If you’ve been following FIFA 19 news in the past few weeks leading up to and past Gamescom, you might have been under the impression that the game was the least innovative of this generation’s football offerings. There was the talk of stagnation on both the gameplay and game mode fronts with many in the community resigning themselves to a lost year with little progression. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and you may be surprised to hear that FIFA 19 radically changes the FIFA gameplay formula, for better or for worse.
But let’s get game mode-talk out of the way, starting with the big money-maker. To be fair to EA, Ultimate Team was in a pretty great spot in FIFA 18. I may have found some of the rewards and card pack openings to be lacking and a bit unfair, but I can’t say that I didn’t have a lot of fun playing co-op Draft or packing ludicrous Team-of-the-Week cards in Squad Battles. The only notable addition this year comes in the way of the Division Rivals mode that acts as a ticket to the eSports focused FUT Champions Weekend League. But even if you’re not interested in competing at the highest level and would rather build a team for fun, you can still get a lot out of playing the new mode.
Division Rivals pairs you up with players in your skill level as you shoot up the ladder. The cool thing about the mode is the ability to choose between different rewards at the end of the week. On top of a few FUT Champs points to cash into the Weekend League, you could choose between 30,000 coins or two Mixed Player packs for example. While it doesn’t seem like a huge change, the previous rewards system may have made me ragequit a fair few times, so the addition of choice are very welcome.
Elsewhere, the all-new Kick-Off mode promotes a more casual gameplay setting where friends can choose between different handicaps, play tournament finals, best of 3’s, and a gluttony of party modes – all the while keeping track of their individual stats against each friend. These party modes include matches where each goal scored results in one of your players being sent off and others where different types of goals count for more overall score. What’s disappointing is that the Online Friendlies mode, which is essentially an online version of Kick-Off, doesn’t include the in-depth stats that its offline equivalent flaunts. This exclusionary, and frankly bizarre, attitude can also be seen in season three of The Journey.
One of the best parts of the mode is the atmosphere and activities during the training sessions with Alex Hunter’s teammates. Meanwhile, the training schemes featured in Career Mode are nowhere near as lively. Why not actually incorporate training matches or full-on training camps in Career Mode – something that is essential to the real-world sport. Both modes also share the esteemed distinction of having new licenses headline their biggest changes. The inclusion of Alex Hunter’s sister gives this year’s Journey a bit more variety, via the Women’s international competitions, alongside the plethora of characters you meet and play as. There are still those thrilling surprises in The Journey that have been featured in the last two seasons, but the fantasy of being an upcoming youth star just isn’t novel enough. The Journey seems like a middling effort instead of the shining opportunity to do something truly special that EA should see it as.
With Career Mode, it’s a little less frustrating as the UEFA Champions League, once exclusive to Konami’s Pro Evo, is a significant ‘addition’ and encourages me to move between clubs in search of European glory. However, in such a premiere mode, there are simply no excuses to not have included one or two of the dozens of fan-requested features that the FIFA community has been clamoring for. It just seems like further evidence that Ultimate Team’s sheer money-making capabilities are overshadowing other staple modes. Come to think of it, has Career Mode even seen the addition of a single significant feature this entire generation? It’s a question worth asking. And yes, this is the only time I’m going to mention Pro Clubs because absolutely nothing has been changed about one of the best modes the series has ever had. I mean, they couldn’t even alter the division ranking system?
Now, let’s talk gameplay. FIFA 19 feels drastically different to FIFA 18, and in that way is probably the most significant change in half a decade. The trouble is that I don’t really know whether I love or hate the new additions. The new 50/50 battle system feels realistic in some moments but other times I feel as though I’ve been a bit cheated having not won the ball back – but that could be due to the fact that I haven’t yet mastered the system. The active touches have a tangible effect on matches and force players to think three steps ahead as opposed to being able to launch a ball at the feet of their striker and just hold it up. But sometimes there are moments I can only describe as glitches when players with 90+ dribbling attributes receive the ball in a sprint only for it to ping a few dozen yards away. I understand that getting out of a tight position is difficult, but sometimes it looks a bit silly.
Most importantly, the game feels a lot less arcadey. However, there’s a big problem with AI opponents and rebounded goals wherein the entire suite of shooting mechanics and physics related systems seems to just crash as they put incredible difficult chances away with ease. The new timed-shooting mechanics, as well as the general shooting controls, are an absolute blast, but just as with everything else, there is a caveat to its brilliance.
FIFA, alongside the likes of NBA 2K, is still on top when it comes to production value. This year’s title sees a significant graphics upgrade for those playing on the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro as facial models and animations, in particular, are eerily life-like. The atmosphere inside stadiums has also taken a giant leap forward, but there is an annoying bug that calms the crowd down to near golf-like levels every so often. The acquisition of the Champions League, Europa League, and UEFA Super Cup licenses only adds to the authenticity that FIFA has always brought to the forefront.
Time will tell if FIFA 19’s new gameplay additions serve to lift the franchise above the arcade-sim hybrid that it’s turned into in recent years, but its stunning lack of game mode changes is disappointing. The decision to completely overhaul the Kick-Off mode while having mostly ignored Pro Clubs and Career Mode for years will have me scratching my head for some time. But having said that, EA Sports has got the most important bit right: the game feels drastically different. This isn’t a FIFA 18.5, and that’s more than can be said about many other yearly titles even outside the sports genre – a reality that EA Sports should be commended for.
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