FIFA 21 features: what’s new and how does it play?

(Image credit: EA)

There's nothing revolutionary on the FIFA 21 features list, at least where current-gen is concerned. Career mode, Ultimate Team, and Volta all return in FIFA 21, but in terms of gameplay true evolution isn't likely to occur until a couple of years into the PS5 and Xbox Series X life cycles. Still, there are small reasons to be cheerful, such as the inclusion of new Benfica player faces. Extra detail is always welcome. For everything else that's new, plough onwards with GR's FIFA 21 features guide.

FIFA 21 features: gameplay put to the test

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It’s impossible to judge any football game in a single weekend, but our first two days testing FIFA 21 gameplay on PS4 deliver some encouraging signs. Improvements are subtle but key – the most immediate being centre-forward intelligence.

Depending on their awareness rating, strikers attempt to stay in line with the last defender, only breaking towards the ball as it’s released in behind the defence or crossed into the box. In sides with a Kane or Aguero it opens up an additional 3-5 chances per game, again depending on whether they’re being shadowed by Van Dijk or Van Dunderhead. 

Other small but important takeaways, in no particular order: Goalkeepers are much stronger on the near post. Heading hasn’t been overhauled completely, but isn’t nerfed like in FIFA 20. Central midfield play is less soupy, offering a touch more space and time on the ball. Defenders’ improved recognition of passing lanes, coupled with new blocking animations that make timely interventions feel less arbitrary, tidily counterbalances the improved attacking intelligence. 

For more detailed gameplay observations, check out our mid-September FIFA 21 preview.

One more, super niche detail: as predicted in our FIFA 21 player faces guide, Benfica have been scanned and the likes of Pizzi and Odysseas Vlachodimos finally have accurate starheads. Socially distanced party on the streets of Lisbon tonight, anyone? 

FIFA 21 features: what to expect on PS5 and Xbox Series X

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FIFA 21 is released on PS5 and Xbox Series X to tie in with those consoles’ Holiday launches, but EA hasn’t yet gone into detail on the next-gen versions. It has admitted, however, that haptic feedback is an area of focus: “Sense the impact of shots, passes, catches, kicks, tackles, and hits with immersive controller haptics. A new DualSense controller on PlayStation 5 with rich and responsive haptic feedback deepens the gameplay experience letting you feel the rhythm of the game in your hands.”

More promisingly, the mega-publisher also says FIFA will feature the most “authentic character behaviours ever seen in sports gaming”. An example given is players adjusting their shin pads in the 89th minute, but that’s a cosmetic improvement. What we really need from this humanisation is better player awareness – and the forward runs outlined above are a promising sign – and the end of comical decision-making, such as a midfielder passing the ball straight of play when there’s a winger five yards away.

FIFA 21 features: play Ultimate Team now for free stuff

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As outlined in our FIFA 20 pre-season guide, this year EA is bridging the gap from its old game to the new one by offering free content simply for sticking with the current edition for another four weeks. For instance, across August there were five FIFA 21 items you could unlock by amassing gameplay time in FIFA 20, as follows: 

  • x2 Coin boosts (5 games x 500 coins)
  • FUT 20 Icon Home Kit
  • FUT 20 Future Stars Kit
  • Anchor Chemistry Style
  • Engine Chemistry Style

FIFA 20 pre-season rewards will be granted in FIFA 21 on or before 16 October. If you don’t have the game by then, note that they need to be claimed by 23 November.

FIFA 21 features: career mode upgraded at last

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FIFA 21 career mode has finally been given some love and attention this year, with the option to jump into simmed games and play key moments at any point one of many upgrades.

A major point of focus is your youth set-up, In real life players sometimes start off in one position only to find excellence at another as they near first-team football: Manchester United right-back Aaron Wan Bissaka was a winger in his formative years at Crystal Palace. Those position changes are finally represented in-game, so you can switch a promising left-back to centre-forward if his traits are better suited in that role. Also cool is the option to sim matches but jump in any point to take control of key moments, such as free-kicks and penalties. 

FIFA 21 features: Volta gets new tweaks and new locations

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Like career, FIFA's small-sided mode has received a fairly comprehensive reworking. Interest in the FIFA Street redux waned as last season progressed, but EA hasn’t given up on it. The opposite, in fact. Features Battles neatly apes the Squad Battles of Ultimate Team, Volta Squads enables online gameplay alongside up to three friends, and confirmed locations include Sao Paulo, Rome and Dubai. For much more dip into our FIFA 21 Volta guide.

FIFA 21 features: upgrade your game free of charge

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This is cool. FIFA 21’s release date on PS4 and XBox One is 9 October, two months ahead of the next-gen versions. That presents a dilemma to day-one buyers which EA has resolved smartly with its new Dual Entitlement program. Buy the game on current-gen and you can switch over to PS5 or Xbox Series X once you’ve picked up your new console, with Ultimate Team and Volta data carrying over.

The one small-but-understandable catch is that you can't switch from digital to physical edition, or vice versa. "The physical copy of FIFA 21 on PlayStation 4 also includes your entitlement to download and play the PlayStation 5 version of the game (and Xbox One with Xbox Series X), so you’ll still be able to upgrade via Dual Entitlement if you purchase a next generation console with a disc drive," says EA. "If you intend to buy a discless next generation console, you will need to purchase FIFA 21 digitally to take advantage of the Dual Entitlement offer as physical discs cannot currently be used to upgrade to discless consoles.”

FIFA 21 is released on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on 9 October, and PS5 and Xbox Series X to tie in with the Holiday release of those consoles. 

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.