FIFA 21 – SAME AS LAST YEAR? – Review

Now last year’s entry was somewhat of a big step for the franchise. The spotlight of course being firmly focused on the contentious Volta Football. Though if you’re wondering if there have been any major changes of a similar note in FIFA 21… You’ll most likely be disappointed. As it’s largely the same core foundation – I know we’re all familiar with the joke by now, “you guys are buying the same game all over again”.
But in all fairness, it does include a bunch of new functionalities and quality-of-life enhancements. There’s actually too many to count here, but I will go over the major improvements.

That being said, let’s first discuss how the game flows. Playing FIFA 21, it almost always feels like there are more tactical options available. Players from the elite clubs, in particular, will often make quality, off-ball runs and persistently force defenders to stay sharp. Crosses are noticeably more effective too (especially with the new whipped cross), compared to how nerfed they were last year. And the newly added player control features allow for more time and space on the ball. To pick out a pass or dribble around the opposition more effectively.

Our VIDEO REVIEW of FIFA 21!

Will ‘Agile Dribbling’ Revolutionise FIFA?

One of the new features I adore is the ‘Agile Dribbling’ ability. Holding the right shoulder button, players can speedily shift the ball between their feet to pass opponents in 1-vs-1 contests. The trade-off is that it drains the stamina bar… drastically. Though you can steadily open up defences with some seriously intricate touches. Adding so much complexity and nuance to each contest. It may take a second or two to acclimate, but the potential usage of this feature seems boundless! Not sure if it’ll break the game yet honestly, that’s to be determined. Agile Dribbling is what you can point to when people ask

“Isn’t FIFA the same thing every year?” I mean it is, but also no! We’ll never admit it!

Agile Dribbling is what you can point to when people ask “Isn’t FIFA the same thing every year?” I mean it is, but also no! We’ll never admit it!

‘Creative Runs’? What Does That Mean?

The other major gameplay addition is ‘Creative Runs’. This allows for full control of up to 5 team-mates after triggering a manual run. Activated by tapping the left shoulder button and deciding a direction with the right stick. Managing 5 players at once maybe a bit of handful. Though it’s perfect for me because build-up play is my jam. Players can run in any direction, rather than simply towards the goal like in past titles. You can even lock-in the person who has possession and make the run yourself like in Player Career. Triggering off-ball runs did feel a little jank to me though. I accidentally used a skill move when I wasn’t supposed to in more than one instance. Since creative runs are tied to the right stick, they can sometimes be more trouble than they’re worth.

The new 'Agile Dribbling' ability in FIFA 21 leaves defenders in the dust!
The new ‘Agile Dribbling’ ability in FIFA 21 leaves defenders in the dust!

You can actually see a visual line for the player’s run by turning on the ‘Trainer’ setting. Make sure you activate ‘Mechanics’ mode only. Because let’s be honest, nobody wants to see button prompts when playing FIFA.

What’s also really cool is the ‘Rewind Gameplay’ option. Exclusive to kick-off if you mess up a sweet goal-scoring op or just want to retry from a specific scenario, you can bring up the instant replay menu and scrub back to where you’d like. Allowing you to replay sections to your heart’s content.

How’s FIFA 21’s Career Mode This Time Around?

Now let’s dive into career mode.
First up is the ‘Authentic Transfers’ feature, which prevents the top tier clubs from stealing all the best players. But as much as it sounds like, it doesn’t really change the overall ‘authentic’ experience much. Clubs like Real Madrid will still horde the top-range players and yet make some hysterically dumb transfers, it’s unavoidable. There’s also a loan-to-buy option available now, but man watching the managers creepily mouth dialogue to each other is still oddly unsettling.

Clubs like Real Madrid will still horde the top-range players and yet make some hysterically dumb transfers, it’s unavoidable.

The newly added ‘Interactive Match Sim’ is unashamedly taken from the Football Manager series. FIFA does not have the same level of team fiddling and customisation. But the birds-eye-view, icon visual approach is much more appealing to watch. It’s an excellent substitute for playing a full match or pressing a button to quickly finalise the results. The overhead display seamlessly bridging the gap between the other two modes. You also can keep track of performance ratings and match stats whilst making subs and tactical changes in real-time.
What’s even better is how you can resume normal gameplay at any moment you desire. So if your team’s on the losing end of things, you can instantly jump in and attempt to salvage a result.
C’mon you Spurs, let’s try and win a game for once, ey?

The Tinkering Options

But in all honesty, more options are always welcomed in my book. And one of these new inclusions is how you can change the position of your current team members. Just like how Gareth Bale famously transitioned from full-back to winger, squads lacking certain positions can now be easily amended. Saving you from acquiring new players to fill positional voids in your line-up.

Just like how Gareth Bale famously transitioned from full-back to winger, squads lacking certain positions can now be easily amended. Saving you from acquiring new players to fill positional voids in your line-up.

A very much appreciated calendar option lets you schedule in when your squad trains, rests and recovers monthly. You can still simulate these drills, but there’s more potential for bigger stat increases if you manually complete the drills. Though having the option to automate these processes, if you’re not a huge fan is a big plus.

This year, managers will need to focus on fitness, morale and sharpness now to fire on all cylinders. Playing time and regular training are the two biggest factors for sharpness, which raises a player’s main attributes. Hence careful consideration is paramount to your club’s success, even for the most casual manager out there…
Does match sharpness come across as an unnecessary stat? Or a welcomed change? I’m honestly not too sure myself.

Issues With Volta Football In FIFA 21

Now Volta Football didn’t have the most rapturous reception last year… And I don’t think public perception will be much different this year… It’s practically the exact same thing, plus a few extra modes here and there, but I’m still not hooked yet.
Volta promotes a fast, trick stick-based approach on the surface, but in actuality, there’s no real incentive to pull off these moves. With FIFA Street 2, a Beta Network favourite, the game actively rewards you for utilising tricks to blaze past defenders. As it’s a lot tougher to out-manoeuvre them without using skill moves. Not to mention how game-breakers literally perform their name-sake.


Since Volta pretty much has the same mechanics as the other modes, if I try and play fancy I normally end up getting punished. So I’ll just revert back to my normal FIFA gameplay, then ask myself
“Wait, why don’t I just play kick-off instead?”
EA should definitely take some notes from the FIFA Street series here.

Has EA Forgotten About Ultimate Team?

Ultimate Team has a few new changes, the most awesome being the 2-player co-op in Division Rivals and Squad Battles. You and your team-mate can even see the ‘Trainer’ visuals when playing together, so you’re both on the same wavelength.
FUT Events lets you pick a global team and complete objectives as a collective, sharing the rewards like packs, coins or players amongst your community.
FUT Stadium is purely aesthetic in nature. Each FIFA player has their own stadium and you can customise it however you like. From pyrotechnics to logos, to changing the line colours from items you’ve gained during the season.

Decision

So, is FIFA 21 worth picking up? I’d say yes, there’s just enough incentive to start fresh again. Though we know the die-hard fans are going to pick it up anyway. The overall gameplay offers excellent control and tactical variety, and the abundance of under-the-hood improvements is not to be understated. Volta Football is still pretty forgettable, and FIFA 21 most likely won’t convince non-football fans to the cause. But the amount of sheer content here more than makes up for its few shortcomings.

For even more information on all the new inclusions in FIFA, check out Episode 41 of our podcast here!

Review by Anthony Culinas

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