EA sports is back with its annual football offering due out for release today across all the major platforms. Last year I was lucky enough to review FIFA 20 and with thanks again to our friends at EA, I’ve had my hands on FIFA 21 for about a week now. I wanted to give it a thorough play through to find what the major differences are and where the game has improved.
When I first fired up FIFA 21 for the first couple of hours, I struggled to find any massive differences from FIFA 20. There’s no huge overhaul of the core game play nor massive change to the set piece, rather small changes that when added up make the overall gameplay feel like a good improvement on the previous iteration. There has been a change to the physics in the collisions so that the player that you are controlling doesn’t turn into a rag doll when hitting an AI controlled player, and most times will actively look to avoid collisions.
The pace of play feels like it has been fine tuned to a much more realistic representation of football, moving away from what felt like almost an exploit of outright speed being the major cause of beating nearly every defender like in the previous game. FIFA 21 reserves the right to blow by defenders to just a handful of players, with more of a focus on teamwork, tactics and a very crisp passing system.
Career mode has had a great reworking which is the mode that I have been sinking my teeth into the most. One of my favourite changes to the mode is a big focus on player improvement and growth. Being able to take a youth player that you have spent time scouting and training, but then coming to the realisation that you are really deep at the position, gives you the opportunity to take control and change the players role and position with extra training. Hypothetically you could take world class striker Lionel Messi and turn him into a defender if that was your desire.
Everything feels like it is customisable in the mode even down to the team schedule of training and rest days to help improve player fitness, and the newly introduced player sharpness to see a noticeable difference in team chemistry. Training specific groups of players together such as the midfielders also sees improvement in chemistry and player cohesion, but the further you go the more chance of you just simulating this will likely occur. The transfer options have had a bit of a reworking with the options of loan to buy now available for future transfer strategies. However, I felt like I lost all momentum because of these drawn out cut scenes for every player that you look to purchase. The player models in these scenes, my god do they feel lifeless!
FIFA21 also introduces the new interactive match simulation seen in other EA Sports tiles such as Madden. This gives a top down view of all players on the pitch and all of their movements, giving you the option to change tactics on the fly as well as jumping into the action with almost zero loading! Overall it’s the small little changes that have contributed to my enjoyment of career mode all over again.
Volta (the FIFA street-style mode) makes its return but again it’s not like EA has reinvented the wheel here. The single player experience, called “The Debut”, sees you create you character, then travel around the world and take on some legends of the game in skill mode games and classic team matches. One fantastic improvement in the mode is the introduction of an online co-op option which really surprised me that it wasn’t in the mode 12 months ago. Again not massive changes but I think one of the advantages of playing Volta is to get the skill moves down to an art form as they are definitely needed.
Ultimate Team has had some love as well with the major change being the removal of fitness cards for your squad and the ability to play online co-op with friends, limited to the division rivals and squad battles modes. Long time players of the mode will welcome this with open arms! Again outside of new player stats/cards and the addition of more icon players, the biggest change to the mode is what feels like full customisation of your ultimate team stadium. You can create gigantic stadiums limited to only the customisation cards that you unlock. Safe to say that Ultimate Team is still the driving force of the series from not only an esports point of view but also EA’s overall revenue.
FIFA 21 for Xbox One and PS4 will get a free upgrade to next-gen via Dual Entitlement and a digital purchase is required for consoles without an optical disc drive. It is worth noting though that not all of your FIFA 21 progress will transfer from current-gen to next-gen, according to EA. All progress you make or content you acquire within Ultimate Team, including players, items, coins, FIFA Points, match record and leaderboard placement, as well as all progression in Volta will transfer from PS4 to PS5 and back, or from Xbox One to Xbox Series X and back. However, progress within all other modes including Online Seasons, Co-Op Seasons, Career Mode, and Pro Clubs, is specific to the console you are playing on and won’t transfer between consoles. I recommend you head to the official website to read up on Dual Entitlement to make informed decisions about which version you purchase.
I stated in my FIFA 20 review that the good mostly outweighed the bad, but I couldn’t help but think where the game could have been rather then where it was at the time. The small improvements in FIFA 21 have all added up to a much better experience for the casual player while still sees enough to satisfy veterans of the series.
Written by: Nic Holland