With FIFA 19, we get to the end of a month filled to the brim with sports titles. How does EA’s title compare to Pro Evolution Soccer 19, which arrived a few weeks earlier?
On the surface, not much has changed in FIFA 19 and a lot of emphasis during the pre-release period was placed on EA’s acquisition of the Champions League license. And yes, that is indeed a big deal because it also means they essentially took it away from PES, and EA wasn’t shy about rubbing our noses in it.
FIFA 19’s promo material also heavily featured Ronaldo (who also featured in 18), although they had to quickly photoshop a Juventus jersey over his Real Madrid getup when he made the switch to Italy. But although the novelty of the Champions League license is very clear, the improvements in-game are much more subtle.
In fact, there aren’t too many unless you look for them or notice them because you were still playing FIFA 18 recently (or pulled the games up side by side, like we did). There’s only one new game mode worth mentioning, although it’s a fun one with elements that resonate with NBA Live’s new direction as well. In Kick Off mode, you can now set up special conditions for the games you play, emphasizing (for instance) a play style that rewards goals scored from long distance. Alternatively, if you’re not a player with an affinity to technical subtlety, then you can pretty much do away with the ref and make it a free for all with no danger of getting a yellow or red card for all the fouls you commit.
The changes in Kick Off are welcome, though they lean towards a more arcade-like experience rather than improve the football simulation at FIFA’s core. It’s a bit of a trend this year, as we’ve seen similar things in NHL 19 and the aforementioned NBA Live 19, but ultimately it’ll probably be the existing and already popular modes that people will spend the most of their time with. Ultimate Team is back of course, and it’s been made a little more accessible with shorter leagues that aren’t as demanding of your time. If you’re not into online competition, however, the changes are minor and you might be more drawn to The Journey.
FIFA’s story-driven mode is back again this year, and it’s “more of the same” in both the good and the bad sense. You get three story avenues to explore this time around (including a female version) and you’re free to switch between them at will, which is a nice touch. The story arcs are becoming a bit more predictable though, and “The Journey” doesn’t feel as fresh anymore in its third year. I suppose the same thing happened to the first five Rocky movies, so let’s see if EA will reinvent themselves next year.
The actual on-pitch gameplay has received several minor enhancements though – most of which are geared towards making the experience more realistic. Funnily enough, this is the same direction we saw Pro Evolution 19 take, as both franchises struggle to really innovate this year. In FIFA, it’s all about little touches that are quite welcome. Shoot on goal with too much haste and you might get a shot off with your wrong foot – which can result in a miss-kick as it does in real life. You’ll also see more failed passes and more unpredictable duels – all making for a more realistic experience without becoming too frustrating. FIFA 19 still has those insane headers with the distance and accuracy of a regular pass, but overall it’s a definite (though subtle) improvement.
The audiovisual presentation is still excellent and the licensed content is better than ever, so existing players will certainly grab this. There’s a more polished game here than in PES 19, but FIFA 19 does feel like an annual update more so than previous versions did.