Madden 21: Release-Date Info and Newest Features

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson works out during an NFL football camp practice, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Madden NFL 21 from EA Sports drops globally August 28, and like all prior releases in the long-running franchise, it promises a litany of upgrades across gameplay and features categories. 

Fittingly, one of the game's singular focuses is giving players more control of the NFL's biggest superstars, differentiating them from the rest of the field and helping them to dictate the outcome of games. 

That gets a fittingly because it is reigning MVP Lamar Jackson on the cover of this year's game, which neatly arrives alongside the announcement of a Skill Stick feature. 

It's a straightforward-sounding affair that will seemingly serve as a fun pick-up-and-play feature for casual players but potentially decide games on competitive ladders. Using the stick to dictate what jukes, stutter steps and other moves offensive players pull off is a new level of control. 

It's a similar story for the defensive side of the ball. Employing the stick as a pass-rusher means more control over what moves a star edge defender uses while trying to get to the opposing quarterback. Using it while in the process of taking down a ball-carrier means better control over the location and nature of the tackle. 

And while Jackson might be on the cover, one of the biggest talking points at EA Sports ahead of this year's release centers on fine-tuning defensive A.I. in terms of scheme, alignment and even how defenders react while engaged in a block but near the ball: 

"Defenders will now be much more aware when they are engaged in blocks near a ball carrier, and they will trigger tackle attempts from these engaged blocks inside the trenches, and in the open field vs. impact blocks."

Add in an attempt to make things even more realistic via improved player interactions and field navigation between players and Madden NFL 21 will seemingly have even more of a broadcast feel. 

Not that everything in the game is going for a broadcast feel, of course.

The new The Yard mode is a clear callback to the stellar NFL Street games of the past, and based on the limited looks at it so far, it's going to fill an oft-requested niche quite well. 

Elsewhere on the broader feature front, Ultimate Team again gets some notable tweaks as it attempts to be one of the biggest player-retention points of the release. 

This year, Ultimate Team gets a bit of a facelift in the player-ability category, with the addition of Ability Caps. Players formulating their teams will now have to stay under a point cap when crafting lineups, which adds another RPG-type layer of strategy to the game mode.

Also on Ultimate Team, a revamped UI and brand new player-onboarding process aim to better equip players with information in a digestible, usable manner. Over the years, the complexity of the mode, including roster-building but generally just the sheer amount of things to do within it, could feel overwhelming. 

Another big item when it comes to new features is the upgrades to Rise to Fame mode, which gives players the ability to insert themselves into the NFL. This year, the journey starts in high school, where players have to make some key decisions before leaping to college and doing the same. 

There are some clear ways the mode could play out differently each time a player makes a character, too. Besides player choices, EA Sports has implemented a variety of different storylines that can pop up over the course of a player's career. 

Some of those storylines happen around the draft, while others happen a season or more into the player's career, if not right at the end of what could be a lengthy career. One storyline EA Sports previewed made it clear they won't all just be feel-good things where the player's character is an untouchable superstar: 

"After a subpar performance last season, you’re suddenly facing competition for your starting position. But a good old position battle could end up bringing out the best in everyone involved. Can you hold off the in-house opposition and come out even better than before, or is your job in serious jeopardy?"

Add in some smaller additions to franchise mode and the broader changes to gameplay across all modes and it's easy to see why the hype has steadily built for this year's Madden release. 

Player agency seems like a big theme again. Those who want to dive into a highly customizable career mode can do so. Ultimate Team experts or just those new and interested in it can play a full-blown game within a game at this point. Others can get competitive, join online leagues, play traditional franchise modes or even take things to the streets.   

On paper, it sounds like a natural and versatile sort of Madden release fans should come to expect near the end of a console's lifecycle, and if it's anything like Jackson on the field, it won't have a problem delivering.