Bottom line: After years of seeming like a stale product, FIFA 21 has done a lot to reinvigorate a game that's beloved by so many, although there are still some issues present.
- Hyper-realistic gameplay
- Incredible broadcast/commentary
- Volta Football is still a geat mode
- Career Mode changes are long overdue
- FIFA Ultimate Team still much too reliant on microtransactions
- Career Mode still needs more work
When it comes to the yearly FIFA video game franchise, many fans are convinced that recent releases are just more of the same. FIFA 20's release wasn't awful but was filled with complaints that many core modes felt much too similar to really feel new. Thankfully, EA Sports seems to have listened, as FIFA 21 - the latest entry in the long-running soccer franchise - adds improvements in some of the games core modes, making this entry feel much fresher than in years past, and one of the best sports games on the market.
What you'll love about FIFA 21
It should come as no surprise that soccer is arguably the biggest sport on the planet. Thanks to its wide global appeal, the sport has almost always featured some way for video game fans to experience the sport they love virtually as well. However, over the last couple of years, one of the biggest complaints surrounding EA Sports' FIFA - the most popular soccer video game on the market - is that it too often felt like more of the same. This has always been an issue with sports games, but the FIFA franchise seemed to get hit by this even harder. Thankfully for fans of the sport and FIFA franchise, FIFA 21 sees EA Sports change things up a bit, offering some much-needed improvements to some of the biggest modes, resulting in a game that both new and old fans should find very appealing.
|Developer||EA Vancouver, EA Romania|
|Players||Single-Player, Local/Online Multiplayer|
|Platforms||Microsoft Windows, Xbox, PlayStation 4|
Despite the gripes some may have with the FIFA series, one aspect of the sport they do get right time and time again is its presentation. This is no different in FIFA 21, as the game looks and feels even better than ever. Making the game feel as real as the sport is something EA Sports always strives to achieve, and it looks like they've gotten even closer this time thanks to some of the improved player animations and general presentation updates made. Sweeping camera angles as players take the pitch, players reacting to missed goals or referee decisions, and even the commentary team having a bit more to say about things happening during the game all make playing FIFA 21 feel like you're watching an actual game being played.
Of course, while presentation is one thing, sports games often make or break themselves when it comes to actual gameplay. While FIFA 21 won't feel much different in terms of actually playing, EA Sports has tweaked a handful of things to make gameplay feel even smoother than in years past. After some feedback from the FIFA community, more tuning to things like passing, blocking, and general responsiveness have been made, meaning that you won't be getting some of the weird animations or bad plays that you might have seen in other FIFA entries. Blocking especially feels much smoother this time around, with defense in general feeling much tighter and way more responsive than they have before. Being able to defend a player tightly, force a turnover, and immediately begin going on the attack is a major part of soccer. It feels much better than it has in any FIFA game prior.
Outside of some minor tweaks to gameplay, EA Sports has also introduced a handful of major fixes to make things feel like you have more control over what's happening during any given game. One of these tools - Agile Dribbling - is a brand new system that gives you more access to dominating the field at any given time. As you're making your way down the pitch with the ball, you're now able to do a lot more to fake out defenders or get the ball upfield without issue. New skill moves like bridge dribbling and ball roll fake turns have been introduced into the game and allow players to keep the ball longer while also creating space in ways that haven't been done before. General responsiveness with the ball feels much better, with certain things like stopping and going with the ball feeling way tighter than they ever have.
In the moment, gameplay isn't the only thing that's changed in FIFA 21's gameplay, though, as players now have even more control over what their teams do when certain players don't have the ball. EA Sports has added a feature called Creative Runs into the game, allowing players to use the analog stick to manually move players without the ball around the field to aid in how offenses attack. Flicking the stick in different directions will move players up the field or have them running parallel to you, allowing you to press harder against a defense and could result in better scoring opportunities against any opponent. This also pairs well with FIFA 21's fixes to positioning, which sees the virtual players on the field get boosts in in-game intelligence, resulting in better anticipation of a play and general better movement.
Elsewhere in FIFA 21, you'll find many of the same modes you've come to expect. The games biggest mode - FIFA Ultimate Team - is still around, and continues to be the game mode that most people will eventually flock to. Volta Football also makes a return, allowing players the chance to break away from the standard soccer experience and play a more arcade-style, "street" soccer mode, complete with 3-on-3 gameplay and unlockables exclusive to the mode.
Some of the biggest complaints regarding FIFA 21 have come from stagnation regarding some of the game's biggest modes. This year, EA Sports has made sure to address, making big changes to some of the core modes, including Volta Football, FIFA Ultimate Team, and Career Mode. You won't find any new game modes in FIFA 21, but you will find some big changes to modes that have become fan favorites. Honestly, the dedication to fixing many of the game modes is a much bigger deal than simply throwing in new game modes and letting others flounder.
Improvements where it counts
One of the biggest gripes many players have had regarding FIFA over the years is that Career Mode has seemingly taken a backseat to many of the franchise's other modes. Despite being one of the biggest modes in the game, Career Mode has often felt like the same thing repeatedly, with no real changes. Fortunately for fans of the mode, that's changed this time around. For those who don't know, FIFA 21's Career Mode allows players to take control of either a single player on the field or the manager of an entire club. Unfortunately, the side of Career Mode that focuses on just one player hasn't received too much of an update, but the managerial side of things has, which should be music to many fans' ears.
There are too many changes to FIFA 21's Career Mode to go in-depth on all of them, but there are plenty of big ones that deserve mention, including the new Interactive Match Sim feature added. This new feature allows players to jump in and out of matches during any point of a game, giving you much more control of what can and can't happen in a game. If you want to sim for the first 50 or so minutes to see if your team is good enough to score before jumping in, you can, or perhaps you can choose to only jump in during a key penalty kick or the final push of a game. Revamped match data for Career Mode also gives managers more precise data so that you can make substitutions and moves during a game with much more confidence.
One of the biggest changes to FIFA 21's Career Mode comes in its player development system, something fans have long asked to change. EA Sports has introduced an entirely revamped growth system, allowing managers to completely control everything about any given player. This new growth system allows you to change positions on any player to help fit your team and shift how they train to better suit their new skills. If your team is heavy on defensive midfielders, you can turn one into a right-winger, and begin training him like one in order to help the team in ways you simply couldn't before.
Other minor changes to FIFA 21's Career Mode include better training and match sharpness tweaks, the ability to schedule things like training weeks in advance, and a smarter feedback system, allowing managers to get an even better feel for how their players are doing ahead of a game. While fans of Career Mode will likely celebrate the changes, they don't' seem to be all that EA Sports can do when making Career Mode as great as it could be. However, the changes are very welcome, and hopefully won't be the last updates the beloved game modes sees in the coming years.
While FIFA 21 doesn't include any new game modes specifically, it does add some new things to many of its existing modes, including Volta Football. After being introduced in FIFA 20, Volta Football quickly skyrocketed to one of the most popular modes in the game, mostly thanks to its incredibly easy to play and welcoming atmosphere. Similar to last year and very close to how Madden NFL 21 operates, FIFA 21 allows players to create their own character, complete with player archetype and playstyle, before jumping into the arcade-like mode.
New to Volta Football in FIFA 21 is a mode called "The Debut," which acts as a narrative-based introduction into the mode. After creating a player, you're taken into a mini-campaign that has you building a team and taking on CPU players across the world. It's a pretty fun introduction as far as game modes like this go, and also allows you to unlock some neat gear along the way. It also does a great job of showcasing some of the incredible locations that Volta allows you to play in, like New York or Paris.
Alongside a narrative-based single-player mode, EA Sports has also given Volta Football more love in the form of Volta Squads, a new way for friends to pair up and play online. Players can pair up with three other friends or join up with random folks in the FIFA community to play 5-on-5 games in the style of Volta football. This mode comes complete with a brand new Volta hub, giving you the chance to check out some of the exclusive rewards you can unlock as you customize your avatar. With more updates to the mode coming and a ton of fresh content already included, Volta Football might have been my favorite thing about FIFA 21. It's a fast and easy approach to soccer that gives you the thrill of playing without the longer time commitment and could be something fans flock to, so it's good to see EA Sports put so much into it.
What you might not love about FIFA 21
The problems that arise in FIFA 21 aren't new to the series, which makes it that much more frustrating when they pop up during a game. While I was lucky enough not to have any major issues arise when I was playing the game, there were still some bugs and in-game glitches that popped up that have been around for some time. Thankfully, many of the glitches and problems found in past games have been fixed, but FIFA 21 still has a little ways to go before it's completely free of many of the animation problems it suffers from. However, the issues of bugs and glitches pale compared to the true problem that FIFA 21 - and the FIFA franchise as a whole - has.
One of the biggest problems in FIFA 21 is one that's not new to the game, and unfortunately drags down the entertainment value of one of the biggest modes in the game, Ultimate Team. Introduced all the way back in FIFA 09, FIFA Ultimate Team - or FUT, as it's often called - has been a staple of the franchise and very quickly become the biggest mode in the series, eventually spreading to other sports titles, and even other sports games created by other companies. Unfortunately, unlike some of those modes - like MLB The Show's Diamond Dynasty - FIFA Ultimate Team is still way too reliant on microtransactions to ever feel like a mode you can simply enjoy as a casual fan.
FIFA 21's Ultimate Team mode has admittedly tried to curb the reliance on microtransactions thanks to more single-player objectives and rewards given out, and it still feels like you really can't field a truly great team without investing a lot of real-life money into the mode. While some may argue that the mode itself is essentially virtual card collecting, and thus is going to cost money, it doesn't change the facts that there are casual players who would love to partake, and the cost of entry to having a solid team is often way too high to justify playing a lot of the mode. Furthermore, as years go by, this problem becomes more and more strictly tied to FIFA, as Madden's Ultimate Team, MLB The Show's Diamond Dynasty, and even NBA 2K21's MyTeam have become much better at giving casual players things to strive for as they play. These modes are and always will exist to make money, and it's a shame that FIFA 21's take on it is so heavily tied to that aspect because the mode itself is extremely enjoyable.
Should you buy FIFA 21?
Despite many of the problems that the FIFA franchise is often attacked for, FIFA 21 represents a concerted effort to address many of them, and the result is another stellar entry in the long-running series. For soccer fans looking for the newest game, FIFA 21 will remain the most realistic and best soccer game you'll find on the market, period.
3.5 out of 5
The many tweaks to core game modes that FIFA 21 offers give players a fresh take on a game that had grown stale outside of gameplay. Changes to Career Mode and new inclusions to Volta Football make these game modes much more enjoyable than in years past, and overall gameplay and presentation changes make the game even more realistic. While its Ultimate Team still suffers hard from heavy reliance on microtransactions, FIFA 21 still offers more than enough to keep fans happy while they take to the virtual pitch.
FIFA 21 retails for $60 and is available on Microsoft Windows, Xbox, and PlayStation 4, with versions launching on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Google Stadia at a later date.
A solid effort.
FIFA 21 is a solid entry in the long-running soccer franchise, with some fresh improvements to core gameplay modes and some neat additions overall. Fans of the series should be pleased.
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