You wouldn’t know it from EA’s press conference, or FIFA 19‘s trailer, but there are actually some meaningful gameplay additions to the annual football staple.
The FIFA 19 presentation focused on the acquisition of Champions League rights, the securing of Ronaldo‘s face for the cover, Ultimate Team, and the continued expansion of rights to women’s teams. There was barely a mention of gameplay at all — but we sat down with a FIFA 19 producer and had a few matches, so here’s the skinny.
The main changes to gameplay are as follows:
- Trap & Pass (Active Touch)
- Changes to 50/50 Battles
- Extra shot timing options
- New introductory mode
- New high-level tactics options
FIFA 19‘s New Shot Timing
It’s a small addition, but this is one of the changes we feel will have the biggest effect. After pressing the shoot button (and holding for the right amount of power), you’ll then be able to tab the shoot button again, just as contact is made with the ball, for a stronger and more accurate shot. Because everything EA does needs to have a brand name attached, FIFA 19 is calling this “timed finishing.”
It’s a quick tap right as you make contact. You don’t need to hold for power again. And believe us when we say this is not a small effect.
Timing this tap right will make the ball travel faster and truer. It’ll even accentuate its curve for finesse shots. This ability is the difference between cannoning your shot into the top corner from outside the box, and another lukewarm distance shot the goalkeeper will easily scoop up.
After just one game, we had the hang of it. It’s not hard to master and makes a big difference. This will be a must-learn ability.
This creates an interesting decision for defenders. The extra tap requires a fraction of a second more to pull off, so you have the option to deny them that time and space. There’s more potential to be deadly from greater distance now. But lunging in could also give them an opportunity to pass around you.
Trapping, Passing, and First Touch
The pace of FIFA 19 is slower than past games in the franchise, which in turn rewards and emphasises fast passing. Not everyone is capable of tiki taka though, and players less skilled in pinball passing might trap the ball differently before they pass it.
We assume various calculations will play a part in this, such as the ball’s speed, spin, angle of approach, wetness, etc. Only those of Iniesta’s level will be able to accurately one-touch under the worst conditions.
Players like Neymar will more flamboyantly trap the ball, and a wider variety of animations should make the game seem more realistic.
One of the under-the-hood elements at play here is the game calculating how long a player will take to get to the ball, and deciding which animations to use as they close in.
In theory, this should make players look and feel more like they “want” the ball. Every FIFA player would have experienced that moment when it looks like a player just isn’t interested in chasing down the ball, and FIFA 19 aims to fix that.
There are also feint traps you can use to create a bit more space, and there’s an easier way to lift the ball up to shoot or pass on the volley. Potentially useful if you’re shielding the ball from a defender and want to move forward with a bit of flare, or just want to taunt the opponent a bit.
Shoulder to Shoulder in FIFA 19
We spoke to producer Mat Thomas about how FIFA 19 is taking a new approach to 50/50 battles.
“In previous games, there was a bit of a lack of knowledge of how they’re going to get the ball, and where the ball is going to spill to.” he told us. “Just in terms of how you managed the coming together of players and how you manage the outcome.
“So this is a more non-deterministic way of how the ball may spill out. So it’s less a matter of us knowing what’s going to happen when the ball spills out, and now many more things can happen.
“Depending on a player’s speed, mass, and strength in the game, you’re going to get different impacts. And that’s layered with a whole bunch of new animations as well.”
The idea here is, once you put this feature together with Active Touch, the ball should react appropriately and players will recover possession quickly as they chase it down.
Though if we’re honest, it does all sound a bit like “FIFA 19 will use player attributes to determine the outcome in a clash,” which of course has been the case since players had attributes. We didn’t notice too much of a difference on this front in the few matches we had. But more time with the game could reveal the feature’s worth.
FIFA 19‘s Newbie Mode
In the last few years, the FIFA franchise added an introductory mode for newer players which only had two buttons: pass and shoot. We thought this was great, since when we sit new players down to teach them, we tell them the same thing. Just worry about those two buttons for now, and you’ll get a great feel for the game.
FIFA 19 is taking it one step further. There’s now a one button mode. Pass, and the game will contextually know when you intended that pass to be a shot.
Additional accessibility is always welcome. It’s certainly no skin off the nose of existing players, and if it makes someone in the world happy to have one less button to worry about, more power to them.
Customisable Tactics On the Fly
This is another feature that sounds like something that has actually been in FIFA games for a long time, though it seems like this might let you get more into the nitty gritty of it.
Pre-programmable tactics will be available so you can set up different moves for your team to respond to different situations. We’ve always been able to press a direction on the D-pad and have our players press high, or go ultra-offensive. But it sounds like now we’ll be able to set up specific things to happen when those mentalities are selected, pre-match.
“You can choose how many players are in the box for free kicks, for corner kicks, how wide you want to play the game, you can set the width of your team,” we were told by the producer. “The beauty of this is you can assign each of these things to a mentality. So live, dynamically, you can change your tactics while playing.”
We didn’t get enough time to check this out, but perhaps after more time with the game we’ll see how much of an improvement this is.
It’s certainly not a huge year for dot-point gameplay features, but the balance in FIFA 19 was feeling good in our few matches at E3. While some of the above additions are small, they’ll have a massive effect on the way the game is played — especially the Timed Finishing.
We’ll be playing more of FIFA 19 in the lead-up to its September 28th release on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.