Everything we know about FIFA 21 – Release date, players, cross-play, more

The beautiful game goes next gen.

FIFA 21

As yearly franchises go, it’s difficult to look past the FIFA series. The simulation of the beautiful game has come on leaps and bounds since the days of the original Playstation and beyond, and EA has made the Pro Evolution Soccer series runner up in a two-horse race for almost two generations. That said, there has been some discontent from hardcore fans in recent years that the game is beginning to stagnate, with too much of the focus being on the online-only Ultimate Team mode and not enough on more traditional modes, and a lack of evolution to the gameplay. This has been ongoing since the turn of the current generation after an excellent PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. 

However, this year’s FIFA will come with a generational leap. With a generational leap comes an opportunity to rebuild the game for the next generation, and hopefully, it will provide a leap back to the glory days of the previous generation. Here is everything we know about this year’s game, FIFA 21.

The faces of FIFA 21

The FIFA series has always excelled at the presentation of soccer, providing tailored graphics and images, using official licenses from leagues all over the world. This allows you to play in all of Europe’s major leagues faithfully, while players on teams, kits, and some stadia are faithfully recreated. FIFA 21 will be no different, with a huge number of licenses for clubs and players that are faithfully recreated. EA Play’s Feel Next Level trailer from the EA Play event on June 18 features live footage of Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park and Liverpool’s Anfield, meaning that both are likely to be heavily featured throughout.

Last year’s FIFA was missing some licenses that the series had previously had access to. One was for Italian giant Juventus, resulting in the team being called Piemonte Calcio, and marking the first time in 25 years that FIFA could not use the Juventus name. Legendary Argentine clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate were also missing, all three owing to exclusive deals with rival game PES. This year, Juventus are joined by Roma as teams missing from the game, though no confirmation yet as to what name will replace the Rome based club.

The cover star is also hotly contested every year, with often the biggest stars or transfers from the year previously getting the nod. Last year, Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard was the main cover star following his transfer from Chelsea, while Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk and French legend Zinidine Zidane also starred on special editions of the game.

However, this year sees one of the hottest properties in world football, Kylian Mbappe features as the only player on all three editions of the game. It includes many images of his career without a full-page cover, likely caused by issues with organizing a photo-shoot with the star due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The covers for the game’s three editions, Standard, Champions and Ultimate, are below.

FIFA 21 Standard Edition
Image via EA Sports
FIFA 21 Champions Ed.
Image via EA Sports
FIFA 21 Ultimate Edition
Image via EA Sports

While Mbappe is undoubtedly the main focus of this year’s game, the reveal trailer for the game did feature some other high profile players, including Atletico Madrid forward João Félix, Liverpool wing-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Norwegian sensation Erling Haaland. French legend Eric Cantona also featured, likely as part of the new Icons for the Ultimate Team mode.

The game engine in FIFA 21

On July 23, EA confirmed some new gameplay features that players can expect to see on the upcoming game, with a trailer for the features following on August 4.

The biggest improvement is with a new agile dribbling system, designed to allow the fleet-footed to take advantage of it more over the more lumbering defenders. Holding down the right shoulder button will trigger the player currently in possession to bring the ball in closer, and then the left analog stick can be used to move the ball around. New skill moves designed to take advantage of the agile dribbling techniques are also being added, which will create silky transitions from 1-on-1s to going on the attack.

Positioning Personality is also a new addition, making positional awareness more effective. For example, top attacking players like Mbappe will be better at holding their runs past defenders to avoid being the offside position when the ball is played. Creative maestros such as Kevin De Bruyne will actively look for open space to collect the ball and create an opening for an attacker.

Enforcers in midfield will actively seek the creative and attacking players to shut down passing channels, and top defenders will be able to block off crosses, through balls and shots more effectively.

This is also backed up by the Creative Runs system, designed to allow more creative freedom in attack play build-up by triggering players to make runs in the direction that you choose. For example, if you are attacking the left side of a box, you can use the left shoulder button and the right analog stick to direct a winger or fullback to underlap you, meaning you can see which direction the player is running into and play accordingly.

Improvements to animations come from the natural collision system, designed to make on-field plays smoother after players come together. Finally, the ‘fundamentals of football’ adds some quality of life improvements to the basics. This means that players can now use the option of manual headers instead of the automatic ‘assisted’ option, while longer through balls are also improved. Competitor mode cranks up the difficulty for those looking for a real challenge, while you can now rewind gameplay in Kick-off mode and try again if you squander a chance.

The FIFA series has been using EA’s in-house Frostbite 3 engine since FIFA 17, and the Ignite engine before that for this current generation. FIFA 21 looks set to continue on the Frostbite engine, though other developers in EA’s team have been using other engines to power their games, meaning that a change could still happen for next-gen. There’s also a heavy emphasis placed by EA going into the next generation on cross-play, where you can challenge and play with other players regardless of which platform they are playing on. 

While this is unlikely to make much difference to the player base on the consoles, which remain large throughout the year, it will be very helpful to players on PC who usually have a far smaller pool of players to compete with. It also means that friends can still play games with each other even if they have different consoles. If EA also makes the leap for cross-generational crossplay, it’s likely going to mean that the engine used for both console generations will be the same, though this particular feature has not yet been confirmed.

The game modes of FIFA 21

Ultimate Team (or FUT) mode will include a new co-op mode this year that allows friends to work together for rewards on co-op objectives. There’s also a higher level of customization in this year’s FUT, though EA is tight-lipped on the level of detail that will be possible beyond the current options.

EA has placed a lot of emphasis in recent years on Ultimate Team, and this year appears to continue this trend. The game is available to pre-order, and each of the editions comes with rewards for FUT. This means that you can expect EA to continue making advancements here for players to build their teams. However, one of the rewards for the Champions and Ultimate editions comes with a pre-order bonus that is described as “Homegrown Talent: Local youth prospect with world-class potential”. 

While this could simply be one of the usual in-game regenerated players, the wording implies that Career mode could be seeing a revamp to the youth teams and academy scouting systems as local youth prospects don’t currently feature specifically in the mode.

This year for the Career mode, EA has promised an interactive match simulation option, meaning players can simulate a match to more detailed analysis, but with the option to take charge at certain moments, such as penalties and free kicks.

A revamped growth system means that players can be molded into what you want, meaning a full-back with good attacking stats can show progression into a more forward-thinking role, such as on the wing.

The active training system and match sharpness attributes affect the ability a player has during a match to make crucial plays, why the activity management system allows you to be more flexible with resting players to boost energy or morale at the expense of sharpness.

Other improvements come in the form of more realistic transfer options, such as a loan-to-buy option on players, and enhanced AI to keep games feeling fresher.

With a number of problems hampering the Career mode last year, including buggy press conferences, clubs who would play third-string teams throughout the season without reason, and being fired as a manager far too easily, EA is likely to be keen not to repeat the same issues.

Last year saw the introduction of VOLTA, the mode inspired by FUTSAL. Overall, fans haven’t responded to it perhaps as well as it could. Despite this, VOLTA is returning in FIFA 21, with a brand new story campaign and the option to play co-op with friends in squads of five.

EA has promised more details on both game play and modes in August.

When will FIFA 21 release?

FIFA 21 will release on Oct. 9 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Origin and, for the first time in franchise history, Steam. It will allow crossplay with all platforms. Those who pre-order the Champions or Ultimate Digital Editions of the game will receive 3-day early access to the game, while EA Access and Origin Access subscribers will have access to the Play First trial of the game from Oct. 1. 

There is currently no release date for the next-generation editions of the game, but those who play on the current generation’s versions will be able to play next generations without the need to purchase upgrades using EA’s new Dual Entitlement system. This will include any players collected on the Ultimate Team mode. The one caveat with this offer for PS5 users is that they will need to purchase the disc edition of the console to be able to use this if they also own a disc copy of FIFA 21 on PS4.