Welcome back to On The Break! In the last post, which you can catch HERE if you missed it, we looked at my first save of the FM21 cycle with Watford. Today will be a look at FM21 itself rather than a save within it, as I give my thoughts on my favourite and least favourite new features and screens, as well as some things that seem to have been removed since FM20.
As always, this is just my opinion, based mostly on how the new features and changes affect the way I play the game.
The impression that the FM21 beta has given me so far is that it has the potential to be the best version of Football Manager ever. In a year where SI could easily have just updated the database and made some minor tweaks to create a new game, they went above and beyond to add new features and rewrite large areas of the game to give hardcore fans a more realistic managerial experience while still allowing new players to find their feet. Huge credit has to be given to Miles and the whole team for that I think.
Probably the most talked about change, and almost certainly the most important, is the rewriting of the match engine. It feels more like watching a real game of football, and with the tweaks to decision making you get the sense that players will react to mistakes and affect the game more. The amount of new animations and especially the amount of work that’s gone into shooting really helps with immersion, you see each far less frequently now so they feel more authentic. I can’t say I’ve noticed too many of the defensive differences that have been made, not a criticism of the game, but I’m not one to do loads of analytical watching, and I’m sure over time I’ll pick up on little bits and be impressed! I’m also glad that VAR isn’t as clear cut as it was in FM20, I’ve already had a couple of occasions where goal checks have led to the goal standing which was never the case before, and it turns VAR into a feature rather than just an annoying delay. Hallelujah for the changes to goalkeepers too! The only animation I’ve really noticed is seeing them go to ground a bit more often, even when it isn’t the right decision, but with the improvements to their match ratings too they feel more like the valuable position that they are.
Am I Dreaming?!
The match engine isn’t perfect (more on that later) but it does have me watching on extended highlights as a minimum now, rather than key highlights on a speed too high to really pay attention to, which helps with the experience. I finally feel like the match is the main event I’ve been building up to, not something I sit through to find out which team the algorithm has given the win to, as I did at times last year.
The match engine is a big change, but when it comes to a brand new feature nothing was the bigger than the announcement of a whole new suite of stats and analysis tools, most notably the addition of xG to the game. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too excited about xG when it was announced because I’m not much for diving deep into stats and analysis during or after game. I’m more likely to decide on a style of play I’d like to work towards and then build a side to suit the tactic, rather than analyze the stats to tweak a tactic based on the player’s ability and strengths. What I’ve found, though, is that the stats and the way they’re presented have given me more of an interest and understanding without having to go digging too far for information. I don’t need to load in heat maps, average positions and pass maps anymore to find out if we’re wasting decent chances, conceding to too many balls over the top or just playing sideways passes with no end product, we get charts, shot maps and xG totals to do all that hard work for us. This is all of course made possible by the new Performance Analyst job role, which gives a lot more detail than last year when there was just one generic analyst role. As someone who hasn’t really used the analysis tools much at all since they were introduced to Football Manager, these additions have given me an entry to looking more into analysis and why things aren’t working, rather than just tweaking when things don’t go well.
This one is grim reading, but the new analyst charts are a big help!
A recurring theme in many of Football Manager’s changes and new features over the years has been to give the player a more realistic experience of managing a football club. Year on year things are added, taken away or tweaked based on whether they work in game the way things work in real life. One that has been talked about this year is player condition and sharpness, more specifically the fact that a real world manager can’t rate a player’s fitness as a percentage. Although it’s going to take a fair bit of getting used to, I like that we can no longer rely on numbers to have an exact knowledge of every player’s condition, as it makes the experience more realistic and leaves more of a possibility of poor decisions. Fatigue has also been built into the system this year which is another big step in the right direction, as players may need a rest despite being in good condition, something which was far easier to ignore and play through last year.
One of the few things to have gotten considerably worse over the years, the Newgen faces in FM21 are a great return to form and a really big step up in quality from the last few years. They aren’t the most important feature around, sure, but for me they really help with immersion and connecting to players as saves go into the future. There is an array of incredible content in the community to replace the newgen faces with hyper realistic creations, most notably the brilliant facepacks created by @chilled_moose, but for the first time in a long time the vanilla offering is of a good standard and offer far more realism for other teams, and newgen staff and press members than before.
2008 x 2018 x 2021 – Peaks and Troughs!
Another part of the game that is highly customizable and has a brilliantly creative community is the skin. For years many creators have come up with new designs, put more information on screen and even added whole new features to the game in order to provide a better experience. Football Manager itself has a chequered past with it’s skins, some are iconic, others very forgettable. This year the skin seems to be very popular in the community, which is handy as for the first time that I can remember there is only one default skin, not the usual three. No light version, no dark version, just the default deep purple.
I’m a huge fan of this year’s skin, even more so than last year’s which I also really enjoyed. I think the darker purple is a smart choice as it bridges the gap between the bright purple and dark skin of last year, removing the need for both, and the light skin seems a less popular choice year on year so is probably unnecessary, although some will inevitably miss it. Using the club colour of your chosen side as an accent colour to the background is also really clever and more subtle than it was last year, which I like.
Football Manager underwent a rebrand of sorts between FM18 and FM19, with a new logo, new font and the vivid purple look that split the opinion of the community. I really like the direction they’ve gone in, I like the font more, the purple makes the game look far less boring and ‘spreadsheety’ and the implementation of colour has improved year on year for me, culminating in a skin this year that I’m in no rush to replace.
The one downside of the default skin has been the lack of panels and information available to the player compared to the efforts of the skinning community, and that’s something that keeps me heading back to the downloads sections. I don’t always want to change the look of the game, but often just a single feature or screen looks so good that I use the skin for a while to try it out. If SI could find a way to make a bit more of the vast array they have visible at any one time, I don’t think I’d ever change it.
There are a lot fewer negatives than positives, but there are a few things about FM21 that I’m not so keen on, and some that are downright disappointing.
Some Match Engine Animations
I love the match engine so far this year, it’s far more engaging and varied, but it certainly isn’t perfect. I’m seeing a lot of highlights where defenders are putting in block after block after block, very often after a small hesitation from the attacker, which to me feels more like a means to show a highlight without a goal, rather than a natural breakdown of play. I’ve also seen on multiple occasions players run towards the touchline to collect a loose ball and run it out of play with plenty of space and time to trap the ball and turn. None of these small highlight ending animations are game breakers by any means, but they are small frustrating moments that break the immersion, especially when chasing a game!
This is probably the biggest criticism that the community have had of FM21 so far, with several changes made to the interface on match day. Having the new bar along the bottom is a good feature on it’s own, as you can use it to quickly make subs, give individual shouts and change roles amongst other things, all without having to go into the tactics tab. However, this interferes with the other main addition to the match day screen, the touchline tablet. The tablet will display 3 customizable panels to show the manager’s preferred information by default (I believe on lower resolutions this may only be 2 panels) but if you minimize the lower bar and take away your quick access to tactical changes, you can be given 6 panels from the tablet. I find it hard to believe that this trade off between efficiency and information was deliberate, especially as the ability to have floating information widgets is now also gone, something I really miss having and think is a poor choice to remove. They may not be realistic as manager’s won’t always have that information right in front of them, but at points we need to remember that FM is a game, and some things are needed as a game player rather than a virtual manager. The same goes for the analysis tab, now removed during matches (still available at half-time and full-time) although personally I don’t use the analysis during matches so it doesn’t affect my game play. The dugout tab looks a bit out of place, and the huge amount of ugly unreadable pass maps don’t help matters, and the choice between having the tablet blocking an entire highlight or only having access to the most basic of match stats just reinforces my belief that although the matches are a lot better, for the most part everything displaying the matches is worse. I do think the change to a more TV broadcast style is a good choice though, and the pre-match team sheets, tv style scoreboard and pop up info and intro formation screens are all additions I love.
I’m finishing up with something very minor, and it’s not even a new feature, in fact it’s the result of a removed feature. Role suitability is no longer visible in the game, which I do believe to be a good decision, even though I used to rely on it more than I should have been (something about a full green circle is just satisfying). With that, the bars underneath the player’s shirt in the tactics screen suddenly has something missing, and I just wish they had been given a little redesign, as I just can’t stop thinking about how something should be there. Of course, this is probably just me, and I’ll certainly get used to it in time, but little tweaks like that could really have shown that SI had thought about how the removed features would affect every screen.
Am I being too picky? Oh of course. It just bugs me, and it could have been changed just a little bit to keep it fresh.
I just think this could be redone now that the circle is gone!
So those are my thoughts on the FM21 beta, despite a few minor gripes I think it’s shaping up to be one of if not the best editions yet, so I’m pumped to get my hands on the full release on Tuesday!
Thanks for reading!