Hands-On Time With Madden 19 & FIFA 19 At E3 2018
The E3 2018 show floor hasn't even opened up yet, but Electronic Arts' EA Play event has been going for a few days, meaning that I've been trying to get in as much time with Madden 19 and FIFA 19 in particular.
There are plenty of other sports and racing games at E3, from Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 to Forza Horizon 4, NBA Live 19, and The Golf Club 2019, which we'll be covering later, but right out of the gate I want to focus on EA Sports' two heavy hitters.
Of course, of the features and new additions I discuss below, this isn't everything these two games have to offer – and tweaks will be made after E3 and before launch.
That being said, Madden is the further along of the two, and I don't expect more major announcements or big new features. FIFA, on the other hand, still has some surprises in store. the dev team at EA Vancouver isn't revealing anything about FIFA Ultimate Team or Alex Hunter's last chapter in The Journey just yet.
MADDEN NFL 19
Throw & Catch
Users are going to have to get used to how the passing game feels in Madden 19, particularly catches. The windows for choosing what kind of catch you want to do (run after the catch, possession, aggressive, etc.) are smaller. Not only that, but you can even change your mind while the ball is in the air. Once, however, you see the lock symbol at the base of your player, then your player is fixed into whatever catch type you last chose.
There are also more incomplete passes. Some are no doubt because of tight man coverage (and even times when a defensive back sneaks a hand in to disrupt the ball), and some you might have expected to catch last year but won't this time around. You'll also have to be on the lookout for some dangerous defenders sitting in zones. In my time with the game I have thrown more picks than I would have expected, whether that's failing to loft the ball over a defended zone or a corner undercutting my receiver in the end zone, for instance. They weren't great decisions at the time, and I paid for it.
Finally, sometimes receivers did not break out of their routes for early throws as I expected compared to last year. Some of these tended to cause miscommunication incompletions, so I'm going to have to be more careful in my timing, and not always expect my receiver to bail me out on early throws.
I can't tell exactly what's causing what right now, but suffice it to say I think you're going to see more incompletions, but also enjoy having more variance and options when catching the ball.
Hitting The Hole & Pushing The Pile
Lead gameplay designer Clint Oldenburg went through many of the game's player movement changes in a blog post, and one of the things he pointed out was how running through the line of scrimmage was going to feel different this year.
I was definitely getting caught up less on my own teammates as I hit the hole, but bursting into a gap with the right analog can be a little tricky because you have to recognize where there are open gaps in the line. It can be a little bit of a guessing game as defenders can shed blocks, fire into gaps, and close previously open holes. However, in my experience a “wrong” guess isn’t a catastrophic fail, it's just bottles you up so you're tackled.
Pushing the pile, on the other hand, was easier to engage simply because it's natural to hold up on the right analog as you come up against the backs of your blockers. When it engages you don’t slip off your linemen, rather you churn behind them for some extra yards.
One-cut is useful in the open field, letting you accelerate without having to do a special move (On the topic of special moves, by the way, these can be chained, although I wasn't able to do that in my play time). It's performed by depressing the right trigger when a player plants their foot. There's also a corresponding defensive move called the strafe burst.
In general, Madden 19 continues to improve how simple left-analog movement (as opposed to using special moves) is a good way to get around the field, letting you slip by tacklers.
One area where I used one-cut was on sideline catches, allowing me to plant my foot and start heading up field without getting sucked out of bounds or dragged to the side.
I played a few games of the PC version at the show with a controller, and while it naturally looked superior to the home console versions, it played about the same. I think the higher framerate made a difference, but I can't say it changed the way I played. All in all, it felt like Madden, which is a good thing.
THE LONGSHOT: HOMECOMING
EA isn't talking a lot about the new installment of The Longshot, but I did get a few tidbits from co-writer and Madden creative director Mike Young.
- Since Devin Wade is now in the NFL, naturally there isn’t a draft scouting card keeping track of Devin's progress with him like in the first Longshot. Instead, a longtime fan of both Devin and Colt tracks their careers via an in-story fansite.
- As you play, there are things that influence what kind of player Devin turns into, which is carried on into Franchise mode, including his overall rating and positional archetypes makeup. There is also custom commentary that will follow him into franchise mode.
- Colt Cruise, meanwhile, is a bridge into Ultimate Team. “If you really want to see the end of The Longshot, you have to go finish it in Ultimate Team’s solo challenges," says Young. Like last year, there will also be Longshot-related Ultimate Team items, including NFL ones.
The overall player progression system has changed this year, revolving around how player archetypes fit into overall team schemes. I've already written a detailed preview outlining how the whole thing works so I'm not going to rehash all of it.
Franchise gamers can still edit players like always, but their progression is guided by a weighted randomization according to the archetypes. While it takes away from gamers dumping points into abilities and traits, and you don't know exactly how your player will progress until you put points into an archetype, this new scheme system highlights the choices GMs have to make. It could also open the door for role players and different types of players being crucial to your team.
For years franchise fans, including myself, have wanted more contract options in the mode, letting us make shrewd moves as a GM-turned-cap guru. However, Madden has been relatively bare bones on this front.
Producer Ben Haumiller is not deaf to our pleas. “We know we’re behind on the things like contracts," he said, "so it’s something we know we need to get to, but it’s something we have not been able to get to just yet. We just need to get through our list of everything we need to do.
"I think we’re getting better at adding more, but there’s always things we need to do … Let’s set the direction of where we want to go, and not just kind of add this and add that. ‘What is the mantra of franchise mode?’ I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out, where we want this thing to go going forward.”
Mike Young adds that having more contract/salary cap depth doesn’t have to be just a “math spreadsheet game." "People don’t want that,” he says. But he thinks there’s a way to represent the hard choices a GM has to make like franchise fans expect, since it's such a fundamental part of the NFL experience.
MADDEN ULTIMATE TEAM
Training players up to higher overalls is replacing the Power Up system from last year, and there are numerous questions we have about the process, although EA hasn't set in stone how many training points we'll get for quickselling cards, for instance.
I talked to associate producer Jake Stein, producer Tom Lischke, and creative director Clint Oldenburg on a few points.
- 91 Zone coverage threshold is gone. 99 is the new 91, and there is more gradation of talent before you get there. This should make more cards viable.
- If you decide to strip an upgraded player of his upgrades, the team is eyeing a range of giving you 50%-70% of what you invested back – including any cards that were required along the way in their original form. That percentage is still TBD at the moment.
- Overall, the pool of trainable cards should be more than that of last year's Power Ups.
- EA may release players with Chems already attached, but it’ll have to wait and see. Some gold and elite cards could have one upgrade slot, which would be for picking a chem, but that's it.
- Tokens still have a use, but it's not completely decided yet. Lischke believes they still may have a function in head to head play.
FIFA 19 was playable at EA Play, and although the team isn't talking about The Journey or FIFA Ultimate Team (other than to say that this year's Journey is the last in the Alex Hunter saga), I got a good feel for the title's gameplay.
- The new perfect timing shot is performed by hitting the shoot button a second time right before impact. Performing it correctly means your strike has more speed and power and less error – but it’s not an automatic goal. Conversely, get the timing wrong and you’re going to shank it.
- I also found that regular shots felt better than last year. In fact, there were some shots I was surprised how well they came off my players’ foot. It’s not the goals were unbelievable, they just weren’t expected compared to last year’s FIFA. Sometimes this meant situations like still being able to get a good shot off with defenders around.
- Low-driven shot is still in the game and is now performed by depressing both bumpers and shooting.
- Contested, 50/50 balls aren't as much of a foregone conclusion as last year. I'm not saying the results always match up with the animations, but you see more instances of the ball popping into free space as a result of two players coming together.
- Defensive players – particularly on the flanks – can get sucked out of position, leaving large spaces behind them. I fiddled with the tactics settings in the menu, opting for a balanced press and a not-so-high backline, but it still happened. Some full backs may be taking bad angles, I'm not sure. At a minimum this may be an area where users are going to have to be extra careful not to drag their defenders out of place.
- I saw a few penalties in the box, but they were nailed-on yellows. Hopefully we'll less of the perplexing variety in FIFA 19.
- Some passes still don't go where you expect them to.
- FIFA 19 on Switch: The dev team in Romania had a full cycle to work with the game, and it shows. FIFA on the Switch feels good – similar to FIFA 18. It's a larger step forward than the franchise's debut on the system.