FIFA 21 Review: Gameplay improved through evolution rather than revolution

It might have arrived slightly later than usual but FIFA 21 is here, the latest gaming title in EA's incredibly popular FIFA gaming franchise.

It's predecessor, FIFA 20, was outrageously successful, becoming the most-played game in FIFA franchise history. Unique players increased 10 percent year-over-year and daily active players reached an all-time engagement high. Fans were also watching record volumes of FIFA content on Twitch, with more than 12 billion minutes viewed since launch, the equivalent of more than 133 million traditional football matches, which is a 260 percent year-over-year growth in FIFA content viewership.

But despite its success, the game did draw some criticism from players of all skill levels, including professional FIFA players, as the FIFA esports scene continues to grow at a tremendous pace. Ahead of the EA SPORTS FIFA 21 Global Series, it was announced that EA will award $3 million in prizes across Qualifiers, Regional Playoffs, the eChampions League, and CONMEBOL eLibertadores in the 2020/21 FIFA esports season, an increase of over $1 Million from what was awarded last season.

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As the popularity of FIFA esports continues to grow, so does the need to have a FIFA title that has consistent gameplay, a prominent skill-gap and most importantly, is fun to play.

I have to admit, I liked FIFA 20 upon release. But over the course of the season, updates to the game made it slower, lowered the skill gap and made it less fun to play. You got the feeling that EA were trying to create a game that was somewhat in the middle, one that tried to please both casual players and professionals at the same time, but ended up pleasing neither.

So, how about FIFA 21 then? Here is my comprehensive review of FIFA 21.

FIFA 21 Review – Gameplay

FIFA fans who are expecting a revolutionary change in terms of gameplay will be disappointed with FIFA 21, but there has been some evolution from the previous game, which makes this title feel like a big upgrade on its predecessor.

Passing in FIFA 21 is much-improved, giving players with high passing attributes the ability to pull off more extravagant passing options, which opens up so many new ways to attack. The passing animation has also been shortened significantly, which means you can play quick one-twos around the box, or get your pass off before being tackled, which is so satisfying.

The shooting in FIFA 21 is also much more consistent, you can trust the finishing of your players, particularly the ones with high shooting attributes, which was a major concern in the last game. It no longer feels like a lottery in front of goal, which will please professional players.

I'm also happy to report that pace is back for FIFA 21. In FIFA 20, it seemed like the aspect of pace had vanished, with slower defenders able to catch up to fast attackers with ease, which was incredibly frustrating. In FIFA 21, fast players are now very fast, which also means that slow players stand out like never before, so you'll have to factor that into the way you play and the players you choose.

Players like Adama Traore, Kylian Mbappe and Rodrygo are able to sprint away from defenders just as they do in real-life, which again adds more attacking options, and scares the life out of the player you're up against. EA also added a new Agile Dribbling feature to the gameplay, with new skill moves like the bridge dribble and ball roll fake turn, using RB/R1 and LS.

It's a useful feature in tight situations, where in FIFA 20 you would simply be consigned to losing the ball, the most talented dribblers in FIFA 21 can now squeeze out of the same situations. There has also been dramatic improvements to attacking movement from the AI, heading is now actually possible in the new game too, plus there's the Creative Runs feature, with players able to flick the right stick after triggering a run to control where they run. For more talented FIFA players, that could be a game changer.

All of these changes have adjusted the balance to favour the attacking player on FIFA 21, which is a contrast to FIFA 20. Defending in FIFA 21 is difficult to get right, with all of the new attacking features, smarter AI and fast players, but that is exactly how it should be!

FIFA 21 will reward the best and most talented players, those that practice their craft will have a huge advantage, which will no doubt please professional players. But please EA, don't patch the gameplay and make it easier, it's just right as it is.

FIFA 21 Review – Career Mode, Pro Clubs Volta, FUT

For FIFA 21, EA announced a raft of new features for Career Mode, including Interactive Match Sim, Player Development, Active Training and Match Sharpness, Weekly Schedule Planning, Player Feedback System, Enhanced Opposition AI, New Transfer Options, New Set-Up Options and Expanded League Themes.

Whilst these features are great news for Career Mode players, and they do make the mode better, this part of the FIFA franchise needs a major reboot rather than small feature changes. Even with the new features, the mode feels stale and is in desperate need of change.

And it's the same story with Pro Clubs, a very fun game mode that has received little to no improvements over the past few years, despite being popular in the community. Thankfully, there are some updates to Pro Clubs this year including AI Player Customisation, which allows managers to customise the visual appearance, name and kit of the 20+ AI Players on their team, and the addition of Custom Tactics. This game mode has so much potential and needs more attention.

VOLTA Football also has a raft of new features, but more importantly, the game mode is now actually enjoyable to play in FIFA 21. It may not be enough to covert some hardcore Career Mode or FUT fans, but at least the mode is now a viable, fun option. A big part of what makes it enjoyable is the addition of The Debut, with players able to a path through a narrative-based introduction to VOLTA FOOTBALL that features some of the biggest names in the game. The changes to VOLTA include VOLTA Squads, Featured Battles, new Match Types, The Debut and VOLTA Kick-Off.

Last but very much not least, EA most popular game mode, FIFA Ultimate Team, has also relieved some positive upgrades. The most notable of which is the addition of FUT Co-Op, a new way to team up with friends online to earn weekly progress in both Division Rivals and Squad Battles, and work towards brand new Co-Op Objectives that reward playing together.

Other new features include FUT Events, Live FUT Friendlies, FUT Stadium and One FUT Club, which allows players to upgrade to the next generation consoles using Dual Entitlement and take a FUT Club from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5 or Xbox One to Xbox Series X and back again with cross-gen transfer markets and leaderboards in FUT 21. (Disc-less consoles require digital purchase of entitlement to upgrade)

FIFA 21 Ultimate Team will once again be the most popular mode, with this being the basis for the FIFA esports scene, attracting millions of FUT players all over the world. However, there are still huge question marks over the inclusion of 'loot boxes' within the Ultimate Team mode, with players able to use their hard-earned cash to purchase FIFA points to open essentially random player packs, which have unfavourable probability for the majority of the time.

FIFA 21 Latest News




The odds of 'packing' a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo are stunningly low in most packs, and the same goes with special promo items too. With the return of Icon SBC's, Icons will be more readily available to the FUT player base, but realistically, the most high-rated Icons will only be used by a select number of players.

On this, EA has previously said that there are no plans to alter the above unless laws are passed, which has already happened in some parts of the world. A recent petition to the UK Government and Parliament, 'Extend the Gambling Act to cover Loot Boxes' received just under 47,000 signatures.

In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that 'full details of the call for evidence and how to respond will be announced shortly with initial findings expected by the end of the year', so expect to hear more news on this in the coming months and years, hopefully in time for the launch of FIFA 22 on next-gen consoles.

FIFA 21 Review – Verdict

FIFA 21 is an upgrade on FIFA 20 in terms of gameplay. There are more attacking options than ever before, making for a more enjoyable, fun experience and one which rewards creativity, skill and practice. There are also upgrades to some of the most popular game modes including FIFA Ultimate Team, Career Mode, Pro Clubs and VOLTA Football, with these changes at least freshening up some of the more classic modes.

FIFA 21 is an evolution of FIFA 20, rather than a revolution. With next-gen consoles being released in November, it's probably fair to say that FIFA fans will probably first see a true next-gen FIFA gaming title next year. But we'll wait and see what FIFA 21 feels like on next-gen consoles before rushing to conclusions.

FIFA 21 brings more goals, more attacking options, more features and most importantly, more fun.

Overall FIFA 21 review score: 7.5/10

The Standard Edition of FIFA 21 will be released on October 9, which is the game's official worldwide release date. However, players who have pre-ordered the Champions or Ultimate Edition of FIFA 21 will get three days early access to the full game, allowing players to play the game from October 6.

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