I feel like it has been a while since we last talked about FIFA. What has it been, a whole week since our last preview? Oh, and there was that whole matter of our entire preview being scooped by a leaker, but let’s not dwell on that. As part of our continuing coverage of EA Sports’ upcoming fall lineup, it’s high time we dig into the real meat and potatoes of FIFA 19. Sure, the leaked footage may have already made its rounds, but I have the REAL scoop about what you can expect to find in the updated Kick Off mode and the ever-present Ultimate Team.
Before we dive directly into Kick Off, I did want to take a second and discuss the latest innovation in the menu interface: Video. As silly as it may sound, graduating from a static, icon-centric UI to something that features real, honest-to-goodness gameplay video, is a huge step up over prior seasons. It isn’t going to win you any awards, but sometimes it’s the less sexy enhancements that can make all the difference in the world.
Though it may seem random to lead off with comments about menus, it actually has a direct bearing on the most recent revision of Kick Off. Due to the sheer volume of changes, the UI had to be completely redesigned from the ground up. It’s such a substantial change over prior years, it earned the label, “Kick Off 2.0.” I’m not sure if that’s the name that will make it into the game, but it certainly signifies that this is a fundamental change to the quickplay experience in FIFA 19. This ain’t your Daddy’s exhibition mode.
First off, there are several new ways to absorb everything that the FIFA experience has to offer. In previous seasons there were fantastical pre-match intros that were made especially for championship level matches. The problem was only a fraction of the audience ever got to see this work, because they weren’t good enough to make it to a final. Fortunately, Kick Off now has the capability to quickly jump into league final, so you can experience all of the pomp and circumstance, right out of the gate. This was a fantastic idea, because it highlights all of the hard work of so many, which was previously buried far away from the core experience.
Another key innovation is the introduction of Kick Off Names for each player. These are individual labels for each controller that allows for independent tracking of everyone’s stats, without the need to have multiple active PSN or Xbox LIVE IDs. While you CAN choose to associate a name with a specific online account, it isn’t required. Those that do will have the option to take their persistent stats wherever they go. It may sound slightly innocuous, but this change has large ramifications, especially in households with numerous gamers vying for time on a single console.
The new user handles can be used to track and gauge an individual’s skills, both against other real players or AIs. Stats such as head-to-head ratings, goal tracking and even winning streaks will be tallied for later use. Over time, pre-match analysis of how the opposition plays on a tactical level will be provided during setup. Players be able to use this data to setup their field alignment to best combat the enemy. This also feeds directly into the dynamic tactics and alignment configuration that was discussed in our initial preview.
Keeping it Fresh
There are also a bevy of new match settings that are at the player’s disposal. House Rules are a key part of what makes Kick Off shine, as it provides very different ways to experience the challenge of FIFA. Modifiers such as only allowing long range goals that are outside of the 18 yard box, or only counting shots off of headers or volleys are just a few examples of this in action. Advantage settings such as pre-defining a starting score or having differing AI handicaps for each player will also help level the pitch a bit.
A couple of the other notable House Rules modes are Survival and No Rules. As you might imagine, No Rules is exactly how it sounds. There are no goddamn rules. This is likely as close as we’ll ever get to NFL Blitz on a pitch, and it’s GLORIOUS. At the event, there were people squading up and unleashing all hell on each other, well after the demo sessions ended. And this Wild West mentality doesn’t just apply to penalty cards. It does away with alignment violations as well, so literally anything goes.
Survival, is another unique twist that aims to keep things competitive for opponents of differing skill levels. Every time a team scores a goal, one of their players is randomly sent off. The resulting lineup will feature whomever is losing having more players on the field than the person holding the lead. While I will admit that I found Survival a bit more lackluster than the lawless insanity of No Rules, I can still see how both will have their own appealing attributes, depending upon the skill levels of the players involved. No matter how you look at it, these are both fresh takes on what was once a stale Kick Off experience.
FIFA 19 Preview: Kick Off and Ultimate Team - Ballin' Out
It somewhat goes without saying at this point, but Ultimate Team is where EA would like to funnel a majority of their audience. They’ve tried to address previous community criticism by instituting a series of placement matches, which will be used to accurately place players for Divisions Rivals. Those that are placed in the higher echelon will also be privy to the superior spoils upon victory. For that reason, it’s in everyone’s best interest to play at or above their skill level.
This year, the Division Rivals mode will essentially replace the previously implementation of online seasons. There will be ten separate divisions, of which players can either play into or actually chose manually. Matches will be conducted against other members of the division throughout the week, with a ladder hierarchy forming over time.
One of the other big complaints from the hardcore was the process of earning entry into weekend events. Now, champion’s points can be accrued within any mode, which they hope will allow more to qualify to participate. Going to be out of town this weekend and worried about needlessly burning your hard-earned points? No worries! Players will also have the option to bank points to be used at a later date.
Learn from the Best
Are you a mediocre player like me, who still aspires to get better? We now have the unique opportunity to go to a literal FIFA finishing school. You can chose to spectate matches of other high-level players, with an actual virtual controller shown on screen. This means that every time you uttered an awe-inspired, “how the hell did they do THAT?” you can now rewind the game tape and see EXACTLY how they did it. I’m not sure how many people will actually take the time to use replays to their full potential, but it is a brilliant idea that warrants a designer at EA getting a substantial raise.
To wrap things up, let’s circle back around to the UI discussion from earlier, only this time in relation to its impact on Ultimate Team. Traditionally, one of the biggest/dumbest headaches of the card management system was separating the wheat from the chaff after opening a fresh pack. Gestural controls have now been introduced to hopefully streamline this process a bit. A swipe up will move a card to either the bench or active roster, depending upon how it is configured. Down swipes transfer unwanted cards to the digital bit bucket in the sky.
I would be remiss if I left out the ridiculous new animations introduced for pack openings. In the case of specialty packs, there are exaggerated displays that would put the Olympic Opening Ceremonies to shame. Close your mind’s eye and imagine what it would look like if Michael Bay produced the starting lineup introductions for the Super Bowl. Now double it, and you might be somewhat in the ballpark of these animations. It is amazing, ridiculous, and entertaining, all while building the anticipation of seeing your latest random acquisition. One example shown at the Summer Showcase drew an audible, “Jesus Christ!” from someone in the audience. That is not a joke. It really happened.
Simply put, I could not be more amped up to get my mitts on FIFA 19 when it releases on September 28, 2018. If you’ve taken a season or two off, now’s the time to lace it up and step back onto the pitch. You are guaranteed to get a kick out of it.
Our hands-on FIFA 19 PS4 preview was done at an event. Travel and accommodations were provided by Electronic Arts.