FIFA is a staple of this quarter, preparing people for a new season while also giving them a way to follow the action live through the game itself.
What’s interesting is how FIFA 21 isn’t necessarily a massive evolution of every other installment so far, but it really feels like a greatest hits of everything that’s worked well with the franchise this generation.
Volta is back, just as fun but even more stunning with some glorious looking environments and some neat new additions, like its own hub and featured battles.
Volta just feels like a massive breath of fresh air from the standard game with its faster pace and unique global perspectives. One minute you can be playing in Sydney with a beautiful beach as a backdrop, the next minute you’re in London kicking around on a deserted playground. There’s this lovely feel with the community approach and comradery to it all.
It’s a step away from the grand stage which is often very theatrical with its huge graphical overlays and over-pronounced commentary so you can just play some football with flair. You’ll see characters do backflips off steel bars, and there’s more emphasis on fancy footwork.
It can be competitive, of course, with online matches, and its extensive ‘Debut’ story mode which lets you take an aspiring team all the way to Volta championships, throwing in some familiar names and faces along for the ride. But it also gives the FIFA team the chance to have a bit of fun themselves, and offer unexpected rewards like Anthony Joshua as an unlockable player.
As much as I love my career modes and dabbling in Ultimate Team, this year I’ve spent the most time and had the most fun with Volta, trying to earn the rewards, build up my team, and character.
But of course, everything else is well intact here. The career mode actually features its own take on Football Manager now with an Interactive Match Sim, enabling you to quickly alternate between action on screen and with the management overlay.
This lets you control as much of the action on the pitch as you want to, while also maintaining your managerial duties. This also lets you see up close how players are responding to your tactics and whether they are working in quite the way you want them to.
While this works to some degree in Football Manager, we know how well refined FIFA gameplay is. It’s been perfected over years and there’s a reason it’s the biggest football game in town. The transition is relatively seamless and it really helps you to see if your tactics are actually as good as you think they are.
Of course, it also gives you a look at individual player stats like their fitness and if you might need to consider a substitute sooner rather than later, as well as how they’re generally performing and how their development is going.
Career is as it’s ever been, but the managerial side of things has had some great improvements which further enhance the experience for the better.
Though, it’s impossible not to mention the Coronavirus sized elephant in the stadium here. It’s interesting that FIFA have continued to play up the fact that the fans are still filling stadiums this season and there’s no mention in the career mode. One wonders if that would have made for some interesting dynamics – from a narrative point of view, especially -as football is currently going through one of its most challenging periods in decades.
FIFA have even added new modes and features for Ultimate Team, while keeping the core balance of the mode intact. You can team together with a buddy online, splitting rewards, playing against AI in unique matches and friendlies, while completing special objectives to earn even more rewards.
EA have also made it so that you’re playing more than you’re tinkering in the options, which will be welcome news to players who just want to head straight in and get out on the field.
FIFA 21 just feels more refined, streamlined, and better structured as a swansong for this generation. There’s enough of a balance here to keep you playing for longer – Volta plays like a completely different game at times – the game still plays as tight as ever, and it looks great.
Where FIFA goes from here is anyone’s guess. We’ve already seen how the likes of NBA look on PS5 and Xbox Series X, this also represents a massive shift for the FIFA games and we will likely start to see the real differences come FIFA 22.
This is obviously the best FIFA to date, with mostly up to date rosters – we’re still waiting for some roster changes based on the recent transfer window – and some ace tweaks that make fun modes even better.
For now, it’s easy to look back at how far FIFA has come this generation – the introduction of Volta, getting hold of the Champion’s League, the changes with Ultimate Team – but you wonder with all the polish and finesse we’ve seen from the game over the years, how it evolves from here. How can EA keep this IP relevant over the next 7-8 years and how will it take advantage of these new consoles.
None of that matters, for now. FIFA, to no one’s surprise, remains the kingpin of sports and FIFA 21 is the best this generation has seen. Providing you’re not playing on Switch, of course.
+ The Greatest Hits of FIFA this Gen
+ Volta is so fun and a great change of pace from the main game
+ The seamlessness of Manager Mode to gameplay is great
– Some roster updates still not come through
– No massive evolutions over last years FIFA 20
FIFA 21 is now available on PC, PS4, XO, Stadia, and Switch
Code kindly provided by EA
Tested on Xbox One