Madden NFL 21 review for Xbox One, PS4

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PS4
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Tiburon
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Many things have changed this year due to COVID-19 and the NFL season is going to look very different than previous years, but that doesn?t affect the annual Madden release. Madden NFL 21 is here with NFL MVP Lamar Jackson as it?s cover athlete this season. For me, after months of living in the darkest timeline I was fiending for some new NFL action, especially with the preseason completely cancelled. What concerned me is that outside of The Yard (more on it later), I didn?t see any information on new features or gameplay elements. You see, I played a lot of Madden 20 and enjoyed its features from last year, but still feel like a broken record when I hammer on about EA not having competition and taking the easy way out most years. Upon booting up Madden NFL 21 I became very worried.

From the boot up cinematic to the menu system, Madden NFL 21 looks exactly like Madden 20 with a semi-fresh coat of paint (kind of like the Browns? new jerseys). I did a double take as I navigated but it didn?t totally shock me as EA has done this before with FIFA titles. On the plus side you don?t have to worry about learning how to navigate the menus as you should know where everything is, if you played Madden 20. Booting into an Exhibition game it seems to be more of my initial impressions. Some new overlays for the TV style in game presentation and that?s mostly it. I realize you shouldn?t expect a full overhaul every year, but this might be just a little too similar. At many points within my first game I heard a lot of the commentary jokes and quips in which I?ve grown accustom. One noticeable gameplay change is the option to taunt after ?big plays.? I used the quotations on big play because I feel like I was given the taunt option way too often, playing against a friend and using the taunt over and over might get some feelings hurt along with becoming annoying.

Let?s change it up to something that is actually completely new in Madden NFL 21; The Yard. Upon booting up Madden NFL 21 you?re told to create your player for The Yard. After creating your player, you?ll notice some challenges on the main menu. Completing these challenges will earn you in game credits towards customization options for your player. This reminded me of the NHL 20 player creation for the Pond mode, I?m also told this is similar to what the NBA 2K series does but I do not play those titles. Diving into The Yard, you?ll be thrown together with 5 other players in 6-on-6 action. The mode can be played solo or online multiplayer. Your custom player also levels up throughout your Madden NFL 21 play, including non-Yard modes. So while the in game currency is used for cosmetics, the leveling system is in place to make your player better and give him new or upgraded skills. Just like the top superstars have X-Factors (special traits introduced in Madden 20), you unlock skills modeled after real NFL players.

The Yard action is billed as 6-on-6 arcade over the top fun. To me it felt like a nice change of pace but just not different enough. Don?t get me wrong I know the NFL doesn?t allow the crazy hits of the former NFL Blitz days, but the catches, tackling and moves are all just like the simulation side of the game. Why not have players get on fire and run through opposing players? Receivers that can jump a dozen feet in the air? Considering EA had made the fan favorite Street series and a tame reboot of Blitz previously, I expected more with The Yard. In fairness there are some gameplay differences; a throw timer, you can pass the ball behind the line as much as you?d like and you only have a limited amount of processions before the game is called. I had fun with my time in The Yard, but it just doesn?t offer enough for me to keep going back for more; I?ll just jump into an exhibition game if I want to play a quick game. One final note, the unlockable cosmetic items for your player are all unlicensed gear. Why not have Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, and others be options to unlock? The NHL series has licensed apparel for your custom skater, but the biggest (and richest) sport in the United States can?t? It just seemed odd to me, and added another reason to not bother with the unlockables. Earning and spending currency on generic gloves and cleats just didn?t do it for me.

This review I?m sure reads like a bad beat up session, but I did have fun with Madden NFL 21. The point I?m trying to make is that EA seemingly phoned in this year, and since last year?s release was pretty well received they just carried over? nearly everything. Face of the Franchise returns and it now has you going through your rags to riches single player story starting in high school. The story is as goofy as to be expected and you do get to play a bunch of NCAA games (which college football fans are really clamoring for). The last mode I should really speak on is, Superstar KO, which was added into Madden 20, actually during the season. I happen to really like the concept of Superstar KO, which has you play fantasy matchups and you pick up more players as you win. At the start of the mode you pick your coach which determines your playbook options, and Mr. John Madden of Madden NFL 21 namesake is actually an option (BOOM). Then you?ll pick a couple of superstars on both sides of the ball and get into a quick online matchup with the goal to score the most points on a single drive. If you win you move on and get another superstar player to pick from, win 4 and you?re champion.

Franchise mode and Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) return and you would be hard pressed to notice any differences in either mode. I always go back to the if it?s not broke don?t fix it mantra and I?m sure EA makes plenty off the micro transactions offered in MUT, but it?s time to shake up both of these modes a bit. Again these modes are fine, but if you are an annual Madden enthusiast like myself, it?s enough already. I can?t see myself playing through years of the same old Franchise mode that I?ve been playing through the past few years. The only incentive for me is a very young Broncos team with lots of rookies to build on, but your mileage will vary based on the team you like. Franchise mode could also come in handy if for some reason the NFL season gets postponed or cancelled due to the virus, you could always simulate the season or get a league going with some friends. Could be a good opportunity to become a Twitch streamer (enjoy the free idea if you do).

All in all Madden NFL 21 is a major case of deja vu. Is it bad? Not in the least. Is Madden NFL 21 a great advancement in football simulation that some might be looking for? Not in the least as well. The hope for me is that the next gen versions (which is included with the purchase of this years? release for current gen versions) will be a significant upgrade and not just a higher res version with faster loading times. So this is one of the more difficult scores I?ve had to give a sports title. On one hand you get to versions of Madden NFL 21 (current gen/next gen) and it?s a great football release. On the other hand if you play/buy Madden every year I find it hard to fully endorse buying this year?s release based on just how similar it is to Madden 20. So in fairness my score is based purely on the value of the release and for someone that isn?t a hardcore player every season. If you are that hardcore player you can knock it down a letter score. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the NFL season happens without a hitch, everyone stays healthy, and EA takes some bigger steps in the next gen version? otherwise 2K?s arcade title next year might make its debut and dethrone the dictator?s reign.

EA provided us with a Madden NFL 21 Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: B-