Agile dribbling. Remember the term. It's going to change how you play FIFA forever.
It is a huge claim, but after playing a beta version of FIFA 21 recently, and hearing the game's lead gameplay designer walk through the thinking behind the move, I'm comfortable calling this new feature a game-changer. If I hadn't played FIFA in a few years, this would be the feature that got me to return to the franchise that's been criticized as not changing much year to year. FIFA 21's gameplay updates all stand on three pillars of the game: creativity, fluidity, and responsiveness, and those three are based on real-life matches and feedback from players. The one that is most obvious is how players will be able to execute far better ball control. So. Much. Fun.
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Agile dribbling is one of four new gameplay features in FIFA 21:
- Agile dribbling
- Positioning personality
- Creative runs
- Natural collision system
In this post though, I'm going to focus on the first new feature. I will get into the other features at the end, though it seems like those will largely be automated for the typical player. While they no-doubt improve the game, they are not as game-changing in my view.
What's new in FIFA 21? This gameplay trailer, released this week, shows it off.
Agile dribbling: How to do it in FIFA 21
Sam Rivera, the lead gameplay designer for FIFA 21, told reporters in a presentation last month that agile dribbling can be incredibly useful in small spaces -- like around the corner flag -- to prevent getting tackled with some fancy footwork.
"How this works is you need to press the right bumper while moving the left stick in the direction that you want the player to go to," Rivera said before noting that the individual skill attributes of the player will determine how effective this move can be. "Good dribblers -- let's say [Kylian Mbappé], [Lionel Messi] -- they will be much faster and more responsive thanm say [Gerard Piqué] or [Sergio Ramos]."
Rivera even used a real-life player, showing a clip of Bernardo Silva of Manchester City FC, making three defenders of Chelsea FC look silly. "He has this amazing footwork that allows him to move the ball side to side band back to back — without getting tackled," Rivera said. You could say that a little bit of Silva is in every player in FIFA 21.
Agile dribbling: The hands-on review
In a beta version of FIFA 21 I played, the relatively short rundown of agile dribbling didn't seem to do justice to the impact it has one gameplay. Moving the ball between your left and right feet when controlling a player is the most commong manifestation of this feature and it is devastating on opponents.
By tapping the ball back and forth between your feet, you can dance around defenders. The best part is that it is gleefully easy to pull off. You literally only hold R1 — if you are using PlayStation — while moving the left analog stick in the direction you want to dribble. Even that make it sound complicated. It's an intuitive feature that first-time players will pick up easily.
There's a lot in FIFA 21 that will make attacking football dominant, with agilie dribbling leading the way.
Another interesting thing I learned — I even found that players who are only average dribblers can pull off Messi-like moves if they are matched against teams of the same quality. For example, while playing as Mathias Jensen of Brentford FC (dribbling rating is 72) against Atlanta United, I was able to execute agile dribbling with ease.
There are loads of new skill moves in FIFA 21, like the feint forward, and the ability to "super cancel" that move, which will leave your defender rooted to the spot and open up space for you.
Positioning personality: Finally!
In football, you don't even notice how talented the best players are because they don't have to move much. Think of David Seaman's excellent positioning in goal for the Arsenal FC in the '90s, of how Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the Arsenal of today always finds himself in the right position for a tap-in goal.
For attackers in FIFA 21, a new attacking positioning attribute will be included in a player's overall score. You can expect Aubameyang to score highly here. Among the factors that influence this rating are factors like offside/onside runs, fake runs in the box, and the ability for an attack to drop back. The players will act more like this in FIFA 21.
For defenders in FIFA 21, think of how well Virgil Van Dijk of Liverpool FC is at being in the right place, or how intelligent N'Golo Kante of Chelsea FC is at interceptions. In FIFA 21, there will be a rating for a defender's positioning personality based on how well the real-life player tracks runs, positions themselves to destroy attacks through the midfield, or how active they are when crushing attacks down the wings.
One word to sum up this new feature: Finally. The impetus or the technology might not have been there in the past, but after a hands-on demo, it's noticeable how true these traits are to each player. Trust me, I played as Arsenal and could spot all the defensive flaws.
Creative runs: Perfect for the right player
Rivera put it emphatically to reporters in his presentation: "This feature is a game-changer, because for the first time you have full control to tell your A.I. players where you want them to go. There are three different ways to do this: 1. directed pass/go, 2. directed runs, and 3. player lock."
"Right after the pass, flick the right stick in any direction you want and the player will start moving there," Rivera explained. "It's quite similar to the old pass-and-go we had but now you have full 360-degree control of that run, which allows you to create new types of play that are very important to create chances."
It's more natural than it sounds — though I don't quite yet share his view than it's a game-changer. With time, his statements will likely be proven true.
However, the "player lock" feature is interesting. If you press down both analog sticks at the same time, your pass locks onto that player, even after you have passed it to a CPU teammate, allowing you to make a great run and score.
Natural collision system: Really nice to have
We've all been in on goal, one-on-one with the keeper, unable to jump over the keeper. One impact I suspect this will have is speeding up the game and creating more opportunities for ugly goals that decide outcomes:
In FIFA 21, you can hop over the defending player without awkward collisions.
And if you master these new features — You'll want to try a new "competitor mode." If you select "legendary" as the difficulty status, there are two options. The first is a new "competitor mode" and the second is the regular "legendary mode." The new competitor mode offers an A.I. you play against that adopts the style of the best FIFA players in the world. It's wildly difficult: "This is the most fun I have ever had against a CPU AI in all the years I have been playing FIFA,", Rivera said.