Madden NFL 21

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4.0
 
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Games

Developer
What We Played
Offline Exhibition, Head to Head, Franchise mode, MUT, Face of the Franchise, Superstar KO, The Yard
Release Date
8/28/2020
Genre
ESRB Rating
Everyone

Praise the football gods, it’s Madden season once again! In a year that has had so much uncertainty regarding sports and whether or not a full real football season will take place, EA SportsMadden NFL 21 is releasing at the perfect time to quench our football-starved bodies. This is our review of Madden NFL 21.

Madden NFL 21 is Untethered with Fast, Silky Smooth Gameplay

One of the biggest criticisms with annual sports titles is, “Why buy the same game every year?”. If you’ve played a sports title, you know you’ve heard it. Well, apart from the new players entering the league, the biggest reason is innovation. Innovation in how the game plays, how it feels. 

When it comes to the Madden franchise, EA Sports tends to focus on certain key areas to improve upon with every iteration. Last year, it was all about big play features and creating a smoother, more explosive experience. This year, it’s all about authenticity. That said, Electronic Arts’ sports division didn’t sit on their hands when it came to innovating a smoother, faster gameplay experience for Madden NFL 21. No, they fully unleashed a completely untethered Madden, in terms of gameplay.

Before Madden NFL 20, there were plenty of times where a lot of players felt so sluggish. They even ran weird to the line of scrimmage. I believe it was Madden NFL 19 where it always looked as if the players were trotting to the line like they were part of King Arthur’s court in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The only thing missing were the coconuts. 

When playing a game with insanely fast players like Tyreek Hill or fluid route runners like Keenan Allen or ankle-breaking runners like Christian McCaffrey, it needs to feel effortless, fast, and overwhelmingly smooth. That’s exactly how it is in Madden NFL 21

The ball-carrier mechanics have improved so much that Madden NFL 21 finally feels untethered by lag or by limitations. Just catching the ball and running around feels freer than in previous Maddens. Adding to that are the ball-carrier abilities like spin move, jukes, and stiff arms. All of these movesets have a higher potential for success and gaining extra yards. As the cover athlete himself, Lamar Jackson, I made fools out of CPUs and online opponents by rolling out, juking, and spinning around them. It’s so satisfyingly dirty.

Furthermore, ratings actually mean something. Players with high speed attributes like your Tyreek Hills, Lamar Jacksons, and so on are some of the most dangerous players in the game, because the moment there’s separation. You’re done. I got torched by Mecole Hardman WR of the Kansas City Chiefs A LOT. Similarly, I torched A LOT of opponents with Henry Ruggs III WR of the Las Vegas Raiders. 

Now, I’ve primarily talked about Offense so far, but the smoothness and high speeds don’t stop there. The fast and free lifestyle is also rich on the defensive side of the ball. Safeties break to the ball quicker, CBs have a higher chance of keeping up with ball carriers, and certain linebackers are just too fast to handle at times. Looking at you Bobby Wagner: the bane of my existence. However, it’s the defensive line that has had a major overhaul.

One of the key features of Madden NFL 21 that EA Sports has been marketing consistently is the new rush mechanics. True to their word, they are far more effortless than they were in previously Maddens. The constant button-mashing and joystick movements were such a pain in Maddens past. This time, though, they made it a lot easier and faster to rush the passer, get into the backfield, and disrupt plays by just moving the right joystick when pressed against the OL. 

When I wrote about my time in the Beta, I talked about how I didn’t get many sacks, but I got a lot of pressures. Different story this time around, I have been such a frequent resident in the backfield that opposing teams are asking me to pay for citizenship. 

Authentic, Yet Unforgiving Tackling Mechanics & a Few Irksome Bugs

I mentioned earlier that each new era of Madden has a particular theme to it. This year’s Madden theme is authenticity. EA Sports tried to make their simulated football game into the most realistic possible by adding real-life celebrations that players do, real plays, and authentic tackling. They even went as far as making players avoid each other between plays and not bump into each other.

True to form, the game feels authentic. Even the graphics before, during, and after the game have that big primetime feel that Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, FOX NFL Sunday Game of the Week, etc. That said, sometimes authenticity can be a rude awakening for how unforgiving mistakes can be.

In Maddens past, there wasn’t much of a penalty for overpursuing players and attempting a hit stick to lodge the ball out. In order to do away with some BS tackling (ankle tackles), EA Sports remade their tackling mechanics to where you must be precise when you tackle. I got burned so many times because I over pursued and completely whiffed on a tackle. Once that happens, it’s darn near impossible to catch the ball carrier. Speaking of the ball carrier, be prepared for broken tackles, they happen aplenty. 

In the previous section, I discussed how smooth the game is. Well, not every part of Madden NFL 21 is completely smooth and sometimes the excessive speed can be an unnatural problem. One aspect that isn’t smooth is in the kicking game. While reviewing, there was a bug that could constantly skip on the meter, leading to inaccurate kicks. This may be fixed in a later update but it was irksome at times. I’ve also had trouble switching to players closest to the ball in online play, which again may be fixed upon release but it’s frustrating, nonetheless. 

Lastly, in the spirit of upping the speed, many QBs are a bit faster than they should be. I had issues with a few traditional pocket passers like Tom Brady and Matt Ryan rolling out and running for a decent chunk of yards. Granted, they weren’t as fast as Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson, but they were quick enough to get the first down before my much-faster defenders made the stop. That shouldn’t happen. It should be as if they are running like molasses because we’ve all seen how long it takes for Tom Brady to run 5 yards in real life. It’s like a sloth at a track meet. Admittedly, it was worse in the beta. Considering that they’ve already improved it at pre-release, I do expect it will be a non-issue at full release.

EA Sports Needs to Scrap Face of the Franchise

Ok, so I’ve given EA Sports 3 years to figure out their story mode, Face of the Franchise. I absolutely hated it when it was Longshots, I thought it was fine when it changed to QB1: Face of the Franchise, and now with Madden NFL 21 I’ve hit a point where I no longer care about it.

It’s just the same thing over and over and over again, but repackaged into different character customizations and college choices. Unknown guy in High School gets his shot to impress on the field, amazes everyone while pissing off their rival, goes to college, isn’t given a fair shot or squanders their shot, gets a shot, amazes everyone while pissing off their rival, performs at the combine, gets drafted, solo franchise mode. Oh and there is always weird awkward humor that just isn’t funny and limited customization mechanics that are infuriating.

Plus, the gameplay is ridiculously slow and there isn’t a difficulty setting. Like I understand what Face of the Franchise is, it’s a vehicle to introduce new players to Madden in the kiddie pool without throwing them into the deep end to play online or even MUT. That said, EA Sports could at least add a difficulty setting to make it somewhat challenging for the veteran players or even the new players that are bored out of their mind by insanely easy gameplay. 

Sure, it does progressively get more difficult from High School to College to the NFL as is the case in real life. However, when I can literally spam the same go route on offense every single time to get a quick touchdown, that’s not teaching anyone anything. It’s too easy. Literally, I got so bored sometimes playing that I would send my running back all the way back to my own 3 yard line for my QB to chuck a 97 yard bomb to my wide receiver for the easy score. That’s a problem.

I admire EA Sports for attempting a story mode, I really do. However, after getting it wrong this many times, it’s just time to cut bait and focus attention on what players really want. At the moment, what they want is an updated Franchise mode experience, not a Face of the Franchise experience. Two very different things.

Fun New Modes, Some Outdated Old Ones

In comparing previous Madden games, I feel like Madden NFL 21 has the most game modes in the series' long history. The roll call of modes is as follows: Offline Exhibition, Online Head to Head, Madden Ultimate Team, Franchise mode, the woeful Face of the Franchise, Superstar KO, and the new mode The Yard.

That’s seven ways to play the game of football in Madden. That’s quite a lot. It’s also really interesting how each one is unique in their own way. The two newer games are Superstar KO and The Yard and both are really quite fun and addicting. 

In Superstar KO, you select who your coach will be, 3 superstars, and then you jump into a brisk game where each player only has a drive to score a TD and win. If no score is made, the players then play tug of war, which is essentially whoever can gain the most yards in 3 plays. If you win, you gain another superstar and continue going until you win it all. I found myself really loving the fast-paced nature of this even if I didn’t win much.

The absolute latest game mode to enter Madden NFL 21 is The Yard. When I first heard about The Yard, I was very skeptical of it. I just kept asking myself why we needed a backyard football game. However, after playing I actually really enjoyed it.

In The Yard, you and your custom character join 5 other players in an extremely fast-paced game of football. However, the rules are different. It’s basically flag football without the flags. You have 4 seconds to pass the ball, 1 second until the rusher is unleashed, and tons of trickery you find more often in flag football than in real games. As someone who has missed playing Flag Football with his squad, this was a really nice replacement.

That said, these modes are so very limited. You are limited in the players you choose, which I get as part of the game, but it’s more frustrating when you’re limited to the plays available to you. In both newer game modes, there is such a lack of play availability that it makes part of the game somewhat frustrating. While I enjoyed them, I just as if they were just overall novelty game modes that I just can’t see people religiously playing unless there is some incentive.

Now, one mode that I definitely play religiously is Franchise mode. In Franchise mode, you pick a team to play seasons with either by yourself or with friends. The mode is all in the spirit of development and domination with your favorite team or the team of your choosing.

There’s been a lot to do about revamping Franchise mode to give players more freedom and choice. While we’re still a long way from that, EA Sports has made a few minor improvements to the beloved game mode. 

For instance, veteran players on your team will try to deliver advice to the coaching staff and even take promising rookies under their wing. Doing so will boost stats for young players. This is such an excellent addition and something that truly surprised me. In past interviews EA Sports execs have claimed that they are committed to add to Franchise mode and if this is the kind of thing they’re talking about I’m all on board. However, only time will tell what other new additions are made and if they are overall useful.

The OVR

Overall, this iteration of Madden NFL 21 is an absolute blast to play. It’s ridiculously smooth, fast, strategic, and overall fun. Certain new updates like tackling are taking some getting used to but it’s nothing that can’t be figured out. The good thing too is that EA Sports is committed to tinkering with the game throughout the season to try and make it the best possible game possible. So, by the time the next Madden game is nearing release, the current game always looks completely different from where it started.

My main problems with the game are game mode choices, not the actual gameplay itself. Just don’t try with Face of the Franchise anymore. It’s bland, boring, and one of the least fun parts of the Madden experience. Devote that time to revamping and innovating franchise mode, as there is a lot that could be done to make it an even more fun, immersive game mode.

I firmly believe that Madden fans are going to really enjoy Madden NFL 21. It takes some getting used to, but the improvements and innovations made in last year’s Madden make it a worthwhile gameplay experience. Just remember speed is key. Best of luck in your Madden season!

Editor review

1 reviews

Madden Reaches New Heights in Gameplay Mechanics But Still Has Room to Grow
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Story 
 
1.0
Gameplay 
 
4.5
Fun Factor 
 
5.0
Graphics 
 
4.5
Replayability 
 
5.0
Overall, this iteration of Madden NFL 21 is an absolute blast to play. It’s ridiculously smooth, fast, strategic, and overall fun. Certain new updates like tackling are taking some getting used to but it’s nothing that can’t be figured out. The good thing too is that EA Sports is committed to tinkering with the game throughout the season to try and make it the best possible game possible. So, by the time the next Madden game is nearing release, the current game always looks completely different from where it started.

My main problems with the game are game mode choices, not the actual gameplay itself. Just don’t try with Face of the Franchise anymore. It’s bland, boring, and one of the least fun parts of the Madden experience. Devote that time to revamping and innovating franchise mode, as there is a lot that could be done to make it an even more fun, immersive game mode.

I firmly believe that Madden fans are going to really enjoy Madden NFL 21. It takes some getting used to, but the improvements and innovations made in last year’s Madden make it a worthwhile gameplay experience. Just remember speed is key. Best of luck in your Madden season!
MM
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