Madden 21 review: Gameplay honed, modes overlooked

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Dustin Hansen
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With a new generation of consoles on the horizon, EA's NFL series returns for one last drive before hitting the Xbox Series X and PS5. After a few promising entries, however, Madden 21 feels like a franchise that's spinning its wheels, rather than an unstoppable freight train.

In many ways, Madden 21 is the pinnacle of the franchise so far, but it lacks focus in areas that were already lacking, fumbling modes and content off the field.

Madden 21 Review: Gameplay Honed, Modes Overlooked

When it comes to looks, Madden has never looked better, although we feel like we've reached the limits of current-gen hardware. The animations are impressive aside from the usual jostling at odd angles, and barring a visual glitch that renders the screen almost entirely white until the ball comes out of play, the game is often a joy to watch.

Cracks are starting to show in the game's repurposed assets, especially the Super Bowl presentation. The crown jewel of the football calendar is almost entirely identical to Madden 20, and that's such a shame for an event that many consider a showpiece.

Thankfully, this year's game plays exceptionally well, and that applies whether you're a novice or a pro. Madden 21 offers a variety of more accessible options, including (but not limited to) clearer on-screen prompts to recommend passes, building on the pass types that have been introduced in recent years . These changes, combined with improved capture, make riskier long-range games more viable.

Capture animations are much smoother, meaning even a receiver jostling with a pair of defenders will have a chance of making the capture. This lends each piece the heart-in-mouth moment you'd watch on a Sunday.

Defenders also get a small boost, as the game will now make you aware of a player who has snuck out of cover so you can do your best to catch up. It's a convenient way to cut off traffic lanes and, at the very least, get your tackle closer to the receivers when they receive the ball.

As you'd imagine, you can also remove all of these assists when facing a tougher opponent, and that's where the X-Factors come in.

X Gon' give it to you

Arguably more important this year than they were in Madden 20, X-Factors are abilities granted to some of the best players in the game. They're position-specific, so you won't get a weird mix of buffs. , but each helps that specific player fulfill a role. There are now over 50 new abilities to learn and use to implement a killer strategy.

Whether or not the pass lands is still down to skill, and it helps those X-Factors feel balanced – for the most part – as players who have an increased chance of forcing fumbles are likely to be highly sought after. There are bonuses for runners to increase their agility, increased throw distance for QBs, and even a bonus that highlights blitz players for easier reads.

Adding these X-Factors to your team dynamic turns into a metagame in itself, and knowing your opponent's X-Factors and countering them wherever possible becomes crucial to success - perhaps just as much as knowing your opponent's X-Factors. use yours.

Luckily, the variety of abilities, combined with the Superstar abilities introduced last year, means there's usually a counter to find. It also adds more to Franchise mode, knowing that you have to sign a certain type of player to counter a specific threat.

Sit down this one

Speaking of franchise mode, we have some bad news. Despite the “#FixMaddenFranchise” hashtag, EA essentially left the mode untouched. While the X-Factors are in place and adjustments have been made to ensure more realistic deals and contracts, the mode remains a shadow of what's offered by NBA 2K.

If you buy the game in franchise mode, get ready for an almost entirely identical game. Scouting, contracts, free agency, and even the mode's custom faces are the same.

In perhaps more surprising news, Madden Ultimate Team is also relatively unchanged. The mode is, without a doubt, a huge cash cow for EA, but this year's additions are few and far between. There's a new onboarding process to catch up with players, but the main change is the new capacity limits.

Players can now assign abilities and perks to players, with an overall “AP” cap for offense, defense, and special teams. X-Factors are also part of your team composition, but they don't count towards the AP cap, making players with the perks we mentioned earlier even more important in Ultimate Team.

In better news, Face of the Franchise is vastly improved, and the story-driven mode continues to go from strength to strength. Face of the Franchise now offers players the option to start their career as a wide receiver or running back, as well as the glamour-puss role of a quarterback. Each has its own set of exercises and progression through draft and combination, and it feels like a much more flexible system than the previously restrictive story-based content.

The mode kicks off in high school with 10 colleges to play for, but you'll have two seasons to hone your skills. Not only does this contribute to the core feel of the mode, but it also gives players two chances to win the College Football Playoff Championship. The extra seasons also make the mode last longer, although we would have liked to see it sink into the full franchise mode.

If you haven't played in a few years, you'll be glad to know that the game's dialogue has improved since The Longshot in Madden 18, and with Snoop Dogg along for the ride, it's fun while it lasts. .

This is my yard

Perhaps the biggest mode-based addition to Madden 21 is "The Yard." It pits two teams of three (solo or online) against each other, playing on smaller pitches and emphasizing quick tricks and matches.

It's not quite NFL Street (RIP), but the mode is still a lot of fun and a change of pace from the simulated nature of the main modes. That said, its lifespan will depend on whether you can find someone to play with in a few months.

Players can also bring their own avatar to The Yard, and this custom character is set up when loading into the game for the first time. Everything from exhibition matches to Ultimate Team and Face of the Franchise ties into a unique progression system, and you'll level up your creation to earn new customization items as well as stat boosts.

It's a nice carrot to hunt, knowing that you can level up whichever mode you choose, and with seemingly hundreds of gear, it's well worth doing.

Revue Madden 21 – The Bottom Line


  • Excellent on-field gameplay
  • The Yard is a big change of pace
  • Accessible to newcomers
  • X-Factors give players extra personality

The inconvenients:

  • Franchise mode is disappointing again
  • MUT also received less love than expected
  • Offset menus

As good as Madden 21 feels to play, it's impossible not to wonder what might have been had the on-field action been able to keep up.

Die-hard Madden fans will be disappointed with the complete lack of attention given to Franchise mode and MUT, but the addition of The Yard and a much more rounded Face of the Franchise mode will soften the blow somewhat.

(Note: EA provided the copy of Madden 21 used for this review.)

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