FIFA 21 Review: Fifty-fifty ball

EA Sports' soccer franchise is back with FIFA 21, but does it bring anything new to the game? Our review.

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Though EA is very invested in the world of sports games and simulations, FIFA is certainly its crown jewel. Not just in regards to their sports franchises, but of every property in the EA catalogue. With soccer/football being the most popular sport in the world, it only makes sense that FIFA is constantly among the gaming world’s best-selling titles. The king is back with the release of FIFA 21, the latest installment in the beloved franchise.

Perfecting your game

FIFA 21 features several tweaks and changes to existing modes from the franchise. As for the core gameplay, EA Sports has added new controls in order to give players more agency when handling the ball. This includes the bridge dribble and ball roll fake turn. These are great additions, as it can often be difficult to break off of or get past a respectable defender, especially on higher difficulty settings.

New changes also help to improve AI performance in-game. The AI has a more realistic level of awareness, letting skilled players like Mbappé anticipate moves and put themselves in the position to make a play. Players can also now influence their team’s movement off-ball. This includes where a player goes after or just before receiving a pass. Having a bit more control over teammates' off-ball behavior eliminates some of the silliness of playing with a team completely composed of AI teammates.

The gameplay in FIFA 21 retains the high level of quality that fans have come to expect from the FIFA franchise. At the end of the day, the soccer/football simulation that you get in FIFA is the best you’ll find, and has even been present in some of the series’ lesser entries. FIFA 21 is able to fall back on its quality gameplay despite some familiar speedbumps.

Kick it to the curb

Of course, FIFA Ultimate Team is at the forefront of FIFA 21’s offerings. Letting players build their own fantasy club of real life players, FUT is the biggest money-maker in EA Sports’ soccer/football sim. Unfortunately, the mode suffers from the same issues as it did in last year’s FIFA 20. Cash is king, as microtransactions are the simple way to steadily build up a team, vs dumping hours into the mode to get packs that likely won’t yield that superstar you’re looking for. 

Microtransaction shenanigans aside, EA Sports has added several new features to FUT this year. FUT co-op lets players team up with a friend to compete in unique challenges and earn rewards for both clubs. This along with new options for Friendlies and stadium-building mechanics are all welcomed additions to FUT, but don’t prevent it from feeling like a casino at times.

Hometown hero

Career is a staple mode in FIFA, and makes its return in FIFA 21. In this mode, players create their own player or owner, taking their talents to a football club of their choice. There is a wide variety of customization options to choose from when building your character, as well as plenty of teams to choose from throughout the many leagues around the world. It’s still as fun as ever to take the field alongside some of the biggest players, and build your own name to become one of the league’s stars.

There are a lot of stats and analytics to view and play around with in Career mode, specifically when playing as an owner. Developing players, improving the club’s brand, and balancing a healthy schedule for players makes for a mode with plenty to do and see.

Volta over the competition

First introduced in FIFA 20, Volta Football is a street-mode that sees players competing in more informal matches. This mode worked as a response to the criticism that FIFA fails to offer anything new or worthwhile. Kits are swapped for streetwear and accessories, as expansive stadiums are exchanged for smaller local venues. Volta returns in FIFA 21, bringing more ways to play. 

In FIFA 21, Volta Football mode adds a few quality of life improvements, as well as a few new features. Players can face off against unique AI teams assembled by the community or developers with Featured Battles. There’s also some new ways to team up with friends and play online in smaller-scaled matches. Volta Football gets some necessary tweaks in its second outing, but nothing that makes it any more attractive than it was in its debut. 

The final whistle

FIFA 21 is about what you’d expect from a new FIFA release. Some quality of life improvements over the previous title though nothing that really signifies a leap in class from past games. That being said, the quality in the FIFA series is fairly high, giving EA Sports a nice cushion to fall back on every year. FUT maintains the same inherent issues as it did last year, despite some shiny new features. FIFA 21 is another serviceable, yet standard entry in EA Sports’ soccer/football simulation series.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. FIFA 21 is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC for $59.99.

Contributing Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
FIFA 21
7
Pros
  • New ball control moves
  • Improved AI behavior
  • Gameplay remains high-quality
Cons
  • FUT still feels predatory
  • Recent FIFA titles blend together
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