Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) has been around for as long as I can remember, under various guises and name alterations, so the fact Konami are celebrating its 25th anniversary with the latest instalment comes as no real surprise. The real shock is the fact they’re releasing eFootball PES 2021 as a ‘Season Update’, instead of a completely new game. Essentially this is eFootball PES 2020 repackaged with up-to-date teams and leagues, while little tweaks will be made to game modes and gameplay. To be fair, PES 2020 is very good, but can eFootball PES 2021 Season Update draw gamers in, or is it worth holding back until normal service resumes?
Let’s get the pleasantries out of the way first and acknowledge the fantastic achievement of the aforementioned milestone for Konami’s football series – what a legacy. However, it’s disappointing we’ve ended up with merely an update to accompany such a glorious occasion; and a bit of an overpriced, mediocre update at that.
Initially I’d like to clarify a few things about PES 2021 Season Update. It is a standalone full game, which borrows all of PES 2020’s game modes and possesses the same enjoyable gameplay; albeit with a couple of minor tweaks. Hence, for the full lowdown on those features, please check out our in-depth review of PES 2020. The major difference is in regards to the teams and players, with new kits and transfers being implemented to ensure everything is current.
But let’s go over the changes, however minor, to the gameplay, which for the most part is still fluid and exciting offline while coming across as a little sluggish in the online realm. What becomes immediately apparent is an alteration to the trapping of balls at players’ feet. Whether intentional or not from Konami, this leads to even more occasions than before of players idly standing by; watching passes slowly roll away from their feet like they’ve had a ‘senior moment’ and forgotten where they are. The shooting feels a tad too arcade-y and easy too; seeing Aaron Wan-Bissaka scoring top corner rocket shots from weird angles tells you that. Nevertheless, gameplay is pretty good on the whole as the bar was set fairly high last time.
Now for the slightly better additions involving Master League mode, which has received not one, but three extra managers to choose from – don’t all cheer at once eh. There’s the ‘Welsh Wizard’ Ryan Giggs, ‘Super’ Frank Lampard and the best chequebook manager in recent years, Pep Guardiola. Visually, they look damn good, with Pep looking about ten years younger (he’s got hair!) as it is clearly modelled on his days in charge of Barcelona. At the end of the day though, these are simply avatars for the cutscenes so it’s not that big of a deal.
As for the other game modes, like Become a Legend, myClub and Matchday, it’s just business as usual. One thing early adopters of PES 2020 might have missed out on is the free UEFA Euro 2020 content that arrived in June. Fortunately you can access the official tournament again here, with all the featured teams and Euro 2020 branding. Essentially it’s an offline tournament, which isn’t overly enthralling, but at least you can attempt to lead England to glory ahead of the actual tournament next year – where we’ll inevitably get knocked out after a Pickford disasterclass.
Quite clearly the main reason folks may be enticed to acquire the PES 2021 Season Update is to play with up-to-date teams and such. Many of the kits and squad rosters are updated through the base game and a patch at launch, ensuring the top two tiers of English football, Scottish Premiership, Russian League, the Portuguese Liga NOS and more are akin to their real-world counterparts. Sadly, almost as many major leagues aren’t getting the all-important freshen up until 22nd October – over a month post-release. It really sucks to be a fan of the Italian, Spanish and Belgian leagues right now.
I’m baffled that Konami would release PES 2021 earlier than they’re able to implement the bulk of what would make the game appealing to returning players. The only good thing is that of the leagues that have been updated, all the transfers were accurate on day one. Oh wait, no they weren’t, and instead players have been drip-fed into the correct teams every so often via the Live Update. While there is some leeway during the transfer window being open, seeing outdated squads at launch without players signed weeks prior is underwhelming.
In a nutshell, eFootball PES 2021 Season Update on Xbox One should be overlooked by those who own PES 2020 because it’s not worth the hassle of starting all over again for a selection of kits and partially updated squads. On the other hand, the gameplay and the modes combined with the updates makes it slightly more alluring to newcomers who haven’t experienced any of it. Even then it’s not a must-have and you may be best picking up PES 2020 on the cheap.
I sincerely wish PES a Happy Birthday, but that’s the only thing they’ve got to celebrate this year.