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Game review: FIFA 21

By Tom Richmond
Thu 29 Oct 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

EA Sports recently released its latest addition to the FIFA franchise, FIFA 21, albeit a couple of weeks after the intended release date due to the global pandemic. The year 2020 has been challenging for all of us and seeing manufacturers of sports games start to release their 2021 line-ups is more welcome than ever before.

FIFA 21 isn’t a huge step up from last year’s game and there was a noticeable lack of big announcements in the pre-game marketing. There are, however, a few additions and tweaks that are certainly welcomed, especially as we move towards the next generation of gaming. 

What’s new for 2021?

Career Mode received somewhat of a facelift and is now more customisable than ever. It’s slowly morphing into a football management sim, which is highlighted by the new interactive match simulation feature. This addition allows you to monitor the game and jump in (or out) of gameplay as you want. Player development has also been developed, and you can now modify positions of your favourite players to get the best out of their attributes and potentially unearth the next Gareth Bale. 

One of the biggest changes for FIFA 20 was the introduction of Volta. This was a throwback to the old days of FIFA Street, but wasn’t adopted even nearly as much by the community as EA Sports anticipated. 

To help that, Volta too has received some updates for FIFA 21. The gameplay has been sped up, and it’s now easier than ever to get past players thanks to the new Agile Dribbling feature. Nutmeg control does exactly what it says on the tin, and makes it easier than ever to humiliate your opponent by putting the ball through their legs.

There’s also a new gameplay mode within Volta called ‘The Debut’ which replaces the story mode from last year and allows you to earn rewards to build and improve on your squad to ultimately see your avatar play street football alongside some of the biggest names in the sport.

Collaborative gameplay has also been redesigned, and there is now the option to play in five-a-side Online Team Play. There are also some great new locations to play in.

EA Sports’ cash cow, FIFA Ultimate Team, is back again and has seen a few tweaks to improve the user experience. Fitness cards have been removed from the mode completely, reducing one piece of annoying maintenance, and stadiums are now completely customisable with different themes, goal net colours, and collectable trophies that you can flaunt in front of your next victim.

The menus have been overhauled again from last year, and at first, it’s hard to navigate your way around them. For some reason, a lot of players (myself included) have experienced a slow, laggy menu interface which we hope will be fixed in a future update. 

The FIFA franchise has always been well ahead of the game in terms of licenses and, like every year, new stadiums have been added to the game to appease the fans of promoted teams across the world. Leeds United’s famous stadium, Elland Road, is (sadly) currently omitted from the game as the creative designers were unable to gather the data in time due to COVID-19. EA Sports have said this will be included at a later date.

Gameplay

Lovers of FIFA around the world were slightly disappointed to find that there were no major changes to the new game, but it’s been well received in general due to how the small changes have positively affected the gameplay.

Gameplay speed feels pretty much spot-on, especially compared to the last few instalments. While passing your way up the pitch is too simple, it feels like EA Sports have finally mastered the pace of players, and now a defender with 40-50 pace still stands a chance against (most) fast attackers. This is just one way FIFA 21 is more realistic than ever before.

Defending is a difficult skill to master, but a rewarding one, too. The new collision system works really well and makes defensive situations feel a lot more realistic than before. FIFA 20 (and previous instalments) saw players fall over the opposition, creating situations that you wouldn’t see in the real game. Not anymore. 

Improved positional awareness is more than noticeable and now, depending on how good they are attacking-wise, your player will hold their run and be in the perfect position to get the most out of an upcoming chance. Playmakers find space in the most impossible of places, and defenders read the game better than ever before. 

Another change which, admittedly, EA Sports tried years back, allows you to control the run of AI players to create the perfect chance. It’s hard to get to grips with at first, but it can be incredibly rewarding with a bit of practice.

Verdict

FIFA 21 feels more like FIFA 20.5, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Last year’s game I found really good, and it was only let down by online players abusing certain game mechanics to almost guarantee a win. 

Konami’s offering, Pro Evolution Soccer, still plays second fiddle to the FIFA franchise, and so there’s no reason for EA Sports to drastically change its game.

With no huge changes but lots of minor ones to the gameplay, FIFA 21 feels more realistic than ever.

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