Madden NFL 21 Review – Become the GOAT

Another NFL season is rapidly approaching (we hope) so that means it’s time for another edition of Madden NFL. We have been marching up and down the field in Madden NFL 21 for a week and we can now share our thoughts and opinions on the matter. Does the game warrant a purchase, or should you drop back ten and punt on it?


Read on to find out


John Madden Football Circa 1988

John Madden Football Circa 1988

In the Beginning There Was….

EA Sports has been publishing Madden NFL games since 1988 and have come a long ways since John Madden Football first released. As technology advanced, so did the developers and so did the franchise. As long time fans of the series, every year we have to ask ourselves what can EA do to grow a series that seems to be at its peak already. The in-game graphics have been top notch for years now, so there’s not too much room for growth there. We thought the animations and controls were pretty much at their peak as well, but it turns out that EA Sports didn’t think so, so they added in some pretty cool features.

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The Skill Stick

Just when we thought we knew all the moves on offense and defense, EA says hold-em-up boss. The new Skill Stick takes the right analog stick and your gameplay up a notch by giving you more control of what your guy is doing.The Ball Carrier stick gives you some pretty cool moves and combos if you pull them off, and you can create some pretty cool replays if you pay attention to the on-screen prompts. First time we saw dead-leg on the screen we thought our RB had an issue, until we pulled off a dead-leg spin juke combo that took us an extra 20 yards downfield after first contact. Pretty damn slick.

On defense, rush moves can be more specific depending on which direction you move the stick while holding down your trigger button. O-Line men will build a resistance to moves if you repeat them over and over, so be sure to learn your moves and mix-em up. You can now pull off combos on your rush mechanics, so pay attention to the on-screen prompts. You’ll be smashing QBs in no time.

Adaptive AI on CPU Controlled Teams

The AI is much smarter this year and has a pretty good memory both on offense and defense. We were playing through a game like we did in the past, sticking to what plays worked well, but midway through the game, the defense started adjusting to our play calling. Plays that worked well before started losing yards. The better the players are on defense, the smarter they are and the CPU will make key adjustments to slow you down. Even with a RB like Zeke, if you run the same few plays over and over, the defense will put a hurt on him and smash him behind the line, and make him ‘fold like a lawn chair’.

Offenses use this same memory technique if you run the same defense too often. We ran cover 2 a lot last year, with the occasional outside blitz, but midway through our first game in KC, Mahomes started carving us up when we showed blitz with quick passes, and kept killing us in the flats with no blitz. We had to start mixing up man coverage with zone coverage or the guy would walk his team down the field on a leisurely stroll. The smarter the QB, the smarter the AI.


Face of the Franchise

Madden NFL 21‘s career mode is now called The Face of the Franchise and follows your created character from High School all the way through the NFL, and finally into Canton and the Hall of Fame. It’s an interesting take on a career mode as it uses a documentary style of story telling, where one of your high school buddies, who wrote for your school paper and has been a life long friend, is now a sports reporter and is doing an in-depth interview with you after you’ve retired and are being honored at your High School. Games and cut scenes are played out via flashbacks, so a predetermined outcome is inevitable.

You start out in High School, getting to not only name the school and location, but also add a mascot name and the team colors. You can really make this mode your own by going back in time to your own High School glory days, if you had them. If not, get ya some now. The mode is full of drama, and you’ll be challenged by your frenemy Tommy for the QB1 role, who you replaced due to health reasons. Tommy seems like a lost puppy dog at times, who follows you almost everywhere, and we aren’t really sure why he is even a friend. The guy seems to never want you to succeed and wants the limelight all for himself. He’s literally a me-first kinda guy and your character shouldn’t put up with his shit, but does.

College Drama

After High School, you’ll get to choose between one of ten FBS schools to sign with and further your career, but Tommy makes sure the drama follows you by signing with the same team. The coach asks if you want to maybe try out as a wide receiver or a running back, and let Tommy be QB1, or challenge him for that role. It’s just one thing after another because of that guy. The head coach decides to use a 2 QB system where who ever has the hot hand starts and plays until he starts to do terrible, then the other guy steps in. This method makes the mode very scripted and we outperformed the games expectations several times, and still were treated negatively afterwards.

You would think that a guy that rushes for a buck twenty and passes for another 200 would be your starter, but the drama is forced and you’ll be on the bench by the National Championship game, which you’ll have to come in for the 2nd half and win because Tommy is having health issues again. Not long after the game, Tommy gets fixed up and, you being the nice guy that you are, visit him in the hospital to show him the trophy. He’s an ass and says he’s going to be gunning for that QB1 position again, and all you can do is stand there and take it. Couple weeks later the head coach confirms that Tommy will be QB1, and you can decide to either move to another college or enter the draft.

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Finally the NFL

We were done with college and all that drama so we entered the draft and were given the option of either letting fate decide the team or picking it ourselves. We chose Dallas, which meant Dak would be on the hot seat and we were now the Tommy in this scenario. We were next given the choice between who we wanted to be our mentor, having to choose between a WR and a HB. All of our choices defined our personality and either helped or hurt the team’s morale, which in turn affected how they played. Be careful of your words, because words can hurt your performance or help it.

After a hot preseason we were named QB1 of the Cowboys and Dak was moved on to Indianapolis. We actually only played one preseason game and that determined the outcome of the rest. The mode has a lot of fast forward schedules starting in High School, and with the script already written, the overall outcome is predetermined. It’s the little things along the way that brings this mode to life, though. At one point a line backer from the rival Eagles runs his mouth on social media and the Eagles are the focus for a while. You’ll have to answer questions in press conferences, and you can never seem to say the right thing, pretty much like in real life. The press hears what they want to hear and drama sells stories, so they’ll twist your words to create issues.

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Canton and Beyond

At the end of the day, after all of the selfishness of Tommy and the drama that ensued, you’ll eventually, hopefully, earn that GOAT status and make the Hall of Fame. We were disappointed here because we only played for 8 years and really felt like we should have been able to play for at least ten or more, but that wasn’t an option, as the script was written for eight and that’s all we got. The only other disappointment we had with this mode was the cut scene graphics. The quality was poor compared to the rest of the game and left a lot to be desired.

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The Yard

The Yard is a brand-new backyard football-inspired mode in Madden NFL 21 where wild gameplay moments, house rules, and a fearless attitude are the name of the game. The Yard pits two teams of six on the field with each team controlled by either one, two, or three users. Players control their one-of-a-kind avatar plus the NFL superstars who team up with them on the field. We published an in-depth preview previously, so be sure to check that out for a full review of that mode.

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Returning modes from last years game include Franchise, Superstar KO, and of Madden Ultimate Team. All three modes add an incredible amount of replayability to Madden NFL 21, and coupled with the new modes makes this the best Madden to date.


EA Sports continues to take the Madden NFL Franchise farther and farther down the road by not only adding in bells and whistles with new animations and controls, but also by going above and beyond by adding in the game mode The Yard and a career mode that follows you from High School to the Hall of Fame in Canton.

If you are wondering if Madden NFL 21 is worth a purchase, wonder no more. The answer is yes, and thanks to dual entitlement, a future PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X copy is included.


Madden NFL 21 (v1.04) review code provided by publisher and reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read What our review scores really mean.