Fifa 19 preview: Fluid, flowing football finally arrives – and plenty more besides

The changes are subtle, but they are significant

Andrew Griffin
Sunday 05 August 2018 21:13
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(EA Sports
(EA Sports

Fifa 19 is, of course, a lot like Fifa 18. Except in all the ways it isn't – and there are many of them, not all of which might be immediately clear.

The game is not out until 28 September, but The Independent got the chance to spend some time with the game months before it was released, trying out many of its new features.

Fifa 19 is a subtle update, but that's not to say it's not a substantial one. It tweaks many of the fundamentals of the game without making you feel confused, and it fixes issues that you never even realised the series had.

Ultimately, it does that by changing things at the most advanced and most basic ends of the game. EA Sports knows that Fifa is perhaps unparalleled in its ability to reach players both incredibly casual and unbelievably committed – it is probably the only game equally beloved by both eSports competitors and those working off hangovers – and the newest changes are destined to appeal to both.

For those roped into playing their one match of Fifa a year, for instance, there is the new kick-off mode. That adds fun alterations like having no referee or only being able to score from outside the box, but it also includes a new advantage system that allows players to start a couple of goals down, for instance, or play with a more advanced AI. (You can read more about the fairly fundamental changes to the kick-off mode here.)

And at the other end of the scale there are the subtle tweaks that the game has made to the way the game rewards skill. You are better rewarded for skill, and new features allow top players to add new kinds of tricks and shots to their play.

For both – for everyone who plays the game, really – there are a series of subtle tweaks that make the whole game feel more rounded, more fluid and more complete. It stops the game being a series of moments – whether you completed a pass, or whether a shot went on target – and gives it the continuous, beautiful, joyous and frustrating flow of a real football match.

Because Fifa 19 isn’t about passing, shooting or tackling. It is a game that takes place in the gaps between those things.

The updates to the new game do not radically overhaul the way you play the game. Fifa isn’t, at this point, a game that requires or even benefits from such revolutionary alterations – people who play it do so as much because of its familiarity as its freshness.

Instead, they tweak it and fix it, smoothen out the way the play feels and fill in the gaps that have always made things feel a bit staggered. (You might not have realised that Fifa 18 felt that way; I certainly didn’t until I played the new one for a couple of hours at a preview event, and then went back to playing the current game.)

Did you, for instance, ever think about the way 50:50 balls are won or lost in Fifa? It's something that usually only becomes a concern in the heat of the game, as you yell at a slow midfielder for failing to win you possession.

But Fifa has thought about that, deeply and in a way that will fundamentally change the game. Until now, those balls were decided depending on who was closest, and that kicked off an animation that was basically unchanging until whoever the computer decided was going to get possession actually did so; now, a whole series of calculations are going on right until you both arrive at the ball, allowing strong players to muscle off weaker ones, or quicker ones to edge slower ones.

Once you have possession, that flow becomes clear in other ways. So, for instance, if a player passes to another who has their back to the ball, they are forced to turn around, get ready to take their touch, and then actually do so; in Fifa 19, all of those gaps are filled in and everything becomes on continuous movement.

Those same advanced mechanics and movements add new ways of being good at the game that were never available before. EA Sports has added a new feature called timed finishing, which allows players to test their timing and take far more impressive shots if they are accurate. It is designed to be simple to do and very difficult to master, in keeping with the kind of accessible elitism that runs throughout the new game.

There are other changes, of course. There'll be a new Journey, the end of Alex Hunter's story; the new Champions League licensing is reflected throughout the game and finally allows you to play matches that include that "chaampyonnns" roar before you get started; Ultimate Team has updates. The Independent will be delving into them more deeply when the game is fully released.

But there is little doubt about the spirit each of them will be conducted in, since it is one that runs throughout the game. It is a game made with two kinds of people in mind: those that are good at Fifa, and those that aren't. Never has it been more fun or realistic to find out which you are.

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