Fifa 21 has been published and so the central question arises again this year: Expensive roster update or real further development of the series? The answer is not entirely clear: both! Under Corona conditions - including home office work - noticeably raising the sports simulation to a new level, that also seems to have been too big a challenge for the industry giant Electronic Arts. Instead of innovations or major upheavals, there are 21 detailed improvements at Fifa - and well, the obligatory roster update. In any case, the new offshoot of the series is a success, if not completely.


The bear rages in the stadiums. Thousands of fans cheer for their team in the crowded arenas. The mood is good, goals are falling as if on an assembly line. Pure football atmosphere. This is currently only available virtually: at Fifa 21 there is no trace of Corona. One almost wished Electronic Arts had given the virus a swipe and optionally let teams play in front of empty stands. Why? Because the Fifa series is also a sports simulation and tries to depict football reality as well as possible. So be it: The kick in the full stadium is more fun anyway. And Fifa 21 is fun, it can't be shaken. Is everything great in the place? Not at all. 

The ravages of time are gnawing at the Fifa series

Real fans will get it as soon as Fifa is available in stores, many will play it in advance as part of the test hours via EA Play, as this year too. Around 3,6 million players have already set outto lead their teams to the titles. Fifa 21 also attracts football fans en masse - even though it is actually only a rudimentarily improved Fifa 20.

Time is turning quickly and EA Sports doesn't seem to be keeping up with the Fifa series. Of course, the annual new editions are more than just database updates: The Journey, the thoroughly fun Volta mode, the UEFA license - all of these are content that noticeably enrich the series. There is a problem with more fundamental things: For example, the fact that Fifa always feels the same despite repeatedly adjusted gameplay details, as this year too. If you don't mind that, you will be entertained with Fifa 21 well and in the long term. Anyone who expects innovations has to be patient and hope that the developers and EA Sports will at some point leave their comfort zone to initiate changes. That may well be risky, in the worst case it could even lead to long-time fans being pissed off, but it would be good for the Fifa series in the medium term. 

For the goalkeepers, the developers have scaled down the superhero mode a bit - well done! Source: Spielpunkt

The developers have toned down the superhero status of the goalkeepers - well done! Source: Spielpunkt

There are no big changes this year. The developers of the two studios EA Canada and EA Romania have turned the small screws, adjusted the goalkeepers so that more goals are scored again; brought back the fun factor of flanking and made the gameplay a little rounder and smoother overall.

Nevertheless: If you can do without the current roster update, you will have just as much fun with Fifa 20. Thanks to the free upgrade to the next-gen versions, the purchase of Fifa 21 may ultimately be worthwhile for undecided fans, but that's hardly to be predicted at the moment, because nothing is known about the next-gen versions. You ask yourself more than once whether you have to spend around 60 euros for this. Sure, the graphics have been adjusted and the players look more realistic than ever before, the squads are all up to date and the player strengths have been adjusted - you have to be a fan of the series or have waited for the update as a fan of your favorite club to to pay the full price for the game with a clear conscience. For this reason, Konami took a different path this year: Instead of a new edition, there was an update for PES 2020, which was communicated in exactly the same way and then offered at a price of 30 euros.

Despite the "helmet hairstyle", Tony Kroos is recognizable as Tony Kroos: the players look good by current-gen standards. Source: Spielpunkt

Despite the helmet haircut, Tony Kroos is recognizable as Tony Kroos: the players look good by current-gen standards. Source: Spielpunkt

The paradox of Fifa is that you can grumble a lot in advance, criticize the pricing policy, complain about a lack of innovation - as soon as the ball rolls on the pitch, the anger is quickly forgotten. Fifa 21 also plays to its strengths on the pitch, and thus "where it is important". Gameplay is as fluid as ever, and everything feels even more rounded, realistic in this year's edition. Even beginners quickly find their way into the game. Fifa has always been known for offering a gaming experience that is as engaging for beginners as it is for professionals.

The balance between beginner-friendliness and the pursuit of optimization succeeds again. Those who have learned the basics first will work as tactics and technique next - and then combine them into goals. But that's not really necessary, even beginners can often enough get the ball into the net thanks to the adapted skills of the goalkeepers. The otherwise “perfect goalkeeper AI” makes “mistakes”, of course intentionally. Rebounds can be used and converted into something that can be counted, and crosses actually arrive at the teammates from different positions. In any case, the developers have fine-tuned the attacking behavior in particular: quick body deceptions, well-timed sprints, the deadly deep pass – many things that used to be unnecessary gimmicks can now be brought to a goal in attacking midfield or in attack. This is not least due to the significantly improved AI behavior of the teammates: the attackers, who were sometimes dumb in places, position themselves better and seem to have a more targeted approach to the goal. In short: Artificial intelligence has gotten smarter - and this is especially true for those players with high player ratings.

The attackers have a clear advantage: more goals are scored, but that's quite fun. Source: Spielpunkt

The attackers have a clear advantage: more goals are scored, but that's quite fun. Source: Spielpunkt

Is that the big hit? Not necessarily, because it only changes the course of the game. More goals are scored, the attack is more fun. But all of this takes place at the expense of the defensive. That is a noticeable step backwards at Fifa 21. It is easier to dribble out, sometimes you can only look after the ball, in defense it doesn't play quite as smoothly any more, even if you are by no means helpless in the face of the attacker. The defense has never been the figurehead of the Fifa series, but in the previous games you seemed to be able to decide a game with a good defense, this year, however, all relics are on offensive football. In the end, that's not really bad: the magic of the booth is fun and it's no longer just about the sheer number of goals, but how you can use the ball in a particularly impressive way. 

Career mode: Improved yes, but managed overall

The developers leave the biggest construction site of the Fifa series untouched again this year: the career mode. The part of the game follows the familiar concept, there are some changes - even improvements - and overall the mode also works, but it feels like stagnation in one of the core areas of the Fifa series.

Fifa 21 does not make the leap to the next higher division in career mode, which is a shame, because you can tell from the small improvements that the developers want. This is particularly noticeable in the training area. You have more control over the players, over their training, you can fine-tune them - and that's fun. What's more, it had long been necessary to let the manager decide in a practicable way what players should train, when to retrain or what style of play they should bring to the field. As little as new Fifa 21 produces, the improvements in control over the young players show that the developers are thinking in the right directions. Training players in your own football workshop is now finally attractive. Otherwise, the career mode offers the familiar tricks, albeit slightly modified in some places.

The Volta mode is back - this time even open to online matches with friends. Source: EA

The Volta mode is back - this time even open to online matches with friends. Source: EA

What also attracts and attracts Fifa 21 is the Volta mode. The fast game on the street courts ensures entertainment, this time friends can also compete with or against each other in online games. This improvement is not only noticeable, but was long overdue and takes Fifa to a new level, at least as a multiplayer game. But it's not a must: If you prefer to play alone, you can do so without any problems and have a fun time. But you have to do without the well-known story elements, because the "alternative" to Alex Hunter and Co. is poor. The inserted cutscenes seem like they were forced into the game corset under the pressure of expectations, but it's not really successful. So there is no real campaign, instead a mini story that is not much longer in time than a cup final with a penalty shootout.

What EA Sports does not do without in Fifa 21 is the money printing mode, affectionately called Fifa Ultimate Team. It's understandable that Electronic Arts is exploiting this opportunity for monetization. Basically, there wouldn't be anything wrong with it either, if it weren't for the "gamble" system behind the mode. If you want to play at the top, you have to invest. The myth that you can achieve everything without spending money holds true, but probably more so because the teams at the end of Fifa 20's "life cycle" were so polished that you could hardly improve them anyway.

Until the dream team is complete, many purchased coins go into the country - and not infrequently many real euros. Source: Spielpunkt

Until the dream team is complete, many purchased coins go into the country - and not infrequently many real euros. Source: Spielpunkt

It is basically true that players who intensively complete matches on the assembly line can also buy player packs, because that is so luck-heavy, you will hardly be able to realize your “Dream Team” by buying a few packs and by transfers at the absurdly high prices for Certainly not star players. The alternative to playing at the top while the season is still hot is to invest money. And so that EA Sports can earn money again, you flip the switch and start Fifa 21 "fresh from the start" - with no more than a handful of decent players who look old against the real stars on the field. The range between well-known football greats and mega stars is gigantic, even if there are sometimes only supposedly few rating points between players.

Infobox

Number of players: solo and multiplayer
Age: from 0 (USK)
Difficulty: medium to difficult
Long-term motivation: high

Publisher: EA Sports 
Developer: EA Canada, EA Romania
Year of publication: 2020
platforms: PC, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X | S, PlayStation 5
Languages ​​German
Cost: 59,99 Euro

Summary

Fans have to be strong this year. Fifa 21 does not bring a revision of the series and relies on detail improvements instead of innovations. The sport simulation is of benefit in a playful way, even if Fifa looks anything but authentic in the Corona year: no one wears masks, neither players, supervisors or fans; the stands are full of cheering supporters and otherwise Corona does not seem to play any role in virtual football. Sure, there is no risk of infection in the pixel area, so why wear masks? Because otherwise EA Sports always focuses on the most authentic gaming experience possible. 

Overall, that's a minor flaw, but one of many. Where Bayern fans can still get over the fact that the Allianz Arena is not included in the game, the renouncement of a complete overhaul of the career mode is much more negative, the developers have already started to work in the right direction: Finally it is worth Raising the next generation in your own academies, as a manager you have more control over your players and their skills and the career mode is much closer to what it wants to be: a kind of managerial experience light. The developers must continue to follow this path!

Off the pitch, little has changed: there have been adjustments here and there. Including the possibility to play Volta online with friends (great!), There is hardly any story left (not so great!). However, once the ball rolls, the Fifa fever grabs you. This is also due to the fact that the developers allow easier scoring again this year. The goalkeepers are toned down, which is not a flaw, but realistic. The goalkeeper sometimes messes up his flight insert, fists the flank at the feet of the lurking striker and simply allows more football. In combination with the retrograde defense, offensive football is booming at Fifa 21. Tika-Taka in the penalty area, then the successful conclusion: the cheers for such tactics are great. The defense can hardly keep up when agile players pull away after a quick turn and then hit a cross from the sideline - finally again. 

However, due to the meager adjustments, there is no obligation to buy behind Fifa 21. Yes, the developers are graphically getting everything out of the current generation of consoles and the gameplay is more fluid than ever, but the bland aftertaste of stagnation remains. In the end, however, Fifa 21 is not a pure roster update. Newcomers take it without hesitation, veterans and real fans will probably buy anyway, whoever is somewhere in between the target group should think twice about the purchase. However, Fifa 21 does not fail because of the football game and entertainment value.