Madden 21
Courtesy of EA Sports

With the release of Madden 21 around the corner, fans have been finding themselves more and more conflicted as to whether or not they should buy this year’s game. With a hefty price tag and a few years of disappointing Madden titles, it is more than understandable that fans would be reluctant to pay (in some case) over $100 for a game that they may not be happy with. On top of those concerns, EA has a history of being notoriously bad at listening to customer feedback in order to really tackle the issues that gamers experience with their Madden titles in particular. In the past, instead of addressing issues with franchise mode, meta-plays and AI response, EA has effectively chosen to put lipstick on a pig. To cover up these massive gameplay issues, they have instead added things like superstar abilities, new game modes, and a lacklustre attempt at a story mode.

After a limited 10-hour early access gameplay period, I have good news and bad news.

The Bad News

The bad news is that Madden 21 does not represent a massive overhaul that many fans hoped for. Franchise fans will need to continue to be patient, even after #FixMaddenFranchise went viral. Madden 21 Franchise Mode is basically the same as it has been for the past 3 years. That being said, the #FixMaddenFranchise trend came relatively late into the development cycle of the game which gave EA very little time to overhaul an entire game mode. I have little faith in EA, but with that kind of traction, I doubt that they would simply ignore such a strong outcry from fans. A large percentage of Madden players play Franchise mode almost exclusively, so it would stand to reason that EA has a vested interest in making sure they retain that part of their customer base. How big these changes will be is unclear. Fortunately, most of the issues with Madden’s Franchise Mode are fixable. As I said before, however, EA has a tendency of painting over the large issues with benign surface-level additions that do not actually do anything to fix the game. This means that fans of Madden’s Franchise Mode may be disappointed for yet another year.

Ultimate Team basically just got a makeover and is going to continue to represent a pay-to-win game. Am I surprised? Absolutely not. In every EA game I’ve ever played, there is always some kind of microtransaction system that gives players a competitive advantage. In Madden 20, I took massive pride in spending almost no extra money to achieve a 97 overall team. Despite all of my hard work, I found myself constantly playing against 99 overall god-squads used by players who clearly did not earn that team through their skill, to put it nicely. I expect this to be an integral part of EA’s formula for the foreseeable future, no matter how much pushback they get on that aspect of the game.

While ratings are subject to change throughout the season, Madden 21, much like its predecessor, is built on initial player ratings that are absurd, to say the least. If somebody could explain to me why Drew Brees only got a 93, or why Kyler Murray is only a 77, it would be much appreciated. Shaq Barrett, the NFL’s 2019 sack leader, earned a rating of only 85. As I said, ratings are essentially fluid in Madden, but it would be nice if they could come out with initial ratings that actually reflect a player’s performance in the previous year.

The Good News

One of my biggest complaints from last year is that there was a set of meta-plays for the game. By this, I mean plays that would work the majority of the time no matter what. These plays are created by a lack of adequate reaction by the AI in the game. In Madden, it is only possible to control one player at a time, meaning players rely heavily on their computer-controlled players to do their jobs. At a glance, it seems that EA has done a great job at fixing these issues. It seems that the AI learns as you run plays against it. To use a Madden 20 meta-play as an example, I went into practice mode and ran Singleback Ace Halfback Stretch 10 times in a row. Each time, the computer reacted differently to it, ranging from 20-yard gains to tackles for loss. I did the same thing with WR Corners and had the same results. It seems that Madden 21 has taken a massive step in improving towards an actual simulation of NFL football: no play is alike, players react differently on every play and there is no such thing as a meta-play in the NFL. Overall, I was extremely happy with the gameplay improvements. It may be a matter of time until some 12-year-old finds the new meta-play but as it stands now, it seems that Madden 21 will be a less frustrating experience than Madden 20 was.

Graphically, Madden 20 was very good. Madden 21 sees a series of intricacies that have made them even better. Improved animations make the gameplay feel smoother and more deliberate. The game is definitely slower, but it feels as though this is a necessary sacrifice for players to have more control over their play.

The Yard is incredibly fun. While it may be difficult to get a hang of, it is definitely a game mode that gamers will love in this year’s iteration of the Madden franchise.

Conclusion: What You Need to Know Before You Buy Madden 21

If you are buying this game with the expectation that it is a massive departure from the aspects that have frustrated Madden fans for years, you will be disappointed. If you are a Franchise Mode fan, you will have to settle for small improvements that hopefully accumulate by the release of Madden 22.

As of right now, I am definitely optimistic about this title, but I am also unsure of my optimism towards EA as a company. As a Madden fan for years, I have been constantly disappointed. Being honest, if there was a legitimate, equal alternative in the market today, I am not sure I would be giving this game the time of day. That being said, I see every release as an opportunity for EA to prove me wrong and so far, I what I have seen makes me think that this could possibly be the year. My major criticisms of Madden 20 were relatively fixable (which is part of what made them so frustrating) and it seems as though EA took an active approach to fix at least some of them.

Let’s hope, at least.