In a matter of weeks, Europe's biggest annual soccer competition, the Champions League, went from one video game franchise to its bitter rival. When UEFA ended its partnership with Konami, an agreement that allowed Pro Evolution Soccer to offer the club tournament, it was only a matter of time before EA jumped on the chance to add the competition to its FIFA franchise. The addition of Champions League will undoubtedly give FIFA 19 more depth, especially in its "The Journey" story mode, but the updates to gameplay are equally as important.
Don't get me wrong, Champions League is a great get for FIFA. When you consider EA just added the World Cup via a free update a few weeks ago, the addition of UEFA's club tournament means the top two competitions in the world (as far as most soccer fans are concerned) are now available in the same game.
"It was always a goal for 'The Journey' to end with the pinnacle of club football," explained EA Sports creative director Mat Prior. "It was something we wanted to showcase as the ultimate goal of a player."
As you might expect, EA added all of the details build a proper Champions League experience. There are all the banners and regalia in pre-match festivities you're used to seeing on TV. What's more, the progression should be realistic too, thanks to the fact that FIFA 19 will also offer UEFA Europa League. Meaning, if you finish third in the Champions League group stage, you'll enter the Europa League. Oh yeah, UEFA Super Cup, the match that pits the current title holders of both Champions League and Europa League together early in the season, is also part of FIFA 19.
All of that sounds good, but the tweaks EA made to gameplay are something you will notice in every match. First, there's a new Active Touch System that enhances player controls and, more importantly, it makes the game feel much more fluid and showcase a player's personality.
"It's a complete rewrite of how a player traps and approaches the ball," Prior said. "There's much more fluidity of movement, much more authenticity, much more control for the user."
50/50 battles are also new this year. Basically, your player's instincts coupled with your reactions during the game determine how well you win loose balls. Speaking of reactions, EA has also made a big change to tactics. Officially dubbed Dynamic Tactics, the system gives you the ability to set multiple gameplans, customized to your liking before the match. What's more, changing said gameplan is now easier to do mid-match thanks to a handy D-Pad function.
"We add a new level of control across the pitch," Prior explained. "The effect will be much more obvious and they're also more customizable." Prior said this will allow users to to fine-tune things to a level that hasn't been offered before in the game.
One new addition that is almost certainly going to be a source of frustration for me is Timed Finishing. Instead of firing off shots the way you normally would in FIFA, this tool allows you to take a bigger risk in hopes of a bigger reward. By pressing the shot button a second time before your player kicks the ball, you can attempt to nail the timing to give the more accuracy, curve and speed. If you're thinking that sounds easy, I assure you it is not.
"It's not a guaranteed goal," Prior admitted. It does increase your chances, but it's not going to go in every time. I tried it a few times during my time with the game here at E3, and I wasn't able to get a handle on it in the couple of matches I played. When you do try to time things perfectly and miss, your player will fire off something wretched -- like the weak dribbler of an opposing player I mustered. You don't have to use this at all and can just play like you normally would. However, the creation of a risk vs. reward scenario will have you thinking twice about trying to do your best Messi impression.
FIFA already had a two-button mode to make things easier for beginners, but in this year's game, EA is adding a one-button mode. If you'd rather play a super chill match where in-game AI decides what to do based on the situation, this will be for you. I really enjoyed the one-button Retro Mode in MLB: The Show 17 for playing an easier game when friends are over, so I'm looking forward to what FIFA 19 has in store here -- especially when I'm playing with my young son.
"We know FIFA can be a little overwhelming with the level of control we offer," Prior said. "This allows people to get an understanding of the game and the pace of the game."
If you were hoping to hear more about "The Journey," you'll have to wait. EA says there are new things coming for FIFA's story mode, but it's not spilling any details yet. Well, other than Champions League matches will be part of it, which means Alex Hunter will get a chance to step on the UCL pitch. "There will be a lot of surprises," Prior proclaimed. "And it will be centered around seeking the glory of the Champions League." Maybe Hunter will make it to Real Madrid after all.
When it comes to FIFA 19 on the Nintendo Switch, EA is making some big changes to that version of the game as well. First, Online Friendlies will allow you to play a five-match season with anyone on your friends list. It's a nice way to add-in a multiplayer option, and one that doesn't require your opponent to be in the same room. Like the main version of the game, there are also some changes to shooting. EA says you'll have "a new level of control" over shots, including the ability to nail first time shots, fire off dipping and deceptive strikes and offer a finesse finish should the need arise.
On the Switch, you'll also notice that there's more team and player personality. In other words, Barcelona will attack the way you're used to seeing them do so in real-life and Messi will play more like the guy who's one of the best in the world. It's all about adding a more life-like feel for FIFA 19 on Nintendo's console. Lastly, there's more detail in the broadcast for the different tournaments. You'll notice overlays for things like Champions League, Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga. It should help enhance that all-important (virtual) match-day feel. Overall, EA is trying to bring over more of FIFA's realism to the version of the game for Switch, which should be a good thing.
There's no doubt Champions League will bring more layers to the story of Alex Hunter and to your career mode aspirations, but the changes EA has made in FIFA 19 extend far beyond the addition of a new cup. As always, the company is on a mission to make its sports games even more realistic, an annual update fans can always look forward to.
Follow all the latest news from E3 2018 here!