’ will try to win 50:50s. In FIFA 18, loose balls were just not contested much. The game often used to favour attackers, and this was particularly evident during kick off. However, FIFA 19 scraps all of this and goes back to the drawing board. Now, no matter who you are, every player will attempt to challenge for the ball. Aggression stats play a huge part as certain players are more likely to win the duels if they are more aggressive and have faster reaction times. It means you have an opportunity to win the ball back even if you fail the first time. Of course, if you have a player like David Silva controlling the ball, there is always risk that he will embarrass his opponent multiple times.
Probably the toughest change to master has been the introduction of certain actions by pressing L1+R1. By pressing these two bumpers and X, you can now initiate a manual pass. Driven shots are also carried out by pressing R1+L1. You can carry out downwards headers by pressing these buttons too. It becomes particularly difficult to execute a move with L1+R1 because it is not a naturally reaction to press those two at the same time. I often found myself forgetting to press one of the buttons and chipping the ball instead. Gamers who acquire the SCUF Vantage over time will get an advantage due to being able to press the paddles more comfortably.
Shooting is where EA has really spiced things up. They heard the community and have made the art of scoring a goal much more challenging and therefore rewarding. As mentioned, you already have to press L1+R1 to carry out a driven shot. However, a new timed finishing mechanic has also been introduced. The timed finish requires players to press shoot twice. The second time must be timed perfectly based on who the player is, what position he is standing in, what foot is going to take the shot etc. if executed correctly, the shot becomes more accurate (it is still not guaranteed to go in the back of the net). However, if the player misses the timed finish, the shot is very likely to go wide. It really isn’t easy to perfect this, and I am yet to master the art. The game was crying out for such a mechanic. It also means that people cannot just spam the shoot button when the ball is bouncing around the box, as spamming the shoot button will initiate a poorly timed finish. EA has also neutralized the ease at which players could shoot from long distances. If you still have the likes of Pogba or De Bruyne, you can still carry out long shots in style, however goalkeeper AI is much improved; the overpowered long shot finesse is a thing of the past.
EA has also massively reduced the pace of many players, especially on Ultimate Team. The likes of Mbappe and Aubemeyang are still 90+, however many other players have taken massive pace downgrades. This is clearly to ensure that gamers don’t just abuse pacey players to get the job done. This year however, more than ever, pace is not as essential as it once used to be. As an example, I was lucky enough to pack CR7 in Ultimate Team. I came up against a team with Vincent Kompany, who has approximately 50 pace. However, somehow Kompany was able to keep up with CR7 in a one-on-one race to the ball. At times it did feel that pace was just a stat and didn’t actually have much meaning, but I hope it was just because both players were quite high on stamina. What matters now is a combination of other stats (in addition to pace). Agility and balance is key. Players also drain on stamina much faster, so high-pressure for 90 minutes is no longer a viable option unless you’re confident you can get the goals early on.
Passing has also vastly improved. The introduction of the manual pass allows the gamer to finally play the perfect threaded ball that might not work if they use the automated assisted passing. In addition, the pitch on FIFA 19 feels smaller (in reality it probably isn’t, but it certainly felt like I had less time on the ball). Having a player great on both feet and who can pass perfectly well is incredibly important this year. Chances in front of goal are rarer than in FIFA 18, and having a playmaker who can pull the strings only helps maximize the chances you get. I currently have De Bruyne and Pogba in my FUT squads, who may not be the fastest players, but are able to pass extremely well with both feet. Pogba’s additional ability to shield the ball well also buys me some time to think about my next move.
All of these gameplay changes results in a silky-smooth, free-flowing gameplay experience. I feel that as things stand, AI defending takes over a little too much and makes attacking harder. However, I’d rather keep it this way than have games go back to over 10 goals. I am sure there will be a gameplay patch, however I highly suggest that EA takes its time to perfect the minor changes, because that’s all that’s needed. Also, if you think that ping-pong passing is gone, you’ll be disappointed. That mechanic still remains and in some cases, is even more evident. I still feel that players’ passing accuracies are too high. Assisted passing is still too assisted. If you want to ping-pong pass, you should be forced to do it using the new manual mechanic.
Whilst the inclusion of Champions League adds a new level of authenticity to the game, I felt it was really just a new skin. After all, FIFA already had tournament modes that simulated the UCL, so all they’ve really added is new UCL skins and music to make the entire package more authentic. Of course, in FUT, you will now get UCL-specific cards. To complement the UCL, Lee Dixon and Derek Rae have offered their voices for the commentary. They’ll make references to even last season’s UCL and in particular, Real Madrid’s outstanding achievement. What’s more impressive is that there are 16 new La Liga stadiums to enjoy playing in. Even the new Spurs stadium is in the game, which is pretty special considering the stadium has not yet been fully constructed.
FIFA 19’s offline modes also contain some brand new kick-off match types. Firstly, you can finally enjoy FIFA 19 with house rules. Here, you can set up your own rules prior to kick off. These can be as crazy as goals only counting if they are from volleys or headers, to no rules whatsoever (yes, you can foul and break each other’s legs as much as you want). The No Rules mode is particularly enjoyable as there are no offisides, no fouls, and therefore the match pretty much carries on without breaks. Somehow, EA Sports has also jumped onto the battle royale bandwagon and introduced a survival mode, where if your team scores, your team loses a player. Here, there is actually some strategy involved, as you may wish to give up some of your players early on by scoring, or even let the opponent score first so the opponent has less players. Frustratingly, none of these new modes can be played online. How EA thought that gamers will not want to play No Rules casually with friends online in 2v2s or even 1v1s is beyond me.
Unfortunately, one of my favourite modes, Pro Clubs, has remained totally untouched. The menus are exactly the same, the way you build your pro is the same and the entire interface just feels outdated. Whilst you can still create your own kit, I suspect that the game is still plagued with the same issues as last year, namely that if you use your own custom kit, the game will have a tougher time figuring out what kit colour you have and therefore match you up against opponents with similar colours. The lack of attention for Pro Clubs is extremely disappointing considering it has the most potential for eSports. I am hopeful that FIFA 20 will place a huge emphasis on Pro Clubs.
The Journey also continues and is also the final stretch of Alex Hunter’s campaign. Surprisingly, the story mode actually lasts quite a long time, and this is largely down to the fact that the story also focuses on his sister, Kim, and Danny Williams. They are all professional footballers who are struggling with everyday life. It must be hard being a Galactico and a World Cup star! For those who only buy FIFA for the single player experience, there is enough meat on the bone with The Journey: Champions. I personally found parts of the campaign a little stretched. The biggest problem is that the mode doesn’t feel connected with the new additions in the game. Why not allow Alex Hunter to enjoy a No Rules match casually?
Ultimate Team is where the big boys come out to play. On the surface, it looks the same. However, FUT is where EA has really listened to its community. The people cried out for a shorter weekend league, and EA delivered by changing the 40 game limit to just 30. The community cried out for more Prime Icons. Not only has EA introduced a lot more icons, all Prime Icons are in packs from day one. The community wanted to know the pack odds, and EA has also delivered on this (although I was left a little unimpressed at the extremely low odds of packing a player over 86-rated). People wanted to be able to play FUT Champions without the stress of the qualifying tournament. Now, EA has introduced Division Rivals which is a new way to play matches, become part of a ‘division’ and also secure points that can be redeemed for entry into the Weekend League at any point in the future.
At the time of writing this review, Weekend League hasn’t officially started, but changing the number of matches from 40 to 30 was probably the biggest change that gamers wanted. Even 30 games per weekend is an insane amount, but it means that the requirements to get to gold tier are more manageable. EA has also introduced a new pack type called ‘Player Picks’. If you get a Player Pick pack, you get a selection of 5 cards, out of which you can only keep one. Luckily, the Player Pick packs I have obtained so far have not left me in a dilemma, but I am sure soon someone will get a pack that requires them to choose between the likes of Neymar or Messi! I suppose in that situation gamers will always go for the more valuable player.
Apart from that, Ultimate Team remains largely unchanged. I am sure EA will pull off some more promotional content for UCL in the near-future. They have already started releasing UCL Player Pick packs and special UCL cards for those who have pre-ordered the game. SBCs are a great way for you to sacrifice players for additional packs, and I am sure there will be a lot of UCL content tied into SBCs. I feel this year that the skill gap between the pro players and us average gamers will be a lot smaller, which will only frustrate the pros. EA has also been very transparent with the way the Weekend League matchmaking system works. There is a form-based system where players with similar wins:losses ratios will match up against each other. This ensures that whoever manages to get to Elite 1 on Weekend League has done it by beating others on a similar form. Although the Weekend League has been changed to just 30 games, I anticipate that it will be more challenging than ever.
FIFA 19 is the game that we all deserve. It is the result of a year’s worth of frustration from devoted fans who refuse to play any other football game. Although some modes like Pro Clubs haven’t received any TLC from the game developers, EA has perfected the Ultimate Team model to give gamers a variety of ways to compete. The introduction of Division Rivals adds just one more way that you can qualify for Weekend League and also win some nice prizes. Most importantly, the gameplay has been fine-tuned with adjustments that makes it a more balanced, fluid and enjoyable football experience. Coupled with a better soundtrack too, I am sure that the FIFA community will agree that the game has come a long way over the past year.
[Updated Post FIFA Patch]: Although FIFA 19 got off to a rocky start gameplay-wise, EA has continued to release patches at a steady pace that has resulted in significant gameplay improvements. In particular, patching certain overpowered methods of scoring goals (bicycle kicks, finesse shots from outside the box etc.) has resulted in a more balanced playing field.