FIFA 21 Review

Matt Lorrigan

FIFA 21 comes at a strange time for the long-running football series. With next-gen consoles looming on the horizon, and a next-gen version of FIFA coming before the end of the year, FIFA 21 for Xbox One will likely be a swansong for the footie franchise on current-gen machines. Perhaps because of this, FIFA 21 doesn’t launch with any brand new and highly-marketable modes, instead content to bring back everything from FIFA 20, including last year’s box-sticker addition of Volta Football.

On paper, this might sound like a bad thing, but without a ton of resources being thrown at some new one-and-done mode, FIFA 21 instead invests in proper improvements across the board. Career Mode sees some of the biggest changes it’s had in years, FIFA Ultimate Team is bursting at the seams with content, and gameplay improvements are more noticeable than ever.


I’ve always been a Career Mode guy myself, and so far I’ve been enamoured with the additions and adjustments made this year. Squad management is more important than ever, with the addition of sharpness as well as fitness stats for each player. This changes up how training works, and you can set up your own regimes for training days and rest days to find a good balance of the two stats. Sharpness in particular is interesting, as fringe players who don’t get much game time will be less effective, making team rotation and substitutions very important to maintain a fit and happy squad. 

It’s just one of the many ways Career Mode has been tweaked to play a little more like SEGA’s Football Manager series, and each change is for the better. A new interactive sim allows you to keep an eye on the action while simulating a game from a bird’s eye view, and you can jump in at any point to take control of your players. This can feel a little like cheating, but it’s fun to dive in and out on a whim, and the classic quick sim is still available as an option if you’re in a hurry. There’s even a new strict transfer option available for players who want a more realistic Career Mode, making it harder to attract top-quality players to less reputable clubs, which is another good option to have.

The final big addition this time around is player development, and this is a godsend for any Career Mode veterans who plan to put a lot of time into the mode. Players can be set on different development paths, impacting which stats grow faster than others. For example, strikers can be developed as a Target Man to focus on jumping, heading, and strength, or a centre back can be trained as a Ball Playing Defender, increasing their passing and ball control to play out from the back. You can even completely change a player’s position, converting an LM to a CAM, or a ST to a RW. This is especially useful for youth players, who are often generated with stats that don’t match their designated position. Remember all those inexplicably left-footed RBs that came through the academy? They are a thing of the past now, and it’s wonderful.

When you finally decide to get out of the menus and into a game, it’s instantly clear how much the gameplay has been improved on the pitch. Headers are back in a big way, having been nerfed to the point of obsolescence in FIFA 20, and while scoring a rocket with your noggin still isn’t easy, you’ll find yourself hitting the back of the net a lot more from a well-placed cross or corner. Overall, players feel a lot more fluid than they did last year, with improved animations across the board leading to some great-looking goals. The new player run features allow for even more options in attack, as a flick of the right stick sends an AI player on a directed run. It isn’t the most intuitive mechanic at first, but it’s yet another tool in the arsenal of a skilled player.

On the whole, a vast array of alterations favour attacking over defending, so FIFA 21 can see some high-scoring games - something that might feel a little unrealistic until you glance at some of the recent Premier League results. Still, a game with more goals is simply more fun than those with fewer. And that’s not to say that there haven’t been upgrades to defending, as well, with player blocks and interceptions much improved, making parking the bus feel like a legitimate strategy when you’re up against it.

Career Mode isn’t the only area to see improvements. FIFA Ultimate Team has long been a priority for EA (no prizes for guessing why) and this year sees the addition of an online co-op mode to make things feel a little more social, allowing players to team up with friends far and wide for some FUT action. The removal of fitness between matches is also a great move, meaning you don’t need to continually purchase fitness cards to keep your squad healthy. Unfortunately, the core of FUT is still pay-to-win, and although it’s simple enough to create a competitive squad without spending a single penny, the loot box-style system will give an early advantage to those willing to shell out a load of cash on opening packs, making their squad look like Man City following its injection of cash in 2008.


Elsewhere, everything else is intact. Volta returns as a fun distraction, and benefits from a few of the new gameplay improvements, especially players’ improved ability to actually block shots. Kick-Off mode will remain the king of local multiplayer, with House Rules offering a nice bit of variety on top of a standard game, and Online Divisions is as frustrating and addictive as ever.

Needless to say, FIFA 21 is an excellent football game, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Visually, this certainly doesn’t feel like it’s pushing the Xbox One to its limits, with the lighting especially not quite offering a true match day experience. Commentary is as repetitive and irritating as it has been for years, and you’ll likely want to turn the volume down and put a podcast on instead. Women’s football is barely represented, still only offering the international teams that EA first added back in FIFA 16, and Career Mode fans will still be crying out for with a multiplayer option.

Despite these quibbles, FIFA 21 is probably the best FIFA game released in a long time, with enhancements on the pitch and a much-improved Career Mode making this a good purchase for any football fan. If you’re still playing and enjoying FIFA 20, you might not find enough new content to convince you to upgrade, but FIFA 21 is almost without a doubt the best football game in years.

FIFA 21

FIFA 21 isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it improves upon last year’s game in almost every area, with an enhanced Career Mode proving to be the highlight. Even if it doesn’t offer much that’s new, it’s the best football game we’ve had in years, and a fitting send off to a generation of FIFA games on Xbox One.

Form widget
82%
Audio
80%

A really good selection of licensed music across the main game and Volta will have you discovering some great new tracks, and the match day chants and crowd noises are very welcome right now in an era of empty stadiums. Commentary hasn’t seen much improvement, though, so if you played a lot of previous FIFAs, get ready to hear the same lines again and again.

Visuals
80%

Lovingly recreated stadiums and pixel-perfect player faces lend an air of authenticity to proceedings, although only with the big teams and leagues - EFL League 2 players still barely resemble their real-life counterparts. FIFA 21 looks very good, but EA has squeezed just about all they can out of the current-gen consoles by now - we’re excited to see the jump to next-gen.

Playability
85%

On the pitch, FIFA 21 is an improvement in almost every way you can imagine, with an animation overhaul that leads to more realistic player interactions, improved defending, and more options when attacking. Oh, and headers are actually viable again in this year’s game. Great stuff.

Delivery
80%

There’s no big new feature to sell the game this year, but as a result, improvements have been made across the board. Career Mode comes out the biggest winner, with some new Football Manager-inspired features, which make it the deepest and most rewarding version of the classic mode to date. FUT and Volta are also stuffed to the gills with content - there’s plenty here to see you through to next year.

Achievements
50%

Achievements have never been FIFA’s strong point, and this year isn’t any different, with a list that will see you diving into almost every mode. No surprises here, and if you’ve played any of the last few FIFA games, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for.

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