It’s been a slow summer on the FIFA 21 news front. but yesterday EA announced FIFA 21 and gave us footy enthusiasts a preview of what the team has been working on. In case you haven’t seen the official trailer you can do so here:
Like most trailers, the action is fast, mixing in gameplay with stay-at-home scenes from some of Europe’s most promising talents. Cover athlete — and what a terrible cover it is — star Kylian Mbappe is obviously the focus here but cameos from Joao Felix, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Erling Haaland signals a transition from the two guys who have dominated the footy landscape for the past decade, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.
The gameplay action sprinkled in doesn’t look largely changed from FIFA 20 but it’s nearly impossible to spot the differences in these movie-like trailers. What is interesting are the updates EA provided on their website. It’s these juicy details that we’ll sink our teeth into!
As always, gameplay is what we do here on OS so it’s only right to start out with it and EA’s emphasis right from kickoff is about dynamic attacking, something that is stagnant in FIFA 20.
“Explode past defenders with the new Agile Dribbling system. Faster footwork gives you more control and responsiveness in one-on-one situations, and new skill moves like the bridge dribble and ball roll fake turn provide you with the means to explode past defenders.”
Dribbling in FIFA 20 is generally decent. The ball feels looser than any FIFA from the recent past but there’s still something missing. Dangerous dribblers like Sadio Mane, Eden Hazard, etc. don’t feel as dynamic on the ball as they should. Perhaps it’s due to FIFA’s emphasis on skill moves as a way to beat defenders but being a good dribbler doesn’t always mean that you have every trick at your disposal.
Perhaps the greatest two dribblers, Messi and Diego Maradona use their control and low center of gravity to put defenders off balance. It’s that agility and ability to explode that’s been missing from FIFA. PES has it in the form of a convenient double-tap of the sprint that essentially sees you push the ball forward. Ironically, this is very similar to the their newly touted “Bridge Dribble” skill move, which if we’re being honest, isn’t new because it was in FIFA 18.
If you’re unfamiliar with a bridge dribble, it’s essentially a move in which you push the ball around the standing defender and race around the other side to collect it. As always is the case with EA, the key is balance, specifically, defenders being able to stay with these new attack styles without artificial boosts (warping or the dreaded warp-speed shoulder barge).
“New Positioning Personality raises the importance of positional awareness. World-class forwards will hold their runs to stay level with the last defender to stay onside, playmakers will hunt for space to operate between the lines, while the best defenders will close down passing lanes more effectively to make it harder for the opposition to create opportunities.”
Music to my ears! Positional awareness is the key to soccer. Understanding where to be on the pitch, both while in attack or on defense is something that separates professional players from your weekend warriors. Intelligent runs seem to be the focus here and hopes to address one of my biggest faults with the game after release: attackers just standing around.
Contrary to popular belief, no player is in constant movement in soccer as you simply wouldn’t have the stamina to run, jog and sprint for 90 minutes. It’s a game of changing speeds and finding your space so it’s nice to see EA place an emphasis on this, especially now that so many teams implore low blocks (defenders dropping deeper into their own half to compress the space). As I watched both Arsenal and Manchester United fail to effectively create chances this past weekend against low blocks, finding space in between the lines is of utmost importance. If you can find players similar to the Silvas at Man City or Bruno Fernandes at United, you should be able to use this to your advantage.
Also worth mentioning is that “defenders close down passing lanes…” is something that is a weak point in FIFA 20. FIFA 20 added increased emphasis to one-on-one battles and forced you to defend the ball so it’s refreshing to hear that our AI teammates will be in better positions to cut out passing lanes.
“Creative Runs give you new options for influencing your team’s movement off the ball, revolutionising attacking build-up play in FIFA 21 and providing you with more ways to break down the defence.”
Creative Runs seems to piggyback off the last gameplay point, positional personality. More runs not triggered through button inputs of your own are needed, and while sliders can increase the run frequency, quite frankly they shouldn’t have to. Midfielders who are implored to get forward through your player instructions or some personality trait should make gut-busting runs into the 18. More attack variety by the AI is never a bad thing.
“In FIFA 21, key footballing moments including goalmouth scrambles, battles for possession in the midfield, and attacking duels will resolve more naturally than ever before, resulting in smoother encounters between players as they strive to reach the ball.”
Sounding like something off a Tinder profile, “smooth encounters” appear to be EA’s attempt to smooth over the animations as players come together in physical encounters. Too often in the past, FIFA has suffered from awkward animations that not only look terrible, but often take you out of the play through some type of warping or other glitch. Introducing a layer of physicality in these instances should go a long way towards creating a game that is visually improved in terms of how players feel, move and act.
“Informed by feedback from the community, revisions to the fundamentals of football in FIFA raise the game throughout the pitch, with manual headers, more balanced blocking, more intelligent passing, and increased responsiveness giving you more control on and off the ball.”
Just the mention of “football fundamentals” is enough to make OS’ own slider guru Matt10 smile. While I’d argue that a focus on football fundamentals differs from what EA mentioned, the increased intelligence in all facets of the beautiful game are a much welcome addition. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what manual headers means as it is my understanding that if you play on manual shooting then headers will be manual, but more intelligent passing is welcome.
I’d personally like to see a button modifier that allows to you either shoot with your feet or your head. Perhaps this is what it means? Nonetheless, both the AI and human players could be more inclined to play balls into areas as opposed to always passing it directly to a player as a result of this new focus on fundamentals.
“Replicating the play style of the best FIFA players in the world, the Competitor Mode setting gives your opposition a better grasp of skill moves, dribbling types, and tactics to give you a more challenging and rewarding opponent to match up with on Legendary and Ultimate difficulty.”
Could this be the first step towards separate gameplay modes? One for online/FUT and one for offline players? While Competitor Mode certainly seems geared towards us career mode players, specifically by making it more challenging, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, “Why this isn’t just a staple in all modes?”
Shouldn’t an increase in difficulty levels mean an increase in managerial AND player AI? EA games are notorious for skirting ratings as you increase the difficulty, but in this blurb EA makes no bones about their intentions. For all you FIFA players out there that say Legendary and Ultimate difficulties are too easy, EA has something for you!
Gameplay news and Career Mode? Truly the FIFA gods have smiled upon us today brethren!
Interactive Match Sim
“Experience a whole new way to play out your season with the new Interactive Match Sim. Jump in and out of matches to influence the course of the action, or take charge of key moments including penalties and free kicks to change the outcome of the match. Monitor match data and make changes directly from the sim based on the match stats and your players’ performance levels and stamina.”
This addition is for all of those footy gamers out there who like Football Manager but also want to occasionally play a match. Total control over your sim means “coach mode” players can actually find some enjoyment in FIFA. This is an addition that won’t really affect you unless you like to sim games, but for those of us who do on occasion, it would be nice to jump in when things go awry.
Revamped Growth System
“Manage your players’ development in greater detail with a revamped growth system. Turn right backs into right wingers, defensive midfielders into centre backs, and more to fill gaps in your team, and monitor player attribute changes during training to see how your squad is progressing.”
Last year, FIFA 20 introduced dynamic potential. This year, there’s a revamped growth system that finally allows you to train a player to grow into another position, something PES accomplished years ago.
Nonetheless it’s a nice addition that allows for positional versatility, especially as players age and tend to move from positions that require more athleticism. Being able to tie this into training is a nice way to get more folks to use the training system I detailed here.
Active Training System
“Get more insight into your squad’s performance levels with match sharpness, a new attribute that indicates how likely your players are to perform in the most crucial moments during the course of a game. Increase your players’ sharpness with a new Active Training System that gives you the ability to set up group training sessions to improve the likelihood of your strikers putting big chances away or of defenders making key tackles.”
Of all the new features announced, this one has me intrigued. The “match sharpness” or the ability to be at the top of your game is largely dependent upon match time and minutes played. While training, especially at high intensities can help, nothing can replicate actual match sharpness like playing in matches. I do like the sound of this new “Active Training System” as the current system only focuses on an individual.
It would be nice if future FIFA games implemented this within a practice mode so you can actually prepare your player for specific situations (playing a man down, new formation and so on).
Activity Management System
“Plan your team’s training schedule with a new activity management system. Decide when to train and when to rest during the week as you balance your players’ sharpness with morale and fitness to make the difference between winning and losing.”
Piggybacking off the Active Training System, this new “activity management system” seems like a good balance of risk and reward. Do you have a big match coming up midweek in the Champions League? Do you give players a bit of rest or do you train and possibly risk more fatigue or poor morale because of your Antonio Conte-like demands?
Enhanced Opposition AI
“Enhanced opposition AI sees opponents approach games with more intelligence in both defence and attack. New systems create more informed AI decision-making in marking, tackling, passing and dribbling to present you with more challenges during each match and keep your Career fresh from game to game.”
Yes please and thank you! One of the biggest reasons why FIFA becomes stale within career mode is the lack of intelligence displayed by your counterparts in-game. Over the years I’ve seen FIFA display the same tactics and approach match after match. This means things like being up a goal with a few minutes left will result in the AI not altering its approach to try and chase the result. For career mode players like myself, the AI being smarter and less predictable is what we want.
New Ways To Sign Players
“FIFA 21 Career Mode enhances transfer realism by providing both human and AI-controlled teams with new ways to sign players. Make Loan to Buy offers with optional or mandatory future transfer fees to secure new talent for your team, and respond to AI manager-initiated player swap proposals as you look to master the transfer market.
“Customise your Career Mode with new initial set-up options. Get a more true-to-life experience of negotiating signings on the transfer market with Authentic Transfers, or boost your team’s starting budget to help you build your squad with Financial Takeover.”
The transfer market, specifically the values, was one of my biggest disappointments within career mode. With the wealth of transfer information available on the web (transfermarkt, whoscored, etc.), there’s no reason for transfer values to be that off in FIFA 20. With that said, these new options, particularly the “loan-to-buy” option is a nice addition that basically lets you try out players before you make the big money signing.
Player swaps, which will be more common this summer as clubs are financially strapped due to COVID, are also included as well as future transfer fees in an attempt to make the transfer market reflect what we see in real life. Hopefully more rumors in the form of news stories will help to replicate the transfer drama that consumes the summer months of real-life soccer. As for the second tidbit, we’ll have to wait and see what these new options are.
There’s more to unpack in the FIFA notes, specifically about a new Pro Clubs version of Volta which will allow five-on-five as well as a FUT Co-Op mode that lets you play with a buddy. But for right now, it’s all about career mode and gameplay. While we’re still nearly two months away from the official release, the information we received yesterday sounds promising. Now will FIFA 21 deliver?