FIFA 19 Hands-On Preview – A Champion’s Ballad

From the outside looking in, FIFA’s yearly releases must look fairly similar. If you’re one of the millions of players that pour hundreds of hours into the game each year, you’d know how much really changes between iterations. With that said, after over an hour of hands-on time with EA’s latest, there’s a lot of new things to digest in FIFA 19.

First thing’s first. Timed finishing — the new shooting mechanic a lot of us have been fretting about since it was announced back in June — can be turned off. Further to this, I left it on for most of my time with the game and hardly noticed any difference in the shooting mechanics at all. I feel like it’s going to be one of those changes that will take quite a lot of hours to get used to and understand the workings of, and that’s completely ok. The main takeaway I had from my time with FIFA 19 is that yes it’s there, but no, it’s not a major deal. It also doesn’t guarantee a goal every time it’s used well, so that’s also worth taking into consideration.

That said, you won’t even realise timed finishing is turned on if you don’t have the FIFA trainer on. That’s because the timed finishing icon, when the FIFA trainer is turned off, will show off its small reticle inside the player indicator (the one that shows what footballer you’re controlling). As far as I understand, it’ll glow green when it’s time to press the shoot button for the second time to get that extra bit of power on a shot, though I really wasn’t paying enough attention to that mechanic to truly get a gauge on it. But fret not, it’s not the major dealbreaker most of us thought it’d be in June. Not yet, at least.

Something else that really stuck out to me during my time with the game was the way flicks have been completely revamped. As the ball comes to your player you can now flick the right thumbstick in a direction of your choosing and your player will flick the ball off or potentially kick it up to loop it over an oncoming defender. It didn’t take me too long to get to grips with the mechanic, and it adds quite a lot to the dribbling and trickery in tight spaces. Being able to jink defenders into going one way and sending them the other with a tiny flick of the stick feels great, and completely resembles the beautiful game’s modern style of football. It’s easily shaping up to be one of the coolest little additions to the series, and I can’t wait to play around with it more. If anything, online players should be more worried about this than the timed finishing as things stand.

After putting over 500-600 hours into FIFA 18 over the last year, I was also pleasantly surprised by how weighty FIFA 19 feels and the way a match flows, too. Player animations have been improved, and the whole passing game seems to look much more natural than before. Further to this, dribbling and taking on players has an added sense of depth and tactical nuance to it, and I absolutely loved this change. It’s feeling more simulation-based than ever before — which is what the series has been moving towards for some time — and adds to the experience tenfold.

Overall, my impressions in terms of just gameplay itself in FIFA 19 is really positive. The added weight to player movement and the way the ball shifts around the field is significantly different to FIFA 18 (and this was made more evident when I played some FIFA 18 after getting home from Gamescom), and will make for games that’ll likely favour lower score lines than what was usual in 18. It seems much harder to break a defensive line now, though overlapping runs with wing backs and wingers still seemed to do a lot of damage when used well.

Of course, the big addition to this year’s FIFA is the Champions League and Europa League, and they look absolutely wonderful. I really enjoy the fact we’ve got new commentators in for these matches too, which will add a bit of significance to the occasions when playing through the European competitions. There’s not much else to really say about this inclusion though, given it’s mostly cosmetic. With that said, I’m glad the competitions have finally made their way back to FIFA — it’s been a long time coming.

I did get a chance to play the House Rules mode in FIFA 19, too, and while I enjoyed it I think it’ll be one of those modes that will need more time to fully appreciate. The survival match I played — which had players leave the field every time they scored — was fun, but, as I said, required a more robust amount of time to really get a feel for it before I can speak more on it.

This year’s FIFA is shaping up to be great, as always. I’ve been playing the series consistently since the early 2010s, and this year’s improvements are coming together really well. The significance of the gameplay additions are as big as they’ve ever been, I think, and should add a completely new element to gameplay come launch later this month. With a game like FIFA, though, more time is needed to really dig into the nitty gritty of everything on offer. What I can say, however, is that this year’s entry is going to be a fascinating one to watch on the competitive scene.

FIFA 19 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch on September 28.