Madden 21: EA Access Release Date and Highlights from Gameplay Video Trailer

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

With Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on the cover, Madden NFL 21 from EA Sports darts into stores and online storefronts August 28. 

But via preorders and EA Access, players can get their hands on the game three days earlier. And following up on last year's successful release that featured Kansas City Chiefs passer Patrick Mahomes on the cover, it's clear diehards and casuals alike will want to play it as quickly as possible. 

Madden seemingly mirrors the real-life game's arms race right now as offenses and special young passers erupt, leaving defenses and their coordinators scrambling for counters. 

Madden NFL 21 isn't an exception, as one of the most prominent new features is an aptly-named Skill Stick. It was understandably the biggest part of a recent gameplay video presentation:  

Just like it sounds, the Skill Stick is all about placing more control in a player's hands. The stick provides an array of moves to ball-carriers on the virtual field, including back steps and jukes. Properly employing the moves instead of hoping for pre-canned animations or simply pressing a button should open up offenses even more. 

But as the video stresses, this doesn't mean every player on every team will just run roughshod, as certain moves are only available to certain players. That not only keeps things from getting silly, it better reflects the real-life product. 

And the Skill Stick clearly isn't just limited to the offensive side of the ball. It's usable on defense too and gives players more control over the location of a tackle instead of leaving it in the game's hands. It also helps players deploy a variety of pass-rushing moves. 

Defensively, the upgrades also give the player more control over the depth of certain zone coverages and general wide-sweeping upgrades include better gap control and awareness from players, especially those engaged in a block near a ball-carrier. 

It all sounds like a more fluid experience, especially with some of the details mentioned concerning making things even more realistic-looking between players.

But given Jackson is on the cover, the biggest talking point is again the passing game. 

Most notably, Madden NFL 21 adds more realism and player options while passers face pressure. According to EA Sports, quarterbacks can even now throw the ball while taking a sack: 

"Throwing out of Sacks—all QBs will have the ability to throw the ball while being tackled. The accuracy and power of the pass are dictated largely by physicsthe further into the passing animation the QB is at the point of contact, the more likely the pass will be accurate. However, if at any point the QB's arm or shoulder are hit during the pass, that too can impact the accuracy. Throwing out of sacks does carry some risk as well. The earlier in the throwing animation the QB is hit in combination with the QB's Strength (STR) rating, the more likely he will be to fumble."

Adding to this, the game includes a bigger emphasis on under-pressure and cross-body throws. It's important this isn't overtuned either so quarterbacks good at throwing on the fly don't dominate the entire game. It's good to hear rating tweaks and a max passing distance rating have been implemented to help keep things in check. 

Fatigue is also a big talking point with EA Sports making it clear that ball-carriers used on multiple consecutive plays are at risk of mistakes. 

It all seems clear Madden NFL 21 wants to hand players more control while also making broad, sweeping adjustments that prevent one side of the football from becoming too overly dominant. And if one does anyway, there's always the potential for a post-release adjustment. 

But on paper, the latest release in the monster NFL franchise seems to nudge things in the right direction when it comes to better representing the trigger-happy football fans have seen over the last few years. If it lives up to the hype like a Jackson or Mahomes, it's bound to have just as much staying power.