Unless you absolutely must have the latest roster update and gameplay tweaks, you should probably skip this year’s Madden NFL 21.
It’s not because it’s a bad game – it’s got some bugs, sure, but they’ll hopefully be ironed out with its day one patch. Rather, it’s because there’s very little that’s genuinely new and noteworthy. Well, apart from a brand new mode called The Yard, but that’s ultimately disappointing.
The majority of Madden NFL 21‘s modes are pretty much unchanged from last year. You’ll not find any changes of value in Franchise, for example, or even Ultimate Team. So, if you mostly find yourself spending time in those modes, there’s little point in investing in Madden NFL 21 unless you missed last year’s entry – especially considering Superstar KO is included from the outset. That’s an online-focused mode in which you’re given the opportunity to draft players and make moves to emerge victorious in tournaments, by the way. The better you play, the more draft picks you get. Needless to say, it should entertain those looking for something a bit different to standard online play.
Thankfully, the Face of the Franchise story mode has at least been on the receiving end of some work. For a start, it has a new story. A preposterous one in many ways, complete with a pointless cameo by Snoop Dogg, but it is entertaining. And no longer are you confined to just being a quarterback; this year you can eventually take up the positions of running back and wide receiver as well. As story modes in sports games go, it’s not bad at all. I think I still prefer the cinematic cheesiness of the Longshot story mode of Madden NFL 18 and 19 though.
The Yard is undoubtedly the biggest new addition to Madden NFL 21; a new backyard football-inspired mode that hopes to inject some over-the-top fun. Venture into The Yard and you’ll be presented with 6v6 matches played on smaller fields across a wide variety of locations. It’s essentially a mode full of challenges that you can tackle alone or with friends, and you can even go head-to-head with others online if you wish. Using your custom made avatar, along the way you’ll unlock new locations and earn gear as you raise your score. You’ll also level up prototypes, which are essentially play styles that you can develop over time to give your avatar an edge on the field. At launch, Madden NFL 21 already has many prototypes for you to make use of, but more are going to be added throughout the next year.
Ultimately, The Yard stands out for its gameplay changes. You need to gain 20 yards within four downs to maintain control of the ball rather than just 10, for example, and when it comes to a conversion there’s no kicking the ball. Instead you’ll find yourself making another play, choosing to begin from further back if you’d rather go for two or three additional points instead of just one. Touchdowns can also be worth more than the standard six points depending on the circumstances. If you score a touchdown after making multiple passes, it can be worth a whopping eight points. A point is also awarded for making an interception.
The rules vary in each event found in The Yard, but you’ll generally find yourself and your opponent making a set number of drives, so it’s all about making them count. You’ll still earn points even if you lose, however, and points are ultimately what determines if you’re successful at an event or not. For many events you’ll find yourself competing in numerous matches, with a selection of your best scores being used to formulate your overall event score. Aside from the fact that I simply didn’t find myself enjoying matches in The Yard as much as standard matches, the fact that you’re expected to play as many as five in one session truly soured my opinion of it. Surely it defeats its fast-paced, pick-up-and-play nature?
When it comes to a game of football, though, Madden NFL 21 is just as good as ever. In fact, it’s perhaps the best it’s ever been. Gameplay tweaks are small, but some are noticeable – like the new skill stick system that allows for pass rush moves. However, they’re not transformative; the casual player isn’t likely to tell any discernible difference from the way Madden NFL 20 plays to this year’s release. Aside from The Yard, Madden NFL 21 feels like a rehash. Any gameplay improvements and roster updates could have possibly been delivered as a patch.
So, it comes down to this: did you buy Madden NFL 20? If the answer is yes, then think long and hard before parting with your cash for Madden NFL 21. Chances are you’ll be better off making do with what you’ve got and waiting for next year’s release, which will hopefully have some more substantial improvements and changes. If you didn’t buy Madden NFL 20, however, than you’ll probably really like Madden NFL 21. You’ll enjoy making your way through Face of the Franchise, and maybe get a kick out of Superstar KO. Try The Yard, too; you might like it more than me. Madden NFL 21 isn’t a bad game. It’s good, in fact. It just feels wholly unnecessary.