I said last year, that if you’ve played Madden since Madden 18, you’ve basically played this years game. The 2020/21 edition of the game is more than just a roster update in certain places. The game has made great strides in some areas, and in other’s it’s stuck in neutral. After a campaign on the internet to get major change to the game, does this version realize any of it?

Through it all, Madden NFL 21 is all about the gameplay at the end of the day. Football is the core tenet and it doesn’t stray far from that. Change is slow, but there’s progress being made in certain aspects of the game. It’s true that of all the sports titles out there, Madden NFL moves the slowest. It’s the most monolithic and titanic franchise though. Speaking of franchise, that mode is where I’d like to begin.

Franchise Mode In Madden NFL 21 Has Not Changed

The main game mode that I frequent in Madden games is franchise. I love Fantasy Football. So that means taking a terrible team like the Jets or the Jaguars and making them into a Super Bowl winner is always fun for me. If you ask me, the pinnacle of Franchise mode for Madden was Madden NFL 2007. That game had all the bells and whistles that went into making it feel like you were the true GM/Owner of a franchise.

This game has the exact same Franchise mode that we’ve had for the past four years now. It hasn’t changed one bit, besides small tweaks. What was fantastic in 2017, is now old hat. It’s what drags the game down the most for me. It’s the disappointing aspect of popping in this game. While it’s old and played out for me, for someone who hasn’t played it before, it’s probably still exciting and new. So to that regard, Madden NFL 2018 gets a good grade on it’s franchise, but this edition does not.

Because of the breadth of players that enjoy Madden, Franchise mode isn’t the be all, end all though. Hopefully after the backlash that they received on Twitter, EA Tiburon makes some major changes for the next year. Another feature that EA could add is the historic draft class that NBA 2K has in it’s games. They already have the likenesses of classic players for Ultimate Team, why not? It would add a wrinkle to the Franchise mode that hasn’t ever been there.

The Boring Outweighs The Good Of Franchise Mode In Madden 21

Like I said previously, the Franchise mode is still playable, and I’ll still likely be trying to do a Fantasy Draft and have Ryan Fitzpatrick take the Jets to the Super Bowl. It just needs a major facelift. As the last Madden game of this generation and the first for the next-generation of consoles, I get it. Focus on just keeping the game playable and worry about the big stuff next year.

Updating the presentation for Franchise mode would go a long way. Instead of the tired “fake NFL personality tweets” that scroll across the bottom, something similar to the Radio shows that played during Franchise mode in the late 2000’s versions of the game would be awesome. You already have Rich Eisen doing voice-over work for the game, just get him in to record some generic sounding radio for each week. It might get tiring after awhile of hearing it, but it would be something new.

The mode should be the centerpiece of Madden, but I’m not sure that EA agrees on that. If it’s anything like FIFA, the Ultimate Team portion is what makes them the most money, and is what the most effort goes into.

Ultimate Team Is Also The Same Thing

I’m not a big Ultimate Team player in Madden. I’ll get that out of the way first. The way that EA does it is much better than the uber-predatory way that 2K works their VC system in their games. Ultimate Team is just like the Franchise mode except you don’t get to keep your players for longer than a couple games. It’s a cool way to play the game, that I’m sure adds a new wrinkle. It’s just not my way to play. For the sake of the review, I tried out the Lamar Jackson and Randy Moss characters that come with the launch version of the game, and it’s fun to see those two on a field together, it just makes me wish they had historic players available in Franchise mode.

For some people out there, the Ultimate Team is the main event of the game, and those people aren’t going to be disappointed by this evolution of it. I just don’t have that much to say about it, because it’s not a part of the game that I focus on at all.

Face Of The Franchise Needs A Retooling Or Just Needs To Go

Tye Sheridan As Tommy in Face Of The Franchise

Face Of The Franchise was a quaint addition at first. Over the past couple years, it’s gotten bigger, but not necessarily better. This year’s version is laughably bad. You start off as the High School backup and are forced into action when the starter goes down with, get this, heart issues. From then on, Tommy Edwards is either your best friend, your worst enemy, or a mix of both. Taking melodrama from a soap opera and adding it to Madden does not mix. When you add in bad, cliche writing, it makes it even worse. Also somehow, the player models in game look fantastic, but in cutscenes, they look like they’re smeared with Vaseline.

The graphics suffer and I noticed many artifacting issues with the dialogue options. Some include a player’s dreads stretching across the screen or dialogue options flickering to the point that they’re unreadable.

The screenshot above, is from the game. In my playthrough, you’re given the option to stay behind and be Tommy’s backup at college and switch positions, or go to the NFL. I chose to go to the NFL. The game adds wrinkles throughout with forced “long-term” injuries to your player, but none of it actually changes any of the difficulty or the mindless gameplay of it. I enjoyed my time more last year, where you actually got options instead of just being forced to “either trade away Allen Robinson III or Khalil Mack”.

This mode needs to be scrapped if it’s going to be this bad. Focus more energy and time on the other modes of the game instead of this, EA. You can do better.

You Get NFL Street And Madden In The Same Game

The Yard is the newest addition to the game. What I originally thought was going to be some stupid “practice” mode, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The NFL Street games from the PS2/XBox/Gamecube generation of consoles were some of the most fun you could have playing a sports title. Now The Yard isn’t the complete over the top, wall-running, game like Street, but it’s pretty damn fun.

Combining 50 yard fields with over-the-top player animations and quick strike gameplay is something that Madden sorely needed. This is one mode that I hope comes back in future installments.

The basic gameplay is 6 on 6 with trick plays, any player can throw the football behind the line of scrimmage, and it even goes back to that classic backyard football “1-apple” counter for blitzing. If they can flesh this one out, it could be something truly great. In it’s first incarnation, The Yard is a sidetrack that you might end up enjoying more than anything else in the game.

The Gameplay For Madden 21 Is Better Than Ever

Madden‘s gameplay is always the highlight. The game captures the essence of what it is to play Football perfectly. Whether it’s the Simulation, Arcade, or competitive, the game is fun to play. So that’s the silver lining across all the major modes of the game, you still have the excellent gameplay. So even if Face Of The Franchise is a dumpster fire of bad writing and questionable narrative choices, you still get to play Madden. Franchise mode might be the same essentially, but you’re still playing the football games. So I can’t dock the game too much, but at a certain point you need to be ahead of the curve and not behind it.

Madden suffers the most from a lack of competition elsewhere. EA has the exclusive rights to the NFL license. You don’t get studios like 2K or whoever else throwing their hat into the ring. EA Tiburon doesn’t have to worry about people not buying their game if they’re disappointed in it. If you want to play NFL Football, this is your only option. So while the game might be disappointing from a modes standpoint, the gameplay is as good as it’s going to get.

I have a hard time seeing how they top the gameplay of Madden with the next-generation. The addition of The Yard makes it a nice package to buy still though. If you’re a fan of NFL football, Madden NFL 21 won’t disappoint you too much. The game does need to innovate for next year’s incarnation though.

Madden NFL 21 Disappoints Where It Counts, But Is Still Wildly Fun To Play

So while I’ve gone on about the negatives of the game, it’s still incredibly entertaining and fun. I’ll always have a soft-spot for Madden games because they’re practically an institution. So if you’ve missed out on the last couple games, Madden NFL 21 is a great spot to hop back in. But beware for long-time players, that it’s likely not going to capture your attention if you’re sick of the stale franchise mode or the atrocious Face Of The Franchise mode.

Score: 7/10