Madden NFL 21 Review – The Should Have Been Delayed Edition

Madden NFL 21 Review

All week I’ve been asking myself if I should give EA Sports a pass because of the pandemic. It’s reasonable to assume COVID negatively impacted Madden’s development cycle. Surely by now, EA Sports has a yearly template they follow to a tee. So certainly, COVID drove a giant wedge into those plans. And it shows. Madden NFL 21 is a disappointment. It’s a glitch-filled rushed product that looks and plays far too similar to Madden NFL 20. My review scores for the franchise have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now and this year is no different.

Madden 21 Screen

Once again, the development team took the ‘if it ain’t broke then don’t fix’ approach making small incremental changes to the series. This is no surprise. I fully expected this. This year they’ve introduced some subtle running and pass rushing mechanics. There are some new animations, players reached out to get a first down or TD, there are player customizations and there is a new mode called “The Yard”. I was provided with a list of other features and changes but it all feels like window dressing. Madden NFL 21 feels like an update, not a full-fledged Madden game.

I Can’t Hear You

Madden staples like Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) and Franchise mode both return and are nearly identical to Madden 20’s modes. Typically, we see some noticeable features or new wrinkles added to the mix, but not this year. Even the dashboard layout of the Franchise mode is exactly the same. For instance, if you play with the Seahawks in your Franchise, you’ll see Coach Carroll wandering around his office or on his computer on the main menu screen; the same way we did for Madden 20. This is just one of many examples of the appalling similarities. It looks like EA Sports did absolutely nothing to enhance or improve the mode, which is a huge bummer. There is a laundry list of improvements the Madden community has wanted to see from the franchise mode and this year it just seems like all of those requests have fallen on deaf ears.

EA Sports insists they have made numerous improvements and changes to the modes, but they are barely noticeable. What good are these changes if even your hardcore fanbase doesn’t even notice them?

Likewise, MUT feels stale and also has the same layout as last year. Including the crummy manner in which the challenges are laid out. I am struggling to find anything new. It’s baffling. There is no question MUT remains addictive and hard to put down, but I am finding myself wanting to go back to level up my Madden 20 MUT team that I’ve already invested so much time into already. Yet again, none of my progress in Madden 20 MUT can carry over to Madden 21. Not that I really expected EA Sports to throw us a frickin’ bone…

The big new addition this year is a new mode called “The Yard”. Which feels like another greasy way for EA Sports to monetize yet another aspect of the game. This glitch filled mode features arcade-style 6v6 gameplay, crazy colorful gear and some wacky plays. Players control their own character, which you create when you first fire up the game, plus the NFL superstars who team up with you on the field. You can play solo of co-op with up to two friends. The fields are smaller, the backdrops are pretty slick and the games are fast paced and quick.

To be fair, Madden NFL 21 has been updated with patches twice while this review is being written. Not to mention a patch is coming out next week. So many of the bugs I’ve seen in The Yard (and there were many) should be fixed rather quickly.

Cool Eye Brows Bruh

Sure, creating and customizing your character is cool and something the Madden community has wanted for ages, but these specific customization options are not available in Franchise. Not to mention, the Gear Store looks like an insidious way for EA to cash in on even more microtransactions. EA Sports makes an insane amount of revenue when it comes to MUT micros. Asking your customers to fork over even more cash for their custom character screams ‘greedy guts’ to me.

As you play The Yard you’ll unlock new locations and other rewards. I can see how folks can easily get sucked into this mode and I have no doubt it will get better as it gets patched, but I found little in the way of redeeming qualities in the mode. But admittedly, this isn’t why I play Madden. I’m not here to play a gimmicky arcade mode and I don’t think fans will be either.

Face of the Franchise returns, which is essentially Madden’s story mode that has you creating yourself as a player taking your career from High School all the way to the NFL Hall of Fame. Much like previous Madden story modes, it plays out in a similar manner. You’ll get a smattering of cheesy cliché one-liners, colorful characters and predictable plotlines. It has a been there and done that feeling. It’s uninspired and frankly, it’s boring. For some reason, the games take forever to play. They aren’t challenging for veterans of the series and are an absolute borefest. I actually found myself selecting the chew clock option early in the second quarter just to speed up the games.

Perhaps Face of the Franchise will appeal to the more casual Madden player or newcomers, because I don’t see how veterans to the series will have any interest in this, at all. Other than perhaps seeing where this predictable story takes you. It just feels grindy, and a bit of slog.

Madden 21 Screen

While it may seem like I am taking a proper steaming coiler on the game this year, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The gameplay, while remaining largely untouched, is easy to pick up and you won’t skip a beat. Everything feels familiar. You’ll be able to fire up that franchise league with your buddies right from the get go and jumping online to play a random stranger is a seamless experience. And I haven’t even touched on the Superstar KO mode and the online gameplay. Madden NFL 21 remains a robust package with a lot to offer.

New Game, New Blitzes 

That said, some of the things that worked really well in Madden 20, don’t work as well this time around. Some blitzes don’t come in as fast as they did previously. Corner routes aren’t as dominant as they were and running to the edge ain’t exactly a walk in the park. Yet aside from getting used to what works well and what doesn’t, Madden’s passing and running mechanics remain safely intact. Likewise, on the defensive side of the ball, it feels the same while sacking the QB and pulling off interceptions is a little more challenging. Zone coverage doesn’t seem as tight right now either, but I imagine this will all be tweaked after launch.

While it seems like the Madden franchise is trending in the wrong direction, the future remains bright for EA Sports virtual gridiron game. A new generation of consoles is right around the corner and the timing couldn’t be better. I have to give EA some credit here as folks who purchase Madden NFL 21 for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, are able to upgrade their copy to PlayStation 5, or Xbox Series X at no extra cost. That said, it feels as though EA Sports has done everything they can with this generation of consoles and is merely on cruise control until they have the technical capacity to do so much more. Madden NFL 21 isn’t necessarily a bad game; it will improve over time with updates. Yet the product at launch is riddled with deficiencies and the incremental additions aren’t significant enough to warrant a purchase recommendation from me.

***Xbox One code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Something for everyone
  • Core Madden gameplay remains solid
  • Stil the best football game around



The Bad

  • Far too many bugs
  • Awfully similar to Madden 20
  • Face of the Franchise is a borefest
  • The Yard is gimmicky and silly
  • More micros this year