The widely popular Ultimate Team mode has received a significant number of changes this year. Perhaps no other mode in the sports genre separates the community into opposing camps quite like Ultimate Team, and FIFA is the gold standard when it comes to that mode — at least when it comes to making money. While Pro Clubs and career mode are where I spend most of my time, there’s no denying that EA was back in the lab again looking for ways to improve Ultimate Team and bring in more players. Yesterday we dove in head first with Pro Clubs. Today, we channel our inner Neymar and get into the FIFA 21 FUT preview.
FIFA 21 FUT Preview: Co-Op
Gone are the days when you and your buddy would sit down in front of a TV and game for hours. In it’s place, we now have the ability to connect to our buddies all across the globe and play. Still, this aspect was missing in large part from FUT. FIFA 21 looks to fill in the blank with co-op this year as you’ll be able to play with a buddy in Squad Battles, Division Rivals and FUT Friendlies.
Immediately after reading that I wondered to myself “why limit co-op to just those modes within FUT?” Hell, “why limit co-op at all within FUT?” Right?
EA added what seems like a simple widget mapped to the R2/RT where you can easily select a friend to play with, jumping right into the online lobby. While it stinks that it didn’t make it into every mode, EA has done its homework on this one when it comes to balancing. When playing co-op, the higher-skilled player of the two will determine the matchmaking while the lesser-skilled player will still only progress as if the match were at his/her own level. It sounds minor but what that little option does is ensure that players won’t abuse the system, allowing them to level up based on what could be seen as “piggybacking” on your mate’s skill level.
Lastly, it’s also worth noting that that the FIFA Trainer can be used in this mode, which means that you can see your teammate’s intended action (pass, shoot and so on). This seems to go against true sim players who would want to develop a chemistry with their teammates, but sim and FUT mostly go together like Tottenham and trophies.
FIFA 21 FUT Preview: Events
Events have seen a good bit of improvement as EA attempts to engage the community in more ways to play FUT while also tying in objectives as a way to progress in the mode. Community Events sound interesting on the surface, but it looks like more of a gimmick as players will work together in teams to achieve objectives. It’s similar to kick-off mode’s challenges from the past where you could play as your favorite team in the weekly kick-off match to see what team has the greatest fans.
Team events seems to capitalize off social challenges, similar to Peloton’s monthly challenges, where FUT players can join teams with hashtags (got to get them trending of course!) and compete in a series of objectives as you try to earn XP to see what team wins. Similar to how co-op will work, team events will take a calculated approach at XP, specifically taking the average XP as to not weigh the mode down with top-heavy XPers.
FIFA 21 FUT Preview: Custom Stadium
“For FUT 21 we’ve built the FUT Stadium to be the most customizable arena in the game. Designed from the ground up, FUT Stadium grows alongside your club with new customization options that enable you to craft an environment which truly represents your club and one that can take on a range of different looks.”
This sounds great on the surface until you read a little further into it and it’s basically just a way to edit pitch designs and other aesthetics around the grounds. It’s still better than the way things were, but this isn’t really a “true” create-a-stadium or anything like that.
The foundation of the stadium will still remain the same, but as you hit milestones you can get access to a bigger stadium. What is intriguing is custom chants, a feature PES used to have on the PS3/Xbox 360 but sadly didn’t make it to current gen. Will it simply be a list of canned chants that we can pick and choose from, or can we import chants via a USB or online download server? I guess we’ll find out!
FIFA 21 FUT Preview: Core Competitive Mode Improvements
Division Rivals Placements Through Squad Battles + Promotion Coin Rewards
Like most players who transitioned from offline to online, many of us including myself struggled a bit with FUT in the past. In FIFA 20, you only had five placement matches before you were in essence, thrown to the wolves. This year, you have the option to select either the standard 5 or 30 matches to better help determine your difficulty and skill level. More matches equating to a more realistic placement is a welcome change.
Additionally, as you progress and are placed into a division, coins are earned in a more rewarding way. For example, if after your placement matches (be it 5 or 30), if you are placed in Division 5 you will earn the coins from Division 6, 7, all the way to Division 10. This instantly translates to you having more options in the transfer market. Whether it’s filling out your squad or spending it like PSG and dumping it all into a few huge transfers, the reward for placing into a higher division reaps better rewards in FIFA 21.
Division Rivals Weekly Match Cap + New Tiers
In addition to the new placement system, EA has revisited how weekly match scores are accumulated within Division Rivals by capping the number of games that will contribute towards this score. This change comes directly from community feedback as the players who grinded out games at an unreal pace had the advantage over folks whose responsibilities don’t allow them to play as frequently. There’s still advantages to playing the mode more often but the rewards will now feel more earned, which leads to a more rewarding experience.
Live FUT Friendlies
“With Live FUT Friendlies, we’re combining Squad Rules, with the different House Rules in Friendlies, to create fun and diverse new ways to play that will be active for a limited time.”
Last year, EA introduced a new mode within kickoff and FUT called House Rules. Basically, this was EA’s attempt to spruce up the game, but unfortunately it was incredibly gimmicky and didn’t lead to too many people playing the mode.
Combining this with Squad Rules, which I personally enjoy — many career mode players hamstring themselves with them — could provide a new fun way to enjoy FUT. However, I’m not too optimistic that the FUT community will get too deep into limiting themselves when the mode is mostly all about the “win at all costs” mentality.
New this year to FIFA 21, Meaningful Moments brings about a change in how special Items are upgraded. No longer are you restricted to the six overarching attributes (Pace, Shooting, Passing, Dribbling, Defending and Physical). In its place, you are now allowed to target specific attributes. The example given sums it up perfectly:
“As an example, if Trent Alexander-Arnold was to receive a Moments Item to celebrate him as a dead ball specialist in previous games his Passing would increase to raise his Free Kick Accuracy stat. In FUT 21, we will be able to raise his Free Kick Accuracy to new heights without also impacting his Short and Long Passing to better reflect his on pitch abilities in FUT.”
Updated Game Menus
Menus within FUT are getting a new coat of paint, which is never a bad thing. However, I don’t think the organization of the menus is the 1A issue here with them. The biggest problem, and this is across all modes, relates to how laggy they can be. Navigating through them was always a chore, especially as they added videos to the main screen as well as within career mode.
EA did not talk specifically about improving the speed of the menus, so I have to assume this may still be an issue.
Removal Of Fitness & Training Items
Thank goodness! Look, fitness and stamina are major factors in FIFA, but you shouldn’t need these things for FUT. EA was honest with their original line of thinking, and to be honest, it made sense:
Fitness items have been a light management element in Ultimate Team since the very beginning. The decay of players’ fitness was put in the game originally to encourage rotation in the squad and to simulate some of the management decisions that football squads have to consider.
However, we’ve evaluated these mechanics and have decided that it wasn’t creating the desired effect in rotation and players were spending time doing a management action that was frequently required and, ultimately, not very fun.”
Well done EA! Now just remove contracts and we’re golden here.
ICONS: The FUT 100
More legends are always welcome and EA has added several, bringing the total to 100. Eric Cantona and a host of Chelsea players (Cech, Ashley Cole, Eto) are available but you can find the full list here.
Lastly, on top of not having to re-purchase FIFA 21 if you buy it on next-gen after buying it on current gen, your FUT grinding in current gen will transfer to Xbox Series X or PS5 if you make the leap.
Whew, that’s a handful, and it’s no surprise that the EA devs are focusing a lot of attention on their money maker, but the changes overall seem to bring some balance and reasonableness to the game. A lot of the unnecessary grind has been removed from the game. If you’re a fan of FUT, then there are plenty of reasons to get excited.