“A significant improvement”: FIFA 21 in review

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FIFA, the world’s largest sport gaming franchise, has begun its newest cycle. In recent years players have been provided with the surprise of new features such as ‘Volta’, ‘The Journey’ and timed finishing. This year, however, EA seem to have spent more time responding to customer feedback about current in-game features and making changes players appreciate, rather than new additions which have appealing trailer footage.

FIFA 21 brings with it an exciting new style of football, moving away from the defence-dominated styles of FIFA 20; this year, much alike the current Premier League season, is about outscoring your opponent.

Volta has made changes, too. No longer trying as hard to be ‘cool’ and ‘down with the kids’ as it did in last year’s game, the narrative remains nonetheless stale and it doesn’t offer much to the everyday user, still feeling more like a FIFA Street knock-off.

Volta’s narrative is still rather stale and doesn’t offer much to the everyday user.

To users’ delight, however, EA have finally made vast changes to career mode. Consistently, the most disappointing reveal of each FIFA was the relative lack of effort put into the career mode. However, players this year have the ability to make much more of the squad they decide to develop. From player readiness and attitudes to pass-by-pass gameplay tracking, the user has significantly improved control of their squad and how they play.

These changes to career mode push FIFA towards the simulation seen in Football Manager, slowing down the transitions between games and transfer windows, classically the most exciting parts. Benefiting the more ‘hardcore’ career mode fans, although potentially putting off casual players who just wanted to drop in and get Messi to Rotherham United.

As ever, FIFA 21 welcomes the return of Ultimate Team. This highly competitive game mode is the source of the majority of players’ gaming hours and numerous broken controllers. Game after game, players compete to find game-breaking mechanics to exploit or complain about; depending on which side they find themselves on. FIFA 20, a game of ‘drop back defending’, Ben Yedder in-forms and every players’ inability to head the ball made it a somewhat mind-numbing experience in which 1-0 scorelines were common.

This year, it seems to have taken a slightly different approach. Simply put the game seems to flow better, and players are able to make creative passes that can break through any back line with the addition of new smart running features for attacking players. Scorelines are commonly in the ranges of five to ten goals, replicating the high-scoring nature of the current Premier League season and making the game much more exciting.

The game seems to flow better, and players are able to make creative passes that break through any back line.


The introduction of co-op Ultimate Team is also a great addition. Players have the opportunity to now play with friends to compete for Division Rivals or Squad Battles points, using either player’s team. These co-op modes are an attempt to create a more involved user base for Ultimate Team, paired with the addition of community challenges, where users must work together to earn exclusive rewards.

Ultimate Team isn’t all about gameplay and goals, though. The game mode is rooted in gaining the best possible players in order to compete, this year’s edition being no different. Ultimate Team also gives players the option to earn rewards on a regular basis, benefiting players who regularly play. Despite this, there is also the option to spend the in-game currency of coins or FIFA Points on randomly generated packs, in order to upgrade your side.

Coins are obtained by trading players and playing the game, although FIFA Points can only be gained through in-game purchases with real world currency. FIFA points have only one use and that is to buy packs. These packs aren’t cheap, with the most expensive pack costing £15 for 30 players with no guaranteed value.

Even if a player gets one of the most sought-after cards, the likes of Messi, Ronaldo or Mbappé, these cards hold no real-world value. They aren’t Pokémon cards which can be traded and sold on eBay; they are digital cards, worth a digital currency, the trade of which for real money is banned by the game’s distributor, EA Sports. In-fact, no matter how much you have spent on the account, if they believe you have traded any coins with another account, you will receive a full ban and no longer be able to access the account.

This pack opening system is a complicated concept for most adults at first glance, but what about if you are a young child, say seven years-old, with no concept of money or its value. FIFA is a PEGI 3 rated game, meaning that any child over the age of 3 is allowed to play the game without supervision. This is because the pack opening system on Ultimate Team is, alarmingly not seen as gambling. Personally, growing up I heard a number of stories of my ‘mates’ and ‘mates of mates’ spending hundreds of pounds on their parent’s debit cards, simply because they didn’t realise the true cost of these packs.

The pack opening system on Ultimate Team is, alarmingly not seen as gambling.

Each year, EA Sports make a substantial amount of money from Ultimate Team. YouTubers, content creators and online influencers are encouraged to open a ridiculous number of packs, costing thousands of pounds in order to create ‘content’, which they monetise to earn back this money. These influencers are reaching a young and often easily impressionable audience who try to replicate the behaviours of these influencers.

Who is to blame: the content creators trying to make a living, EA for creating the system or PEGI for not realising that their rating is essentially soliciting a fully legal under-18 gambling site?

Personally, I believe this is an issue for the game developer. They have the option to remove this element from the game or introduce measures to control the purchases and never seem to make any changes. This is without a doubt gambling and if EA wish to continue to include the store in their game, they should be educating their users on the reality of their pack system.

Overall, FIFA 21 is a significant improvement on its predecessor. The changes benefit users of all game modes and seem to be a genuine attempt to make the as exciting as possible. Now, here’s to another year of sweaty goals and pack openings – cheers!

Image: jeshoots via Unsplash

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