On September 28, EA Sports' annual installment in the FIFA franchise will return in the form of FIFA 19.
Last year, the developer opted not to focus on creating new modes—improving the gameplay and visuals were the order of the day in FIFA 18.
This time, EA has largely gone in the other direction. Familiar staples such as Ultimate Team, The Journey and career mode all return, but there are a number of new ways to play courtesy of the revamped Kick-Off mode.
That's not to say there haven't been adjustments, though, and that's where we'll start.
The most notable gameplay changes in FIFA 19 are the introductions of Timed Finishing and the Active Touch System.
The former is optional, but with a second, well-timed press of the shoot button at the moment your player makes contact with the ball, you can enhance both the power and accuracy of your attempts on goal from open play.
Mistime your second press and you'll likely see the ball balloon into Row Z or dribble pathetically into the goalkeeper's hands, so there's a risk vs. reward element at play when you attempt one.
Timed Finishing is a little overpowered, but practicing to master it will be rewarding—goalkeepers will find it hard to fend off perfectly timed shots even from players who aren't that blessed in the finishing department.
As for Active Touch, EA have added new controls and animations to give you better handling of the ball.
For instance, holding R1 and moving the left stick toward the ball as you receive a pass will see your player perform a disguised first touch to leave defenders for dead, and you can pull off a host of other tricks and ball traps to help you get an edge over your opponents in style.
If you don't excel at dribbling, it can be difficult to get the most out of the system—on more than one occasion I found myself unintentionally dummying the ball and giving away possession cheaply—but it feels authentic when players such as Paulo Dybala or David Silva pull off a cute flick that sends a defender the wrong way.
In comparison to Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series, FIFA has often been held up as a more arcade-like version of the beautiful game. EA has taken steps to move away from that reputation in recent years by refining the gameplay.
To that end, FIFA 19 feels weightier than last year thanks to tweaks made to 50-50 battles. These feel much more significant and realistic, as the physicality of the players involved has a big impact on each duel's outcome.
Following on from last year, which saw the introduction of quick substitutions that allowed you to bypass the team management menu, FIFA 19 lets you switch strategies and formations on the fly through Dynamic Tactics.
You can create game plans to execute during the match, ranging from Ultra Defensive to Ultra Attacking—each with specific tactics and instructions—and switch between them using the D-pad.
Within the plans, you can set your team to apply constant pressure or only pressure opponents on heavy touches when defending, or swap from possession-based attacking play to long balls if you want to go route one.
If you take the care to set up the tactics before the match, you'll spend less time in menus and more on the pitch, so it's a welcome addition that enhances the flow of the game.
Graphics and Presentation
The Frostbite engine, which also powered the last two entries in the series, looks as slick as ever.
Player likenesses have been lovingly rendered as in previous years, as have the stadiums:
Meanwhile, further use of Real Player Motion Technology and the addition of the Active Touch animations enhance the visual fidelity even more.
One of FIFA 19's biggest additions is the official license for the UEFA Champions League, and the presentation looks and sounds just as you'd expect:
European matches also come with a new broadcast team of Derek Rae and Lee Dixon.
Their commentary isn't as refined as usual duo Martin Tyler and Alan Smith's, so there's room for improvement, but the change of pace is still a welcome relief during Career Mode when you're otherwise hearing the same lines over and over.
Commentary aside, the only other minor quibble a player might have is a slight lack of customization options for created players.
Top players' tattoos have become increasingly visible on FIFA in recent years, and you can have a number of tattoo options in The Journey, so it would be nice to have the same in player careers.
The Journey: Champions
The Journey: Champions sees Alex Hunter return for the final time, and once again he's joined by best friend Danny Williams and half-sister Kim Hunter.
After featuring in excellent playable sections last year, Danny and Kim step into the limelight alongside Alex as fully fledged protagonists for the conclusion of the story:
You can choose to stick with one character throughout or follow the recommended path, which sees you hopping between the trio over the course of the season.
One problem that dogged the first two incarnations of The Journey was that the story dragged in places, where you were forced to grind through lots of matches to progress.
However, following the recommended path keeps the story ticking over at an enjoyable pace.
Alex's story takes him to Real Madrid, and one wonders if Cristiano Ronaldo—who made a cameo last year foreshadowing the move—was set to make another appearance before his real-life transfer to Juventus.
In Madrid, Hunter will get to choose between two mentor groups of five first-team players.
Mentors work much the same as strike partners from last year, and each can impart a different trait onto Hunter once you've built up a relationship with them on the pitch. You can achieve this faster by opting to play matches exclusively as Hunter and his chosen group.
Meanwhile, Kim also gets the chance to partner with Alex Morgan up front for the USWNT as they prepare for the FIFA Women's World Cup, while Danny is continuing the resurrection of his career in the Premier League.
The story packs an emotional punch at times, and plenty will resonate with players, from an all-too-real scene in which Kim finds herself answering more questions about her brother's career than her own, to Danny discussing his difficulties growing up with an overbearing father and competitive brother.
There are some neat touches and nice surprises along way, too, including a particularly strong opening sequence, making The Journey: Champions a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the story.
Kick-Off, Features and More
Aside from the Champions League licensing, the most significant addition to FIFA 19 is Kick-Off mode.
FIFA 18 added the ability to play two-legged home and away matches, and EA has taken that several steps further this year with a range of options.
These include a best of three- or five-match series, one-off Cup Finals (with a host of competitions from around the world to choose from) or the ability to play select Champions League matches.
The best addition is House Rules, which is comprised of five options.
You can play a No Rules match with the referees turned off, choose for goals from outside the box to count double in Long Range mode or opt for the frenetic Survival mode, in which you lose a random player every time you score.
In First To mode you can set the match to end when a tally of your choosing is reached, while Headers & Volleys transports the classic playground game to full 11-a-side matches.
The range of modes are fun to try and should go some way toward improving the quality of this year's edition of the game.
FIFA 19 will also track your stats from Kick-Off mode, which you can save and link to a Kick-Off Name. The ID can be accessed anywhere, so you can keep your stats up to date even if you're playing at a friend's house.
Meanwhile, Ultimate Team returns, and so do FUT Icons. Along with the Icons who were present in FIFA 18, there will be a host of new legendary players to get your hands on:
Champions League and Europa League content will also become available throughout the season.
Perhaps the biggest change to FUT is the introduction of Division Rivals, which pits you against similarly ranked players for weekly rewards and Weekend League qualification.
Points are awarded to spend on the latter, but if you can't take part in a particular weekend, you can hold onto them until you're ready to participate.
Between that convenience and refined interface options regarding new items and navigating the Champions Channel, it's never been easier to dive into FUT.
Aside from Champions League and Europa League integration, changes are few and far between in Career Mode.
You now have the option to play on Ultimate difficulty—which was previously restricted to FUT—and there are a clutch of new training games with which to raise your players' stats, but these are minor tweaks and not enough to enhance the mode from last year.
It's disappointing to learn that one problem from FIFA 18's Career Mode, in which some players would refuse to leave the club until their contracts ran down or were terminated prematurely, is still an issue.
While it may add a touch of realism that some players won't immediately agree to sign for the first club you accept an offer from, it can be infuriating when a player turns down multiple clubs each transfer window and you fail to get them off the books.
At clubs where managing finances and wage bills are a priority, it can make life difficult and frustrating.
Ultimately, FIFA 19 feels like an improvement, continuing on the upward trajectory the series has enjoyed in recent years.
Gameplay changes like Timed Finishing and Active Touch are minor, but will likely become key tools in any skilled players' arsenal.
The Journey's final chapter is its best, both in terms of story and delivery, allowing the feature to bow out on a high note.
The UEFA licensing means the game is close to a complete package in terms of authenticity off the pitch, too, though the new commentary could use work and will hopefully be stronger if Rae and Dixon return next year.
Fans of the Career Mode may be disappointed that little has been done with it and that issues present last year have not been addressed—EA may have to do something significant on that front next year.
The new Kick-Off Options are excellent, though, and make you wonder why they've not been there all along.
What's more, they feel as though they'll have staying power. Rather than being something you'll try out once and never touch again, they should go some way to extending FIFA 19's shelf life when compared with previous titles.