What can you really say about FIFA 21? It’s a football game similar in vein to last year’s entry with a few changes both on and off the pitch. Those few changes may just be enough to be worth upgrading to the new game, with a better Career mode experience and the expected array of tweaks to the core footballing gameplay.
EA have taken some liberal inspiration from Football Manager for their overdue overhaul of the Career mode. Now you can keep an eye on matches via a simulation screen instead of loading into the pitch. From here you can make decisions based on how your team is doing, as if you were just managing from the sideline. If you want to focus purely on managing, then it is a great way to get through career without having to take control of the team and enter matches. You can also simulate each training day, though your squad is more likely to get better if you play the minigames yourself.
As always, you can choose whatever team you want from any of the leagues in the game to manage, with each one having its own objectives. Playing with Everton, their main aims include reaching the Europa League and getting youth players from the academy to the starting eleven. The squad had not been updated fully at the start with James Rodriguez still at Real Madrid as I started, so I mimicked reality and bought him in. Unfortunately, he, and another of my other signings, tore his ACL and is now out for seven months. Since Everton are currently topping the Premier League with Rodriguez in fine form, I wouldn’t have minded something closer to reality, even if hot new signings getting immediately injured is believable. Less believable was my manager getting offered the Wales managerial job after just seven decent matches in charge.
When it comes to the on the pitch action there is some improvement to the way players move and dribble with the ball. Teammates are slightly smarter with their off the ball runs, and the action feels smoother and more natural. Passing generally feels much more direct and player animations come across as more realistic, though there are still occasions where things go a bit weird as players fall over.
There are areas of improvement still required. Defending still feels lacklustre, as almost any kind of contact tackle it almost ends up being a foul followed by a card. It means that defending basically turns into running at the opposing player and hoping you make contact with the ball to take it from them. It was an issue that was raised for FIFA 20 and it hasn’t been resolved for FIFA 21, leading to high scoring matches where defending just doesn’t feel great. Then again, you could argue EA have made the game ultra-realistic following some of the scores from the 2020/21 season so far.
With eyes turning to the next generation, FIFA 21 on current gen consoles looks nigh on identical to FIFA 20. Sure, the menus are revamped but the gameplay itself looks the same and you would be hard pressed to notice a difference if it weren’t for the few technical changes, and the fact you have more customisation options for your stadium in Ultimate Team.
Of course, Ultimate Team is back – it’s EA’s biggest money spinner, after all. Generally, things are the same where players can build their teams by purchasing packs through FUT coins or the premium FIFA Points currency or engage in the transfer market to buy players directly. Last year, I mentioned that the amount of coins given away felt generous, and I could build a decent team. It’s similar in FIFA 21, but don’t expect to be able to afford the top tier players without grinding away or getting lucky with a pack opening. You can feel why it is tempting to plump for buying FIFA Points when other players seem to already have the best players in their squads.
There is some balancing when it comes to weekly point totals, with those being capped after 30 matches in Division Rivals. This goes some way to ensure players have a shot at performing better in the weekly competition rather than letting players with more time dominate. Another general improvement is that the player fitness has been ditched.
Volta Football also returns, and it still just feels like more of a diversion. The grounded style doesn’t really fit with the street football vibe, and it still feels like a knock off imitation of FIFA Street. Again, I feel almost exactly the same about it now as when the mode was introduced in FIFA 20. There is a short narrative to get into Volta Football, but you can simply skip it and jump online with your Volta team or choose to join someone else’s to play in matches alongside other players.