Fifa 19 review: EA Sports finally gives an easy answer to Fifa’s most pressing question

Is the new Fifa worth getting? This year the answer is as simple as the question. Yes, you should

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 19 September 2018 13:00
FIFA 19 Official Trailer with UEFA Champions League

There has only ever been on question to ask about each year’s Fifa: is it worth getting? And there’s usually been far more than one answer, all kinds of caveats about the kind of features you use and player you are.

This year the answer is as simple as the question. Yes, you should. The changes are subtle but they are everywhere, and offer something for every kind of player.

If you’re a fan of authenticity the Champions League will be worth it alone, but if you want silliness like games with no fouls then there’s plenty of that too. Top players finally get new and intricate ways to show off their skill; casual players have easier ways to jump into games without fretting about if they’ll lose miserably. Those who jump into Fifa every so often when mates are round will be delighted by the alterations to kickoff mode and the handicap system; those for whom it’s an obsession will just become more obsessed by the updates to FUT and other changes.

Nothing has changed a lot. But almost everything has changed a little.

The most unsubtle of those small changes is the addition of the Champions League. Fifa will not let you forget that it’s the first time it’s had the license: when you power up the game for the first time, you’re thrown into a match that’s part of the competition, with “CHAAMPIOONS” blaring loudly at you and all the requisite visual branding flying by.

Fifa is clearly proud of winning it back, in line with its general commitment to authenticity. But it hasn’t rested on that achievement: the mode is properly and thoroughly added to the game, not just a new piece of branding slapped onto old game modes. As well as being added to existing features – such as the Journey and manager mode, as well as the option to play with that or any other branding in a Kick-Off match – Fifa has developed a devoted tournament mode for the Champions League. You can watch the draw happen live, place whatever teams you like into it, play with all the excitement of the real tournament, and progress through without the bother of domestic leagues getting in the way.

When compared with the rest of the changes, it is relatively unsubstantial. Games are not changed in any meaningful way – apart from the design of the score in the corner and realistic branding added to stadiums. But it is lots of fun, and the kind of feature that gives you something clearly new to justify the purchase of the game.

Kick-Off mode has been relatively neglected in recent years, perhaps because it is so stubbornly reliable and does exactly what is needed. Which is an intense shame: it is the game’s most central and reliable mode, the one that probably accounts for most people’s greatest Fifa memories, and the place that most players will first come to.

That changes this year. It offers useful improvements to new players and exciting ones for hardcore ones – and, most importantly of all, new ways of allowing those two kinds of fans to play alongside each other.

Chief among them is the new handicapping system. Until now, attempting to even up a game has meant forcing people to choose wonky teams; particularly good players have been forced to get far more acquainted with the tactics and squads of obscure international teams than they ever wanted to be. In the new game, that has changed so that differences in ability can be offset in more interesting ways: by setting a score at the beginning that puts weaker players a number of goals up, for instance, or giving the better player a much less good AI, so that their players are not as helpful.

Those games are now also counted in a kind of ongoing league between you and your friends. Every person playing Fifa on one console can log into their own account, into which their results will be dropped. And it won’t simply count wins and losses – though that would be more than enough, finally settling arguments in living rooms across the country and doing away with complicated scraps of paper that bear witness to complicated round robins – it will also log specific statistics, like where goals have come from on the pitch and the total amount of possession across various games. It makes matches played against friends feel like they matter, rather than them being immediately forgotten.

But that is just the beginning. Kick-Off games are richer and better looking now, in large part because you can choose what tournament you want the game to be a part of. Until now, Fifa guessed – if two teams played against each other, it used that branding, and all matches were referred to as a friendly.

And probably most excitingly of all, new kinds of rules have been added to exhibition games: matches where you can only score from volleys or headers, and ones that privilege shooting at distance. In one new mode, players leave the pitch when you score so that the teams gradually even out; in another, fouls and offsides are turned off and chaos reigns on the football pitch. There is no pretence of authenticity here, no realism for its own sake – for maybe the first time in years, Fifa has new features that are not there to make the game seem more like real life but exist purely to make it more fun.

This is the third episode of the Journey, the single-player, narrative mode that began in Fifa 17. The developers really seem to be getting a handle on what works in the mode, with an enjoyable and diverse smattering of different game modes and stories, ranging from the deep and inspiring to the (sometimes gratingly) funny and light-hearted. And they seem to be realising what doesn’t, too: gone are the endless decisions about what to do that didn’t actually seem to make much of a difference to what happened in the game, and it feels like there is a renewed focus on what happens on the pitch.

It opens with an impressively recreated game played by Alex Hunter’s grandad, in his prime for Spurs. The kits, heavy ball and colourless TV broadcast are recreated in impressive fashion. The fact the game did this for just an intro is testament to how much EA cares about the Journey. But – like the kids’ game in Fifa 17 and the skills match in Brazil in 18 – it also leaves you wondering why they couldn’t do more, and is a taste of what genuine innovation in gameplay might mean for Fifa. This changes have happened before, such as the addition of womens’ teams, which was not only long needed but provided a genuinely new way of playing the game. It was telling how excited people were when they spotted that favela game in 18 and thought it might be the return of something like Fifa Street.

All of those are the exciting, obvious, things. But while it is thrilling to see genuinely new ways of playing matches in the game finally arrive in an update, it’s still the actual gameplay that will probably make the biggest difference. And on that score as every other Fifa 19 brings hefty improvements.

The run of play is vastly altered by a range of changes to the game’s mechanics and systems, some of which have been given complicated names by EA Sports. But there is a unifying logic to all of them, and it’s one that changes the game in an important way.

It’s not the kind of thing that is obvious until EA pointed it out and then got rid of it, but every movement on previous versions of Fifa, moves by players were almost a kind of playlist that was operated when you pressed buttons: if any given player could reach the ball when you press to shoot, then they would shoot, and if they couldn’t the ball would roll on by.

Now, players will stretch to make those attempts. There is not simply success or failure, but a whole vast step of possible moves in-between. Sometimes, this only means that . Other times it makes for stunning spectacles, like strikers flailing to connect with a ball then actually managing to do so, making for those goals and chances that

Similarly, until now 50:50 balls were a kind of pre-determined animation. Both players would run towards the ball, the game would work out that one of them was closer or faster and was therefore more likely to make it, and

the loser would simply dodge out of the way while the winner ran off with possession. Now, it is genuinely contested within the game: a striker might reach the ball first but a defender might have the strength to muscle them off, and if the chance is truly 50:50 the ball might fall out of reach of both of them.

Good players have always felt like magic on Fifa, and not always in a good way. When their ratings were high enough, the ball appeared to be stuck to their feet in a kind of spell, which made them irritating to play against and not even especially rewarding to play with.

The ball still sticks to the feet of players like Messi. But it does so with the kind of weight and heft of real life, not magic; it’s glue, not magnets. Playing against those kinds of players is still irritating, of course, but it doesn’t feel like playing against a wizard anymore.

The same applies to bad players. The ball will slip from their feet in a way so frustratingly familiar to any fans of League Two football, always at the worst moment and for no apparent reason. That’s annoying in its own way, of course, but in a way that feels authentic rather than inexplicable.

This year’s Fifa is realistic and silly; it offers the most advanced ways of flexing your skills and the easiest ways of getting acquainted with it; it is endlessly fun and fantastically frustrating. Every Fifa fan should get it, precisely because every Fifa fan will get something different when they do.

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