The FIFA franchise found the recipe for a tight soccer experience years ago, but has consistently delivered tweaks to the formula to keep fans coming back for more. For FIFA 21, EA Sports is moving into relatively uncharted waters by bringing the franchise onto Stadia, Google’s game streaming service. The result is mostly the same experience FIFA fans have grown accustomed to, but there are still some serious compromises to be made by streaming the game.
Just like almost every other game on Stadia’s roster, FIFA 21 is at the mercy of a stable internet connection. Even with high speeds, though, players can still expect disruptions at least once a match, if not more. These range in severity from a quick choppy pass to a completely disastrous attempt at a goal caused by the game freezing and breaking down.
Those issues are especially pronounced in FIFA 21’s VOLTA mode, a faster-paced, smaller-scale match. It’s more in line with street soccer than the massive stadium experience usually offered by FIFA games, but entertaining nonetheless, and even better than the standard modes from time to time. In fact, VOLTA may even be the entire reason for players to make the jump from versions older than FIFA 20, where it was first added, simply because of how entertaining it is.
However, it requires a lot more timing and precision because of how small the arena is and how quickly the game moves. Stadia just can’t seem to keep up a lot of the time, with connection issues sometimes resulting in opponents running away with the game. VOLTA is a refreshing break from the other modes FIFA 21 has to offer, so it’s disappointing to see it marred by connection problems.
In FIFA 21‘s online multiplayer matches, the problem is more frustrating. A bad connection can result in a loss that has a tangible effect on a player’s rating, and that’s simply unfair. It’s a serious problem, especially for those that want to play the game in some competitive capacity. Luckily, the issues didn’t seem quite as frequent as they did in the single-player matches, though it’s difficult to determine if that’s because Stadia legitimately prioritizes multiplayer matches or if it’s simply luck of the draw.
All of the connection issues would be understandable on a low-speed internet connection, but with 300 MBps download and Google’s own Mesh WiFi system powering the network, the problems become far more egregious. With more than a year of experience under the service’s belt now, the persistent connection issues should have been improved. It’s yet another highlight of one of the problems Stadia users have regularly vented about. Those with slower internet speeds will need to be doubly cautious, as the problems will undoubtedly be more pronounced there.
Of all the issues, though, the most troublesome is FIFA 21‘s low player count on Stadia, even this close to launch. During peak times finding a match isn’t that difficult, but trying to find a mid-day match will be more of a challenge. The highest player count we’ve managed to find so far was around 160 players in the Seasons mode, and while that was enough to find a match in a few minutes, it seems likely that this will pose a problem to the core experience moving forward. With the connection problems being so persistent, it’s difficult to imagine players not jumping ship to the console versions.
FIFA 21 essentially lives and dies by its multiplayer scene, so the low player count is a concern. Sure, there will always be offline matches, but AI opponents are only interesting for so long. Those with friends to play with consistently shouldn’t worry too much, but the vast majority of people looking to jump in for a match or two during the day will find it frustrating.
The bright side is that when FIFA 21 is running well on Stadia it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between it and its console counterparts. Some matches went without any technical hiccups, and those were our highest scoring almost without fail. During those times, Stadia’s promise of gaming driven by the cloud shines through, and it’s truly a marvel to think that it’s all running through a web browser. Unfortunately, it just can’t hit that high note consistently enough to justify this version as the one to buy.
FIFA 21 itself, though, is a game worth picking up for fans of sports titles, though it certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel. For those that picked up FIFA 20, it may be worth it to wait and see what next year holds. It’s a common criticism for the franchise, but it feels especially true this year, especially since there’s not a real story mode to play through.
For those without a console, FIFA 21 on Stadia is still a better option than not being able to play whatsoever. But with consoles like the Xbox Series S being available without breaking the bank, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to opt for the Stadia version once the cost of a Chromecast Ultra and compatible controller are factored in. Those that intend to play from a Chrome browser tab and already own a compatible controller have a better reason to pick it up through Stadia, but that’s entirely situational.
Simply put, the convenience of launching FIFA 21 without downloading can’t outweigh the technical issues presented by Stadia as a platform. It feels harsh to say that Stadia is the only thing holding the game back, but there’s no other culprit to be found when the core problem is the constant barrage of network issues. The reality is that Stadia is struggling with something as formulaic as FIFA 21, and that’s legitimately troubling. It’s yet another story of the highest highs and the lowest lows, and it spells further problems for the future of the platform.
FIFA 21 is available now for PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Geisha411 was provided a Stadia code for this review.