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Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Madden NFL 21 cover star and NFL 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson lit up the league last year, and some of his talents can be seen in the new reveal trailer for the game, which comes out on August 28 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) and later in the year for the next-gen systems.
The action-packed trailer highlights some new features, and also raises questions for the gameplay as well as the rest of the title’s modes.
Super Stick Skills
The trailer calls out both the Ball Carrier Skill Stick and new pass-rush controls, and then proceeds to show some new examples of animations flowing in and out of each other. The implication is that users will have more control in these situations, whether its a swim move past a tackle or a quick duck under an arm tackle. The series hasn’t always picked the right animation for the situation, so if there was more user control for some of these moves, hopefully it would lead to better gameplay outcomes.
Where is Franchise Mode?
The game’s debut trailer and press release don’t focus on Connected Careers, the series’ franchise mode. Make no mistake, there will be additions to it, but to what extent? Franchise fans have not been well served in recent years, and the mode needs a full refresh for all its parts, from scouting, to free agency, to drafting, and beyond. There’s almost zero chance we see a top-to-bottom overhaul, but big changes need to be made somewhere.
Nailing Ultimate Team Gameplay
Clamping down on metas and money plays seems to be a near impossible task given the sheer amount of player cards and abilities (more on this below) in the mode, but at a minimum the overall gameplay wonkiness that can invade the mode needs to be cleaned up, particularly if there are going to be more ball carrier and defensive moves. In the spring, Raidel “Joke” Brito won Madden Bowl using a punter as a QB and calling only running plays (it was in salary cap mode, which played into his overall player selection strategy), which speaks to this year’s meta as well as the need for more gameplay balance.
How Strong Are Superstar Abilities?
As expected, superstar abilities in Ultimate Team became a lightning rod for the mode and gameplay in general. While they allowed superstar players to perform better than regular Joe pros, as should be the case, they produced their own meta as some, like Escape Artist for QBs, became must-haves. Madden NFL 21 is introducing 50 new superstar X-factor abilities, and needless to say, how they are all balanced is going to have a big influence on how the game plays.
Versatility In Face of The Franchise: Rise To Fame Can Only Be The Beginning
The game’s press release mentions an expansion for the player career mode Face of the Franchise, adding the running back and wide receiver positions to last year’s QB. That’s great, but what the mode really needs is more dramatic use of its cutscenes to craft more of a story, better on-field A.I. for your teammates, an overhaul of the game objectives presented to you by your coach, and more. You now start out in high school, so hopefully at least the story aspect is more fleshed out than it was last year.
Madden’s ball physics can lead to some hilarious unintended moon balls when the ball is tipped – particularly in Ultimate Team – but a few quick shots during the trailer show some tip balls behaving more in accordance with gravity.
Traditionally the series has had trouble reconciling that moment when a QB is trying to throw the ball but is simultaneously being sacked. Does he get the pass off? Is it a fumble? Could he tuck the ball in time? The trailer shows multiple shots of QBs handling the ball in situations like these – including Joey Bosa pulling off the humiliating strip sack – perhaps indicating that QBs will be under more pressure from the new defensive rush moves as well as the fact that the pressure itself could hopefully influence QBs’ throws more.