For newcomers to the FIFA Series, sprinting the field and converting tight passes or high arc lobs into winning scores is invigorating. The crowds go wild, the camera shakes to match the intensity of the roar, and Paulo Dybala backflips as his teammates scream in excitement. Times like this are fun and exhilarating, and you don’t have to keep up with the long-running series’ annual tweaks to enjoy them – although seasoned veterans may be disappointed with the minor advancements. Instead of implementing revolutionary changes, EA Vancouver is using FIFA 21 as an opportunity to refine gameplay moment by moment. Keeping the ball is intuitive, especially when you are faking aggressive defenders with skill moves like dribbling across the bridge or making a false turn. Plus, configuring smooth passes between multiple players with just a press of the right joystick makes movement accessible to players of all skill levels. Overall, the gameplay is streamlined and entertaining – but the package isn’t just limited to the action on the pitch. The atmosphere and presentation of FIFA 21 is exceptional. I’ve always loved seeing jerseys wrinkle and crumple with slight movements, or watching players flex their muscles after pushing the ball into an opponent’s net. The animations are smooth and don’t have a lot of collision issues. Nonetheless, I have noticed occasions when a famous goalscorer squeezed into a net or crossed a divider in the stands. These moments break the immersion, but don’t happen often enough to slow the game down. FIFA 21 still offers an array of classic modes. Ultimate Team lives up to its reputation for fierce competition, but the skill disparities seem unfair as microtransactions lead to faster progression and better team building. You have several offline and online options for earning Ultimate Team Coins – race with friends and compete in Rivals and Squad Battles divisions or dive into uniquely themed event playlists yourself – but don’t expect not to earn a large amount of rewards. Painstaking grinding is an integral part of the Ultimate Team. Other multiplayer modes are chaotic fun, like Pro 11v11 Clubs, but returning players will find this is a carbon copy of last year’s version. Career mode makes it easier to manage your club’s development. You can run group training sessions before big games to increase your squad’s sharpness – a new attribute that affects the likelihood of performing game-changing workouts or making crucial defensive saves. A clean interface also lets you keep an eye on your team’s morale and fitness, so you can fine-tune your plans to prioritize high and low level players. I enjoyed turning my replacement players into stars, and the stimulating artificial intelligence made those off-court game plans more rewarding. If Career Mode’s heavy management and logistics are too boring, you can jump right into the action with preset tournaments including the UEFA Champions League and the International Women’s Cup. My favorite mode is Volta, with small scale matches (3v3, 4v4 or 5v5) similar to what I imagine organized street football would look like. You start by creating an avatar, customizing the appearance of your teammates, and choosing a team logo / name. Volta’s Quick Matches take you across the world to wonderfully crafted locations – Rio de Janeiro’s favela-themed map is outstanding – and is the fastest way to earn modest portions of skill points and currency which can be exchanged for new abilities and new clothes. respectively. Even though Volta’s wardrobe is expansive, she hosts a totally lackluster collection of gear that ranges from generic jerseys to monochrome sneakers. On the other hand, purchasing Ability Nodes on your avatar’s skill tree personalizes the game experience in a satisfying way. Do you prefer to make clutch passes and buffer your passes or do you prefer to be a relentless goalscorer? Additionally, players from other Volta teams can be recruited, but if you want to play alongside famous footballers like cover athlete Kylian Mbappé, you have to take on the AI and clear a list of monotonous challenges. FIFA 21’s brief single-player story The Debut pits you against a number of Volta’s amateur teams to secure a spot in the Dubai Streets and Icons Championship. Debut’s tale and characters are forgettable, but it’s a great way to earn a substantial amount of skill points and currency. Volta emerges as a nice break with the structure of professional football, but when you factor in the tiny pitch and the lack of footballers on the pitch at one point, it becomes evident that the game mode prioritizes style of play. : rapid aggression. For this reason, matches oscillate between being a cinch or downright punishing. FIFA 21’s graphics and gameplay offer fun and functional football, but its ambitions don’t go far beyond. Over time, grinding leads to exhaustion and boredom, and the equipment and rewards you work so hard to get are rarely satisfying enough to make the chase worth it. Nailing down the fundamentals is important, but it takes more to be a real winner.