Review: FIFA 21 – The sincerest optimist must nevertheless state that this sports year has been quite disastrous so far. The (paid) football in the Netherlands has also been hit hard by the corona pandemic and we are now back to square one and at the moment we can only follow our favorite football clubs from behind our TV screens. Hopefully there will be more life in the brewery with the release of FIFA 21, where fortunately the (virtual) public can still take a seat in the stands. Will EA be able to cheer us up again this year with a fresh presentation of our much-loved football sport? You can read in this review what kind of match FIFA delivers this year.
Familiar, but watch out for the attackers
From the beginning, our recently gained (via previews) experience is immediately confirmed. In terms of gameplay, FIFA 21 is noticeably in line with its predecessor. On the field, this is translated into a slightly higher game speed. In practice, for example, players should react even smarter and more dynamically to what is happening around them. In combination with an inventive dribbling system, players can keep the ball even better while shielding it. After having played quite a few matches, experience teaches us that attackers benefit the most from this. It seems that the attackers were used in particular to give them the benefit of the doubt over the defenders. They sometimes fall short and do not always respond adequately to everything that is going on around them.
This is all too simple in our opinion, with just a few passes the forwards are already reached. Defenders sometimes want to sublime run close to a running line and intercept the ball, but they often let themselves be fooled too easily in various situations, as indicated. It may sound a bit strange, but this often results in a rain of opportunities and goals in every match. In reality, football is not always about putting attacks on the mat as smoothly as possible. Now and then it has its charm to play matches where you really have to knit with the ball until you weigh an ounce to achieve a decent attack.
That was already noticeable last year and it is no different now. Actually, we built on that basis by making only a few brief adjustments to the gameplay. It therefore feels too easy to pass on major innovations to the players who now only know better ball handling and can perform more tricks, so that they can also dribble smarter. For us that is now the well-known annual cost and as indicated it even slightly disturbs the balance, because attackers seem to be able to deal with this better. Which automatically provides more spectacle, which is not necessarily a good thing within the framework of authenticity.
The result is that the tactical aspect fades into the background and because it seldom predominates, it now really feels like a lack in the full picture of an authentic playing experience. A growing annoyance with FIFA is that players still react the same to situations on the field as in the previous parts. At the very least, the range of throw-away gestures and other interactions you see the players doing could have been updated. Annoyances also include the public; you are still stirred up by them, but it is now clear that it really needs a new coat of paint. You see a lot of the same figures sitting in the stands, which makes it smell very like simple cutting and pasting work. This makes it look a bit dated in 2020, hopefully the next-gen version will offer a solution.
Career mode takes steps
Don’t get us wrong, the gameplay is still decent enough to give you plenty of fun. However, solidity does not automatically mean that steps forward are made, which therefore applies to the gameplay. Steps forward are made in career mode, which has a number of noticeable improvements. This now puts more emphasis on properly managing all your players. Players have received an extra point of attention with their sharpness. Their general performance on the field, with their morale, their fitness and their sharpness, now has three pillars that you must keep up with. If you give players more rest between matches, their condition will improve, but they will lose their sharpness again. If that is the case, they perform less well in the matches. So there is a balance between the elements and it is up to you to manage it properly.
When a key player from your squad gets injured for a longer period of time, it gets really interesting. Then he automatically gets more rest, but when he returns, the sharpness has dropped considerably, making you more likely to choose a spare player that is sharp. Although his qualities do not necessarily have to be better in proportion, this can pose an interesting tactical dilemma. Are you dealing with an excess number of players for the same position? Then that is no longer a problem, because you can let each player develop from, for example, striker to a position in midfield. This also saves on the expenses that you might otherwise make to new players, because you have found a solution internally.
As far as transfers are concerned, you can now also choose to hire someone with an option to buy, which gives it just a little more depth. Regardless of what type of transfer is involved, prior to each season you can choose whether the negotiations will be conducted in a strict or in a more casual way. This way you can influence the details of the contract. It is of course important to keep an eye on the financial goals of your club, because it is important to also meet them.
Intervene when necessary
To ensure yourself of a good result during matches, you don’t only have to pay attention to the quality of your selection. This is also due to simulating the matches, where it is possible to follow them from a 2D view. Depending on the course of the match, you can intervene at any time. With the push of a button you are on the field and you continue playing at that moment, so that you can exert more influence on the progress. The other way around, it is also possible to simulate the end result if you want. In addition to being a manager, you can also make a name for yourself as a player as usual. Then you will also have to pay attention to how many training sessions you do yourself, or whether you simulate the training sessions, because this in turn affects how quickly the sharpness of a player can increase.
Personalize FUT and play together
Another eye-catching mode is still FIFA Ultimate Team, FUT for short. An interesting addition here is that, as a member of a community, you can now also achieve goals. You do this not only on behalf of the community, but also for yourself, because it will earn you unique rewards in the form of packs of players and other items. What is also nice is that now you can play (friendly) matches with someone against two other players. You can do this in a classic match or you choose to play a match where the (now known) special house rules are applied. Anyone who starts a match in an online lobby can choose which team to play with.
You can also make your experience within FUT even more personal by further dressing your own stadium. You do this by unlocking all kinds of items such as flags, large banners, customization boxes and more. This free play is done by achieving various milestones and those are special challenges. However, what you can always find fault with on FUT, and which is also popping up now, is that it takes a long time before you get good players from packages. This also does not hide the fact that you have more chance of packages with good / important players when you invest extra money in them.
The online clothing store
Then we have VOLTA, where you can show your skills on the streets of all kinds of different world cities. The story you will go through here feels quite uninspired with the same kind of assignments that you have to fulfill. First play a match, then plow through a number of skill games and then when you have achieved all the goals at a certain destination, you travel to the next place. This is not very interesting to keep doing. It does make a difference that you can eventually unlock street legends that you encounter along the way through the narrative mode to use. Here you will also find the Squad Battles, where you play a number of matches in a row. Regardless of the result and the level of difficulty you play on, you earn points after every match and that makes sense, because once you reach a certain number of points you can buy top players like Mbappé free.
The most unfortunate thing about VOLTA is that the entire mode is rather overshadowed by all the cosmetic items that you can unlock for your players. Actually at almost every screen you will be notified of this as well as the fact that all these items are also for sale with FIFA Coins, which you can of course buy with real money. It is somewhat disappointing that there is such a focus on offering / buying all this cosmetic content, because it does not add much in terms of gameplay. It is undoubtedly fun to dress your players in their own clothes and give them their own identity, but it didn’t do much for us. The way it is presented now misses its target, because in this way it looks more like an online clothing store.
In FIFA 21 there is hardly any progress in terms of gameplay, but it is just enough to save the match together with the excellent career mode. The audiovisual presentation in its entirety is still sufficient to provide a catchy experience, but with the caveat that the audience could use an extra lick of paint in our opinion. Something may also be done about the same gestures that players display on the field every time, which we now know. FUT as mode does just enough to excite you again, although that is not very convincing. For VOLTA, on the other hand, we unfortunately have to pull the yellow card with at least a red edge, because the focus seems to be more on unlocking cosmetic items than on street football, by way of. That means that, in our opinion, EA really needs to work to deliver a more fresh and above all authentic experience next year, one that is less focused on generating additional income through the players.
- Managing your players in career mode
- Being able to intervene during a simulation
- Play together in FUT
- FUT can make you more personal
- The audio (still) contributes to a pleasant gaming experience
- Gameplay adjustments do not work well
- Little is noticeable of tactics in a match
- Same recurring player gestures
- The audience is starting to look dated
- FUT still encourages you to spend too much …
- … just like VOLTA which feels more like an online clothing store