Madden NFL 21 Review – End of an Era

With every new Madden NFL release there’s always two things you can expect: upgrades that EA Sports hope are well received, and the inevitable disappointment amongst the fan base when what they wanted addressed wasn’t. With Madden NFL 21, the game signifies the end of an era as it’s the last one released primarily for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. But does it go out with an emphatic roar of success or a whimper in defeat?

Throwing Bombs

For nearly a decade, there’s been nothing more divisive among Madden players than the series’ gameplay. Some enjoy it while others can’t stand it. With Madden NFL 21, it’s once again a mixed bag of results on the field. 

Passing the ball has been a breath of fresh air in Madden NFL 21, mainly for the fact that it is once again a viable option to move the ball because of how much the run game has been toned down. Now in regards to passing itself, I’ve noticed you’re allowed to get rid of the ball as a defender barrels down on you much later than in previous Maddens where you could fully complete the throwing motion and still get sacked. But this and a lot of other less deserved passes are still hampered by the dreaded pressure inaccuracy penalty that sails your short and medium throws nowhere near your target, completely ruining the exact recipe for defeating pressure defenses: the quick pass game.

The running back screen game and receiver screens aren’t completely useless anymore.

The ability to throw late is highlighted even more by the fact your allowed to throw your way out of sacks way too often, even though they don’t offer much benefit to the offense as the passes — a good portion of the time — float right to the defender, when it would have been better if Aaron Donald just sacked you.

When you are given time to set your feet and make a perfect throw you’re able to see the improvements to the passing game. The running back screen game and receiver screens aren’t completely useless anymore. The increased responsiveness of the receiver has made that aspect of offense a more viable option especially with opponents now having the ability to adjust the depth of zone defenders.

Now, on the defensive side of the ball, being able to adjust zone drops has been a huge addition that can hopefully limit certain money plays Madden players like to run and allow the more defensive-minded players to shine. That said, zone defense as a whole has been terrible especially if your defender lacks a coverage ability. These problems are aided greatly by the fact quarterbacks can sit in the pocket for 5-6 seconds to find his receiver wide open in the middle of the coverage.  Thus, making man defense the coverage of choice early on to at least guarantee your man is in the area to defend. Great route runners are the best way to beat man defense, but getting turnovers on any consistent basis with the huge nerf to user defense is only made possible in man coverage so far. 

Now the biggest relief I have had so far was the nerf to the running game. Now don’t get me wrong you still will allow 20+ yard gains if you’re in the wrong defense, but mindlessly running Dive and Stick every play with no regards to the defense is long gone. It’s definitely gotten way more difficult to have a consistent run game and more of a skill gap is there. The defenders getting into the backfield way more often, especially those with run stuffing abilities, along with the improved pursuit angles by defenders require runners to be a lot more patient in letting blocks develop and finding the right holes to spring to daylight.

Madden NFL 21Back during the Beta of the game, the most heated topic was the nerf to the user’s ability to play the pass and it will continue to be one unless a patch comes about. The feeling of being in quicksand and having an interception radius smaller than the one we have to tackle ball carriers is frustrating and limiting.

While I’m in favor of not letting users cover a drag then zip back and pick off a post route in two seconds, the amount of more simpler route combos that you simply aren’t able to cover even when you try to bait your opponent is infuriating. There has to be a balance between not allowing superhuman user linebackers and still punishing those who make ill advised throws. Because as of right now, passers aren’t punished enough.

And if usering is going to remain the same all year and the lack of natural pass rush isn’t fixed, I feel it will draw more people to hopping on the defensive line and getting to work as it really might be their best option. The new pass rush mechanic of tying everything to the right stick feels more intuitive, and you can for sure become the next Lawrence Taylor on the sticks. Mastering the proper pass rush moves, I’ve had fun burying poor offensive linemen into the dirt or speed rushing right by them with different pass rushers  and, as mentioned, the increase of pass rush effectiveness using linemen opposed to other positions can’t be ignored. 

Franchise? What Franchise?

Madden NFL 21 offers a variety of modes for players. Some fun, some okay, and some flat out boring. Let’s start with the latter.

There’s no secret what the biggest mode disappointment is in Madden NFL 21. Obviously I’m talking about Franchise Mode.

Everyone knows that the mode largely went untouched. I mean, there’s a reason why #FixMaddenFranchise became a thing that resulted in the higher ups at EA being forced into issuing statements promising an upgrade to franchise mode this season and beyond. The game’s franchise is more of a mid-year patch than a full mode update in a new game.

Sure, we get a nice pregame show highlight reel when you get into a game, but the fact that this is basically a copy and paste from last year with an updated user interface, at a time when Franchise mode has been on the hot seat for years within the community, is a slap in the face to everyone. It’s especially true with new modes popping up every year, and Madden’s franchise mode all of a sudden forgetting what the definition of a rookie is.  I can go on and on about the problems with Franchise Mode, but I value your time much more than that. 

The new mode this year is The Yard, a six on six arcade-centric offering. Now, as a sim franchise guy, I’ll admit I groaned when I first caught word of Superstar KO last year and especially with The Yard in Madden NFL 21. But, honestly, I have to admit that The Yard is pretty fun.

It takes me back to games of NFL Blitz on PlayStation without, you know, the overthetop violent stuff. I’m also afraid to admit how much time I spent customizing my character, and making big decisions like if I want my stomach to show or not. 

Madden NFL 21

The cosmetic aspect of this mode is a huge win for players, though we would like to see it spread across the entire game. The wackiness of the gameplay is a nice break from the simulation style football Madden is supposed to be known for, but I feel the biggest miss, which can totally be corrected, is the fact that there aren’t any announcers. How cool would a WWE style super enthusiastic announcer in this mode be. NHL did it right in NHL Threes with the announcers, and Madden should too. This series has veered into being a football game for everybody over the years and The Yard is a great stepping stone in that direction with a lot of untapped potential. 

Aside from The Yard, the other mode that got all the development love this year is Face of the Franchise. 

The game’s story-based mode sees you start in high school and work your way to become an NFL legend. Whereas the cutscenes and story elements of the mode in Madden 20 ended after college, Face of the Franchise this year includes a deeper story that expands into your time in the NFL. Though, it’s not really all the fun once in the pros. 

There are different choices you can make throughout that will shape your abilities which should lead to more replay time should you find yourself interested in playing through it more than once. The problem is, the mode will play out the same no matter what you try and do. You’ll be a highly-recruited D1 player no matter what, and you’ll find yourself being a highly touted prospect even if you are mediocre, at best, in college. 

Gameplay in the mode feels the same. All aspects play the same, and I don’t really feel any difference on the field between high school, college, and the pros. There’s just no difference in the ability of the “kids” vs. the professionals. 

I get where EA’s coming from with trying to make this their major single-player career mode, but it just still doesn’t feel right. At times it’s too campy while other areas are just too boring. There is potential to do something with this mode, but Madden NFL 21 doesn’t have that down yet.

Ultimate Team is Ultimate Team. There’s really nothing else to say about it at this point other than enjoy spending your hard-earned money on cards. Oh, and Superstar KO is back as the same exact thing from Madden 20. Nothing more to see there. 

Lights Out

Madden NFL 21’s presentation is nothing special. The new in-game graphics like the score bug are incredibly clean and look the best it has in years. Aside from that, however, everything is incredibly bland. 

We said last year that it’s time to blow up the game’s presentation and start over, and we still feel that way. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis remain as the commentary team with a number of the same lines that you’ll hear time and time again in your games. While I appreciate both of their work, they just don’t feel right as commentators in a video game. Some people just have it when it comes to getting the proper emotion conveyed — I’m looking at you James Cybuskli — while others can’t quite get it right. Madden NFL 21’s broadcast crew falls into the latter category.

Players still look good for the most part. And at the end of a generation, there’s not much more than can be done with the hardware available. 

Madden NFL 21 Verdict

When you’re a AAA game from the largest publisher, there are expectations from the community. They want a fun, deep experience that they are happy to come back to, especially from the only simulation NFL game on the market.

Madden NFL 21, for most players, isn’t that. The gameplay is good in bursts, but has too many issues to be consistently enjoyable. The modes are bland overall, and the presentation is drier than desert sand.

It makes money hand over fist thanks to Ultimate Team, but rather than focus on the modes and elements players want, things get lost in the shuffle. Dedicated players are going to pick this game up no matter what, but it’s tough to justify a $60 (or more) purchase on a game that feels too similar to what we’ve gotten the past three-plus years.

Madden 21 Review
  • 7/10
    Gameplay - 7/10
  • 4/10
    Game Modes - 4/10
  • 3/10
    Presentation - 3/10
  • 6/10
    Longevity - 6/10
Overall
5/10

Summary

Dedicated players are going to pick this game up no matter what, but it’s tough to justify a $60 purchase on a game that feels too similar to what we’ve gotten the past three-plus years.