It’s often joked about how EA Sports’ FIFA franchise hardly sees any changes, year in and year out. With FIFA 21, however, EA Vancouver and EA Romania are seemingly rising to the occasion, implementing several new features and changes to Career Mode, Ultimate Team, Volta and much more.
The game is out on October 9th for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Switch with Xbox Series X and PS5 releases later so let’s take a look at some of the biggest changes compared to last year’s edition.
Agile dribbling is somewhat similar to the strafe dribble in FIFA 20. You essentially hold down R1 or RB and move with the left stick to execute some very quick touches with the battle. This also enables new moves like the ball roll fake, essentially fooling defenders to move past them. It’s supposed to add more personalization to one’s dribbling, though time will tell if it’s as overwhelmingly advantageous as strafe dribbling was.
Probably one of the more exciting new features for FIFA 21’s gameplay is being able to actually dictate runs for AI teammates. Hold down L1 or LB while pressing the right stick for a run behind or hold R1 and RB before hitting the right stick to call a teammate short. You can also simply flick the right stick when preparing for a quick pass, indicating the direction that your teammate should go beforehand. Creative Runs allow for up to five players to move at once, which has the potential for some interesting plays. Alternatively, you can press in both sticks to lock on to the current player when attacking.
Natural Collision System
Collisions in sports titles can be wonky, especially in a game like FIFA. The development team has seemingly taken note of this and introduced the Natural Collision System which leads to less falling, less skirmishing and “more natural outcomes” when vying for ball control. Of course, it all looks and sounds nice in theory but we’ll have to see how it actually plays out across all the different collisions in the game.
Removal of Fitness and Training Items
In a move that arrives after years of demands, fitness and training items have been removed in FIFA 21. While fitness still has a gameplay role, depleting during a match, it will now refill with each new match. As for training items, these have been removed due to the vast majority not actually using them. Overall, there’s less bloat in packs but healing items have also been streamlined to heal any injury, reducing the duration of the same depending on their rarity.
Interactive Match Simulation
It’s interesting to compare previous titles to FIFA 21 and see just how many features were missing in Career Mode. Interactive Match Simulation is one such feature. Now, you can actually go into a simulated match as a manager without having to hit the pitch, analyze the different strengths of your team and make changes on the fly. It also doesn’t hurt that simulated matches play out quicker, and allow you to jump in and out as desired.
Growth Development and Player Position Conversation
You can also have more direct control over the development of player growth in Career Mode, honing their skills into specific positions. However, it’s also possible to bring players into altogether different positions thanks to the new Player Position Conversion system. If you’re not particularly happy with how a player has been performing in a certain position or feel they’re better somewhere else at the latter stages of their career, then this should prove useful.
Have you ever wanted to know just how explicitly prepared your team is for a match in Career Mode? Match Sharpness is the ticket. If players have higher than average Sharpness, then their attributes will be boosted. Alternatively, if their Sharpness is below average, then they may have weaker attributes. It’s a nice way to see who’s performing or lagging behind and how to fix that.
Active Training and Activity Management
How do you go about actually changing a player’s Sharpness in Career Mode though? With Active Training, which allows one to set up training sessions for improving players, enabling those key goals or tackles when it matters most. You also have Activity Management to decide training and rest periods to balance the overall health of players.
Some new transfer options have also opened up this year, with Loan to Buy deals now being available. It’s also possible to make these loan deals permanent and you may also find the AI actually making deals for player exchanges while negotiating. Career Mode thus becomes more realistic as you try to stay one step ahead of the AI when procuring top-level players.
Co-op in Ultimate Team
Ultimate Team has always been a huge cash cow for EA with its card packs bringing in boatloads of money. However, it’s perhaps surprising that co-op play is only now being introduced to it in FIFA 21. Modes include Friendlies with house rules; Squad Battles to take on the AI with another player; and Division Rivals to play against other solo or duo team. These go towards different co-op objectives and offer more rewards while also contributing to the Division Rivals ranking and Squad Battles leaderboard.
FUT Stadium Customization
Last year’s game saw the introduction of stadium customization in Ultimate Team but FIFA 21 is going even bigger. There are three options to choose from when deciding on a stadium – the default FUT Stadium with its modern design; the FUT Challengers Stadium with new tifos and pitch trophies; and the FUT Champions Stadium for a more global look, letting you customize just about every little detail. New customization elements also include pyrotechnics, chants, goal music and other celebratory elements, and you can even pick a nickname for your team on commentary.
The community for the FIFA series is pretty big so it’d be nice to have some common goals to work towards. Ask and ye shall receive in FIFA 21 with new FUT Events. There are Team Events where players pick a side and complete different objectives to add to their respective score while Community Events see the entire community working together to complete objectives. In both cases, there will be card packs, coins, players and customization items to unlock.
One Cover Athlete
Unlike FIFA 20, which had three different cover athletes for each different edition, Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé is the solo cover athlete for FIFA 21‘s Standard, Champions and Ultimate editions. Meanwhile, stars like Carlos Vela, Wu Lei, Trent Alexander-Arnold and so on serve as official ambassadors. It’s an interesting change from last year and offers some consistency across the board.
Current to Next Gen Progression
Along with a current-gen release, FIFA 21 will also be available for Xbox Series X and PS5 later. To that end, progress in Ultimate Team and Volta can be transferred from PS4 to PS5 and Xbox One to Xbox Series X, and vice versa. So you can move FIFA Points, item, coins and so on back and forth between generation. Unfortunately, online seasons, co-op seasons, Career Mode and Pro Clubs progress can’t be transferred, instead remaining on one console.
Remember Volta, everyone’s “favorite” mode from last year? Well, it’s back and receiving some much needed changes like online co-op support, Featured Battles against custom squads, and a more arcade-like feel to the action. There are also 23 different stadiums to choose from and The Debut, a “free-form narrative experience” with cutscenes, specific squads and unlockable squad-mates and items. You’ll even pick up Legends of Street like Kotaro Tokuda and Lisa Zimouche