For newcomers to the FIFA series, sprinting across the field and converting narrow passages or high arched lobs into game-winning results is invigorating. The crowd goes wild, the camera shakes to match the intensity of the roar, and Paulo Dybala does a backflip as his teammates cheer with excitement. Moments like these are fun and exciting, and you don’t have to follow the long-running series’ year-to-year adjustments to appreciate them – though seasoned veterans may be disappointed with the small steps forward.
Instead of making revolutionary changes, EA Vancouver uses FIFA 21 as an opportunity to refine the gameplay from moment to moment. Holding the ball feels intuitive, especially when faking aggressive defenders with skill moves like bridge dribble or ball roll fake turn. In addition, establishing fluid passages between multiple players with the movement of the right club makes movement accessible to players of all skill levels. Overall, the gameplay feels streamlined and fun – but the package is about more than the action on the field.
The atmosphere and presentation of FIFA 21 are excellent. I’ve always enjoyed watching jerseys crease and crease with slight movements or how players flex their muscles after driving the ball into the opposing net. The animations are fluid and don’t have a lot of collision issues. Even so, I did notice a few occasions when a celebrating goalscorer slammed into a net or ran through a partition into the stands. These moments are immersion breaking but don’t happen often enough to drag the game down.
FIFA 21 still has a number of classic modes. Ultimate Team lives up to its reputation as a highly competitive competition, but skill-level differences feel unfair as microtransactions result in faster development and better team building. You have several offline and online options for earning Ultimate Team Coins – run with friends and take part in division rivals and squad battles, or immerse yourself in unique event playlists – but don’t expect one Earn large amounts of rewards. The tedious sanding is an integral part of Ultimate Team. Other multiplayer modes, like 11v11 Pro Clubs, are chaotic fun, but returning gamers will find that it’s a copy of last year’s version.
Career mode makes it easy to manage club development. You can set up group training sessions before big games to increase the edge of your team – a new attribute that affects the likelihood of making breakthrough drives or making critical defensive stops. A clean interface also allows you to keep track of your team’s morale and fitness so you can tweak your plans for prioritizing high and low tier players. I enjoyed turning my substitutes into all-stars and the challenging AI made those off-the-pitch fixtures more rewarding. If the strong management and logistics of Career mode are too monotonous, pre-built tournaments like the UEFA Champions League and Women’s International Cup can get you right into the action.
My favorite mode is Volta with small games (either 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5), similar to how I imagine organized street football. First you create an avatar, adapt the appearance of your squadmates and decide on a team logo / a team name. Volta’s Quick Play matches take you around the world to wonderfully realized locations – the favela-themed map of Rio de Janeiro is outstanding – and the fastest way to earn modest chunks of skill points and currencies that can be used for new skills and Clothes can be exchanged respectively. Although Volta’s wardrobe is extensive, it is home to an extremely lackluster collection of gear, ranging from generic leotards to monochrome sneakers. On the other hand, buying skill nodes in your avatar’s skill tree will customize the gaming experience in a satisfactory way. Do you prefer to take clutch passes and fill in your templates, or would you rather be a relentless goalscorer? In addition, players can be recruited from other Volta teams. However, if you want to play alongside famous footballers like cover athlete Kylian Mbappé, you have to hold your own against the AI and make a list of monotonous challenges.
In FIFA 21’s short, single-player story, The Debut, you’ll compete against a range of amateur Volta teams to secure your place in the Dubai Streets and Icons Championship. The debut narrative and characters are unforgettable, but it’s a great way to earn a significant amount of skill points and currency. Volta is a nice departure from the structure of professional football. However, when you factor in the tiny pitch and the lack of footballers on the pitch, it becomes clear that the game mode prioritizes one style of play: quick aggression. Because of this, the matches vary between child’s play and outright punishment.
FIFA 21’s graphics and gameplay offer fun and functional football, but its ambitions don’t go far beyond that. Over time, grinding leads to burnout and boredom, and the equipment and rewards you work so hard on are rarely satisfactory enough to make the hunt worthwhile. Getting the basics down is important, but it takes more than that to be a real winner.