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FIFA 21 Ultimate Team guide: 7 things you need to know

FIFA 21 Ultimate Team
(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 21 Ultimate Team finally delivers an injection of freshness to a mode which has stagnated in recent times. Opening packs is still a priority in FIFA 21 – and as a result, SBCs are a bit broken, sadly – but there's plenty of freshening up elsewhere. New Icons include Eric Cantona and David Beckham, and in a masterstroke fitness cards have ascended to footballing heaven. Need to know what else is new, now PS5 and Xbox Series X have landed? GR's FIFA 21 Ultimate Team guide explains all.

1. You get a personalised stadium

(Image credit: EA)

The full set of FIFA 21 stadiums is still usable in Ultimate Team, so fret not if you still want to run out at Old Trafford, Anfield or the Bernabeu. But the default ground you start off with is a smart, generic model that you customise to your liking as you play. Every element from seat colours to lighting to team chants to club anthem can be switched up as you earn or buy new items. And over time, you can upgrade the stadium’s full architecture, eventually playing in a venue that’s comparable size wise to those legendary arenas mentioned above. 

2. Fitness cards are gone 

(Image credit: EA)

For eons, Ultimate Team die-hards have bemoaned the need for fitness cards, which meant either faffing around in the transfer market or building a second ‘fitness squad’ in order to keep your prime XI in match-ready condition. Finally, they’re gone. Training cards, where you could improve an individual players’ stats by 5%, 10% or 15% for one game only, have also been ditched, meaning there’s no more need for coaching items either. It means most pack openings are much more streamlined, with cards related to your stadium (TIFOs, chants etc) replacing those lost.

Don’t worry though, FIFA 21 Chemistry Styles are still a big element of FUT. You can see how all 22 work by clicking that link and being taken to our guide. 

3. There are 101 Icons in total

FFIA 21 Icons

(Image credit: EA)

As you’ll see from our FIFA 21 Icons guide, there 12 ‘new’ old faces this year, and all are profiled in detail should you wish to click that link. If not, below is a quick list of the fresh additions. They take the in-game legends total to 101, with Pele, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane among the priciest. David Beckham was a surprise addition to FIFA 21 in November 2020.

  • David Beckham (England)
  • Eric Cantona (France)
  • Davor Suker (Croatia)
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
  • Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
  • Ashley Cole (England)
  • Petr Cech (Czech Republic)
  • Philipp Lahm (Germany)
  • Xavi (Spain)
  • Fernando Torres (Spain)
  • Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)
  • Nemanja Vidic (Serbia)

SBCs are a bit bust

FIFA 21 SBC

(Image credit: EA)

Some sad news, here. Since their inception, Squad Building Challenges have been a brilliant means of making in-game coins in addition to having fun by working out daily or weekly puzzles. They've been nerfed this year, likely in order to prevent people profiting from them. Many pack rewards are untradeable, while the player card rewards which made League SBC sets so essential are gone altogether, diluting their fun entirely. Essentially, to prevent 5% of FUT players from making coins, the other 95% have to suffer a watered-down game mechanic. That's a huge, and indefensible, shame. 

5. Everything moves faster

(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 21 features of little likeable elements when it comes to expediting gameplay. Pre-match build-up is cut to mere seconds, celebration times are shorter, there’s no more ‘walkback’ animation online after a goal is scored, and replay durations have been cut down. Even jump-cuts when the ball goes out of play for a throw or corner feel snappier. A small point, but a crucial one in net-based games when time wasting so often causes tempers to fray. 

6. Co-op gets a makeover

(Image credit: EA)

Again responding to years of fan pleading, FIFA 21 co-op play has been completely re-tooled. From that new, cleaner home hub you can press R2 (on PS4) to see which friends are online, then X to invite them to a match or Options to trigger the Co-op Lobby. Add a team-mate to then jump straight into Friendlies, Squad Battles or Division Rivals. EA has even added an extra match-making option for those keen to avoid being pitched against solo players where possible. 

“In Division Rivals we’ve built a toggle that enables you to opt-in against co-op players, or to play solo only,” explains creative director Tyler Blair. “[As a co-op player] our matchmaking finds you a co-op game, and if that isn’t possible we’ll find you a game against a solo player who is willing to go up against a co-op pair. We’re always aiming to provide a great gaming experience that you’re [specifically] looking to play.”

7. Other small tweaks make a big difference

(Image credit: EA)

Community events are a cool new addition to FIFA 21 Ultimate Team: they see rewards unlocked each time a collective XP tier is reached. Team events work similarly, although for those you align with one team for a specific time period – a choice of Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester City say – then score goodies for your group of players’ overall performance. Nothing to complain about here: all additional FUT objectives are welcome when it comes to scoring XP, or fresh packs. 

Another key change to note: Division Rivals matches are no longer limitless – only your first 40 count towards the weekly rankings. However, the weekend league remains the same. “For FUT champions, the plan is to continue to run at 30 games. Since making that change it’s struck a good balance between the time available and the number of games that can be played,” says Blair. 

Most importantly for those of you planning an upgrade to PS5 and Xbox One X: all your progress on current-gen automatically carries over to the next. The same is true of FIFA 21 Volta. For more on how it all works, check out our FIFA 21 dual entitlement guide. 

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Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar+'s sports editor, obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB – and very occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym. Namely: Bill Bryson, Pitch Perfect, and the Streets Of Rage series. I have two kids who aren't quite old enough to play Madden yet. Soon, though…