FIFA 21 has arrived just in time for the hype machine of the next-generation consoles to enter its top gear. With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S less than a month away, Electronic Arts has released this year’s iteration in their long-running FIFA franchise. Last year we saw Volta Football make a solid entrance in FIFA 20, and now with all new locations and new ways to play, FIFA 21 builds on everything that we enjoyed last year. EA has also announced that FIFA 21 will have dual entitlement, meaning if you purchase it on the current generation consoles then you’ll get a free upgrade which will be available up until FIFA 22 launches next year. With that in mind, let’s check out what’s new in FIFA 21.
Booting up the game for the first time feels all too familiar, with the menu system being much the same from FIFA 20. All the typical gameplay modes are there including VOLTA Football, Career mode, FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team), Kick Off, Tournaments and other Skill Games, so you’ll find you have to dig a little deeper to see what’s new in FIFA 21. There are in fact a whole bunch of subtle differences across the various game modes, from basic gameplay maneuvers to co-op features to new stadiums and locations. A keen eye will spot updates across the board which is why we believe that FIFA 21 is a solid game at launch.
With agile dribbling, creative runs, positioning awareness and a more natural collision system, FIFA 21 brings a range of quality of life improvements over FIFA 20. EA has also implemented some fan-requested gameplay features including manual headers and gameplay rewind. That’s right, no longer do you need to lose your mind in single-player when your perfect shot hits the post, just hit the right and left analog-stick and the options button to rewind your gameplay and try again! There’s also a new player-lock system where by pushing the two analog-stick buttons at the same time you can control the movement of a nearby player to set up the perfect goal.
The standard 11v11 gameplay, aside from the small amount of QoL improvements, is identical to last year. A couple of extra goal celebrations, a couple of ball tricks and an updated roster are all you’ll find in FIFA 21, so until we get a real look at the next-gen version of the game, it’s hard to give FIFA 21 the kind of scores we’ve given the last two games. There’s not much else to say about modes like Career, FUT and Pro Clubs. We’ll get into the online a bit later but if you’ve played any of the recent FIFA games then sorry to say there’s nothing revolutionary this year.
As mentioned, VOLTA Football is back with new and improved features. New locations Sao Paolo, Sydney (on the harbour with views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge), Paris, Milan and Dubai help bring VOLTA Football to the next level, though the story mode called ‘The Debut’ is a huge reduction on the story we got last year, and more a showcase of the five new locations. For those new to VOLTA, matches are played as either 3v3, 4v4 or 5v5 in smaller arenas, some with rebound walls allowing you to bounce the ball off them to perform amazing tricks.
VOLTA Football is all about making your players look and play great, with cosmetic items unlocking as you play, while your main player’s level goes up as you unlock skills in the talent tree. The rest of the players in your squad need to be recruited which can be done via natural progression unlocks or by defeating teams and then poaching one of their players. There are also star players which have bonus stats & unique skills and are generally of a higher rank than the players you recruit from a normal match. You can only have one Star Player on the field at any time though, which means you may want to use a bit of strategy at the start of each VOLTA game to figure out your best side.
VOLTA Football now has Squads mode where you can play online in all new modes, as well as Featured Battles where players must win a certain amount of games to unlock unique rewards or to get more currency for the store. In this mode, you’re rewarded for playing and winning on harder difficulties which will get you to the unique and rare weekly rewards a lot faster.
FIFA 21 is still riddled with microtransactions, which once again centers around the FUT mode. With the new co-op mode, events, and new vanity items added including the ability to customise your own unique stadium, EA is hoping that you will buy even more of the card packs this year to have not just the best team out on the field, but also the fanciest. With FIFA Ultimate Team making around a quarter of EA revenue each year (anywhere from $1b to $1.5b!), it’s easy to understand why this year’s version has some tactical precision changes to enhance the players’ experience as much as possible, and also perhaps why other modes are neglected.
Online seemed to be a bit hit and miss, especially for VOLTA. We struggled to find an online game in VOLTA. It was easy finding games in the various modes in the Online tab however, which include the addictive Pro Clubs mode, Seasons, Co-Op Seasons, and Online Friendlies. You can also quickly access FIFA 21 on Twitch via this menu if you want to just kick back and watch some streamers. There’s also no cross-platform or cross-gen play this year, though it does look like Electronic Arts is moving in that direction in the future, so we’re expecting some major announcements next year regarding cross-play for FIFA 22.
Electronic Arts have informed us that while the dual entitlement will allow you to play FIFA 21 for free on your next-generation consoles, not all of your save progress will carry over. Your FUT and Volta progress will all carry over, but unfortunately Career Mode and your online seasons and ranking will not be transferred. The official word from EA is that “all progress you make or content you acquire within FIFA 21 Ultimate Team (including players, items, coins, FIFA Points, match record, and leaderboard placement), as well as all progression in VOLTA FOOTBALL will transfer from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5 and back, or Xbox One to Xbox Series X and back. Progress within all other modes including Online Seasons, Co-Op Seasons, Career Mode, Pro Clubs, etc. will be specific to the console you are playing on and won’t transfer between consoles.”
We’re struggling to find much new visually in the current-gen version of FIFA 21. Aside from new locations, new arenas, a customisable arena in FUT mode, and new clothing items for your VOLTA players, FIFA 21 only has minor graphical improvements over last year’s game. We’re going to give EA the benefit of the doubt for the time being and wait to see what their developers have been cooking up for the next-gen version next month, but for the time being don’t expect anything too flashy on your Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
FIFA 21 comes off as a straightforward update to last year’s game, with quality of life improvements that in any other game would have been implemented via a title update. That said, we’re pretty excited to see how the game will run on our shiny new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles next month because if it’s anything like the recent demonstration we saw of NBA 2K21 (check out our full review here), sports games are finally heading in the direction of ultra-realism with unique crowd movements and amazingly realistic character models. When we look back at the launch of the Xbox One in 2013 where we got FIFA 14 for free, it’s hard to say that EA puts out the same game every year. FIFA has come a long way this generation, and if FIFA 21 is the start of the next gen, we can’t wait to see what happens next. Stay tuned to Rocket Chainsaw next month as we take a closer look at FIFA 21 on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed FIFA 21 on an Xbox One X with review code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Nintendo Switch (Legacy Edition) with next-gen versions arriving on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S at launch. For more information, head to the official website.
- Still the same FIFA we love - Free next-gen 'dual entitlement' - Minor gameplay changes provide more control.
- Still the same FIFA we love - No major changes.