Football season is in full gear, and that means a new entry in EA Sports’ massively popular FIFA series. The latest entry remains a dichotomy of play styles. It features everything from 3 v. 3 play on the streets of Cape Town to epic stadium showdowns on the world’s largest football stages. FIFA 21 is available now for current generation consoles, and will be coming soon to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S as well.
FIFA 21 Details
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Developer: EA Vancouver, EA Romania
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
A few small steps for FIFA 21
As the 2021 sports game review season is winding down, one thing is very clear. Apologies if you’re hearing this from me for the 4th or 5th time. It’s quite obvious that nearly every sports franchise is biding its time this year. With the impending release of next generation consoles, it seem apparent that developers are holding back on big updates for next year’s releases.
FIFA 21 is no exception to this rule. Once again the overall package is all too familiar. While minor tweaks and improvements creep in here and there, there is no cornerstone improvement or major new mode to discuss. The core of the game essentially remains intact and strongly resembles last year’s effort.
Perhaps the most notable addition to “Career Mode” play is the ability to simulate matches while jumping in and out as you please. This means you can watch the play develop and still intervene if necessary. It’s definitely a nice add—but one that has been available in other major sports franchises for at least a few years now.
Of course it’s difficult to fault developers too much for this. A generational leap is an exciting time, and new console owners want to see visceral improvements that justify their purchase. One just hopes that fewer changes today lead to an extremely impressive showing next time around on PlayStation 5 and Xbox One X/S.
Goals, goals, goals!
One thing that’s very apparent in FIFA 21 is that the gameplay is quite a bit more loose than last year. Whenever I make my return to the realm of FIFA, I always need a bit of time to get my groove back. I tend to knock the difficulty back (at first) to somewhere around “Amateur”, or roughly a 2/5 on the difficulty scale.
Typically this gives me a healthy balance where I can refresh my controller knowledge and return to a basic gameplay groove. However, the problem I ran into this year was not just how simplistic the game became, but how powerful my AI teammates became. Keep in mind that this isn’t even the easiest setting.
Nonetheless, my team was scoring every time we marched the ball down the field. Even without me jumping in on the play (I like to lock into playing just my avatar in Career Mode) the goals come early and often. I found myself having to exit the game, which was lacking any sort of challenge once my time was up 5-0 in the first 20 minutes.
Of course the solution is to simply bump up the intensity, but to me this still suggests a significant softening of the play style in FIFA 21. It also makes it more of a challenge to “improve” your skills on lower difficulties when the AI can simply run up the score for you. You’ll definitely want to play as the whole team and not just one player if this is the scenario you are facing.
High VOLTAge excitement
After upping the ante, I did spend some more time in Career Mode, but ultimately didn’t really find myself hooked. So many other sports games are incorporating really exciting elements into their immersive “be the player” type modes, including those around skill development, player interactions, and more.
For me, FIFA 21 falls a bit short here. The overall career mode experience (as a player) feels a bit bare. Lengthy contract negotiations may mirror the real world, but they aren’t particularly stimulating. Luckily, it’s VOLTA to the rescue with a bit more engagement when it comes to developing your own avatar.
Once again VOLTA lets you create your own up-and-comer and rise to fame on the street football stage. The story isn’t going to blow you away by any means, but I appreciate the effort to draw players in. You’ll tour the world—meeting superstars, participate in skill challenges, and watch your star rise via exciting street football matches.
VOLTA also offers a few different options to compete. You can take on AI in single player matches, squad up with your friends, or drop in with total strangers in online multiplayer action.
Play with your friends in FUT
FUT mode for the most part remains the same, save few the addition on co-op play in Squad Battles and Division Rivals. If you were waiting for the opportunity to compete with your friends, now is your chance. Outside this, if you’re accustom to dipping your toes into FUT, you should know by now what to expect.
I’d like to see the addition of more single-player options in FUT myself. I enjoy other EA Sports “Ultimate Team” experiences that have deeper tracks of single-player challenges and feats that can yield rewards without having to face off in the heavily microtransaction-influenced arena of online multiplayer. Squad Battles are one way to play solo, but FIFA 21 lacks variety here otherwise.
FIFA 21 features a few minor updates and additions, and leans a bit more toward arcade-style gameplay
With FIFA 21 it definitely feels like the gameplay is significantly looser than prior releases. The goals come fast and furious, especially at lower difficulties, and I’m certain that I’m having a much easier time finding the back of the net in comparison to last year.
Overall FIFA 21 sees only minor changes over FIFA 20, with the addition of co-op gameplay across VOLTA and FUT as well as the addition of interactive simulations in Career Mode chief among them. While lately I typically lean toward player-focused career modes in sporting sims lately, here I find it less immersive. VOLTA offers the most excitement when it comes to creating a player and making your own story.
+ VOLTA features a neat story that draws players back to the mode
+ Co-op gameplay in FUT and VOLTA
– No major new mode or significantly notable new feature
– Career mode remains mostly untouched and lacks immersive elements
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF FIFA 21
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5