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

(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 21 Ultimate Team is the mode to beat for all sports games in the coming year – and as FIFA 21 gears up for PS5 and Xbox Series X, there are promising changes afoot. We still don’t know as yet whether EA will make pack odds clearer, and that’s a topic of debate which will likely run deep into next season. But having had a sneak peek at the game ahead of its 9 October release date, we are sure of seven exciting developments, as outlined below. Welcome to your FIFA 21 Ultimate Team guide.

1. Fitness and training cards are gone

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A humdinger to begin with. In order to expedite the overall Ultimate Team experience, and save time between matches, you no longer need to apply fitness cards (or swap in a second XI) to keep your players game-ready. They’re gone completely, as are training cards, which added one-match boosts in areas such as shooting, passing and dribbling.

Speed is a major point of focus for the dev team this year, as is a reduction in toxicity. “We’ve removed the ‘shhh’ celebration and another one that is called the ‘ay-okay’,” gameplay producer Sam Rivera tells GR in our recent story on FIFA 21 VAR. “We’ve also changed the flow. After a goal the time to celebrate is reduced, there’s just one replay, and no more ‘walkback’ to the centre spot like in FIFA 20.”

2. You get a customisable stadium

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Forget having to cycle through the FIFA 21 stadiums list to find your most suitable home environment. Now your stadium is an extension of your own personality, with the size of its stands, lighting arrangements, seat colours, walkway, general look, and outside features such as canals and palm trees all totally up to you.

As you advance through Ultimate Team you unlock new additions naturally, with returning aspects such as Tifos and stadium themes furthering the customisation options. There’s no more worrying about shadows and daylight saturation, either: competitive FUT is locked to a specific time of day to keep the gameplay experience well-lit and fair.

3. 11 new Icons are confirmed, with more to come

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Eric Cantona is the first Icon confirmed for FIFA 21, in news which will excite Manchester United fans but have most other Premier League supporters throwing sardines into the sea. More good news for Old Trafford regulars is the addition of Nemanja Vidic, while those of you with Spanish roots can rejoice in the inclusions of Xavi and Fernando Torres. Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas takes his FIFA bow, while Petr Cech, Samuel Eto’o, Ashley Cole, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm are recent retirees who now score Icon status. For profiles of all the above check out our FIFA 21 Icons guide.

4. Meaningful real-life moments will be replicated

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Everyone loves Wednesday night Team Of The Week releases, but a curious aspect of them is they award a general upgrade to every player featured in the squad, rather than honing in on individual stats. So if a defender scores a scorching volley to earn a TOTW slot, that stat hardly changes in game. This season EA says it’s re-tooled the manner in which attributes are generated, so that those ‘meaningful moments’ are replicated on special items. For instance, Joe Bryan’s promotion-winning free-kick in last week’s Play-Off final would earn him a free-kick rating of, say, 95 on a boosted card.

5. Co-op gets a makeover

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At last! Co-op play is properly represented in this year’s game, with a bespoke home page from which you and a friend can jump into Friendlies, Squad Battles, and Division Rivals. The latter one is intriguing, as I’ve often found going solo against co-op players to be a disadvantage, as they can override dodgy AI. That perceived handicap is exactly why EA has chosen to add in an extra match-making option.

“In Division Rivals we’ve built a toggle that enables you to opt-in against co-op players, or to play solo only,” says 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.”

6. Progress carries over

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Concerned about what happens if you buy FIFA 21 on PS4 or Xbox One, pack Messi or Ronaldo or cover star Mbappe, and then decide to upgrade to PS5 or Xbox Series X mid-season? Don’t be.

All Ultimate Team (and FIFA 21 Volta) progress carries over to next-gen with you, and integrates seamlessly with the FIFA 21 Web App. (We’ll have a guide for that up as soon as it’s released, likely in late September.)

What’s more, you don’t need to buy the game twice. Purchase FIFA 21 on a current-gen system and you’re entitled to a complimentary PS5 or Xbox Series X version once you’ve nabbed your new machine.

7. Other small tweaks make a big difference

(Image credit: EA)

Some smaller, but still critical, notes from our first look at FUT: 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.

Community events see everyone working towards an overall goal, with 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. More Ultimate Team detail is expected later in August – at which point we’ll update this feature with further details.

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…