With such a long heritage, there are few that don't understand what FIFA games are about. And it is likely anyone interested in the latest has already played one in the recent past, so we don't have to start from scratch.

Each yearly update tends to add more tricks and games modes, but you are essentially getting the same game - refined, tweaked, graphically tarted-up but evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

FIFA 19 adds more than most, however. The gameplay on the pitch is familiar, albeit with a couple of interesting new features, but snatching the Champions League licence from PES was major coup for this year and it has significant ramifications for most game modes.

That includes The Journey.

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We'll get to some of the other game modes in a bit but, for us, the first port of call on loading the game was the third and final instalment of The Journey - FIFA's story mode that followed the early career of Alex Hunter.

Storytime

After his first big break and about a hundred different transfers before the age of 19, Hunter's journey culminates with a move to Real Madrid and, mainly, the quest to win the Champions League final. What differs dramatically this time around, however, is that he is only a third of the campaign.

Although you got a brief chance to also don the boots of friend Danny Williams and sister Kate Hunter in FIFA 18, their continuing stories are a much larger part of The Journey: Champions.

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You get to play each equally, along a cleverly intertwining timeline, as they too seek glory. Williams is also after becoming European champion with the first club you played for as Hunter before (in our case, Liverpool). And Kate has made it into the USA Women's World Cup squad as she looks to hold a pot aloft as well.

It makes for a refreshing change of action pace and even playing style, with each of them exhibiting different positions and abilities on the pitch.

There are big stars and decisions along the way and, while there doesn't seem as much dialogue and cut scenes as in previous years, it is engrossing until the very end. We'll avoid spoilers, but will say we'll miss the trio in FIFA 20. We also hope there's a new story next time, all-new cast even, and that the last three years have not just been an experiment by EA. It strangely became our favourite game mode and it's sad to see it go.

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Our second favourite game mode, which is probably in top spot for many others, is Ultimate Team. It does have several additions this year, including transparency on the pull percentages of cards in bought packs. This is great but also alarming in places and another reason we're happy to avoid paying any extra cash on player packs - hoping to earn enough credit in-game to acquire the best players over the transfer market instead.

We are the champions

The latter is a major undertaking but it's worth it as building your team and taking on the best the world has to offer is always fun. There is also a new Division Rivals feature in FUT that rewards you for playing against others through a promotion system as you aim to make your way up the divisions.

Career mode too has been improved, with more depth and, of course, the Champions League. The Europa League and Super Cup have been added as well and everything has had a decent lick of paint.

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The same is true with all menus and in-game graphics. Real player models have definitely benefited from more experience with the Frostbite Engine. They look truly stunning this time out, especially in higher resolutions on PS4 Pro, Xbox One X and capable PCs.

And the final big addition to new game modes comes with a revamped Kick-Off, that offers multiple new match types - even no rules matches. You can now track Kick-Off records and statistics, with detailed analytics giving you the ammunition to compare your performances against your friends' like never before.

Of course, none of these would be important without the essential on the pitch experiences and FIFA 19 plays as good a game of football as ever. It is fast, fluent and a few of the tweaks make for more strategical match-ups.

Tweaks and tactics

Dynamic tactics are great, with different methods of play making your style more effective on the pitch. And the AI seems to get a better grip on the action - even though facing rivals with the same pressing mechanics as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool can frustrate as they constantly hunt you down all over the surface.

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Timed finishing is an interesting new feature but we've struggled with it to date. You have to double tap the shoot button, with the second press well timed in order to unleash the best shot possible, but we've often been left with a weak dribbler or wildly inaccurate blast due to poor timing. It's a great idea and will work well in better players' hands, but we've ended up sticking with the tried and tested shots of before.

Thankfully, they've been patched since launch so there are fewer pathetic side foot shots, which EA admitted was a bug. Now it plays as it did last year and we're happy with that.

Verdict

The main reason many will update their FIFA games year-on-year is for the atmosphere, new kits and updated player stats, but thankfully FIFA 19 offers enough new in other areas to make it more of a worthwhile purchase.

In gameplay terms, it hasn't changed in any radical sense - just a couple of new abilities here and there - but off the pitch there is so much more to do this year.

Pretty much every mode gets a Champions League-flavoured refresh and there are new game styles that extend longevity.

For us, the end of The Journey is the biggest reason to pop FIFA 19 on your wishlist. Hunter might be the most travelled teenager in footballing history, but his story has had us gripped from the start. It would be a massive shame not to follow it until the end.

And a fine journey's end it proves to be.


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