The reviews for the latest Madden game, Madden NFL 21, are coming in, and they’re not looking great. This latest installment in the annual football series will be the first one to release on the next generation of gaming consoles, and developer EA’s plans for handling that shift have already drawn no shortage of doubt and ire from the sports gaming community. These doubts aren’t likely to be remedied by the game’s reviews, most of which are middling at best.
Madden NFL 21 has the unenviable task of building on a gameplay formula that demands iteration every single year. There’s not much point in buying a new football game if it isn’t substantially different from the game that came before, and EA has caught a lot of flack in the past for failing to introduce meaningful changes to its annual sports franchises. In order to stand out, Madden 21 features a career mode called Face of the Franchise, new Superstar and X-Factor abilities, and player stats that change to reflect their careers in real life. This feature in particular has hit some very severe stumbling blocks thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has suspended the real world football games that Madden NFL 21 would have drawn data from.
Madden NFL 21‘s attempts to stand out don’t seem to have worked. The game is currently sitting at an underwhelming 65 on MetaCritic, though the pool is small at only 11 reviews. OpenCritic‘s larger pool of 26 reviewers has turned out a slightly worse average of 64. Critics don’t hate the game, but they certainly don’t love it. The core gameplay is still solid, but there just aren’t enough changes to get people interested. Critics have panned the game’s lackluster story mode and also complained about the abnormally large amount of bugs plaguing the experience. The bottom line is that it’s pretty much just Madden 20. Here are a few reviews to flesh out the verdict.
IGN – 6/10 – David Jagneaux
“Madden NFL 21 is a great example of why competition breeding innovation is a good thing. Without a comparable NFL experience on the market, EA has allowed its marquee sports franchise to fall behind in almost every significant way. In a world where its contemporary sports games continually evolve with innovative new game modes like NBA 2K20’s Neighborhood, deep franchise options like MyCareer, MyTeam, and MyLeague in the NBA 2K series, or even the cinematic story mode from EA’s own Fight Night Champion — a boxing game from 2011 — Madden’s lack of innovation has reached a tipping point. There is no excuse for Madden’s stagnation. I appreciate the tweaks to the core gameplay and the chaotic novelty of The Yard, but that isn’t enough to make me want to sing its praises.”
GamesRadar – 3/5 – Mark Delaney
“This year’s game features six distinct modes spanning Exhibition, Franchise, Face of the Franchise, Superstar KO, Ultimate Team, and The Yard, but the breadth of a half-dozen game modes veils a lack of improvements in half of them. Last year, I said Madden was in a rebuilding year, showing promise but not a contender quite yet. With Madden NFL 21, like the perennially doomed Browns, Lions, and Jets, forever seeking consistency in their staffs and stars, it feels like the Madden team needs to hit reset once more.”
Twinfinite – 3/5 – Ed McGlone
“Madden 20 is fine and serviceable but other than The Yard (and that’s a stretch), there’s almost nothing that is worth getting excited over this year. Here’s hoping the new home consoles do something to move Madden forward at some point in the near future.”
GameSpot – 6/10 – Steven Petite
“As the PS5 and Xbox Series X loom–PS4 and Xbox One editions come with free upgrades to next-gen–Madden has reached a crossroads. One side of the road is freshly paved and inspired thanks to the shenanigans featured in The Yard, while the other is beaten down and filled with potholes. With far more technical issues than normal and large chunks of recycled content, Madden NFL 21 feels more like an update than a brand-new game.”
Forbes – 6.25/10 – Brian Mazique
“While the gameplay is in as good of a spot as it’s been for a while, Madden 21 is dragged down but neglected features, stagnant and/or underdeveloped concepts. Hopefully, this inconsistent effort is a product of the development team packing tons into the next-gen version. If not, all things considered, from a reception standpoint, this could be one of the worst years in franchise history.”
USGamer – 3/5 – Kat Bailey
“Madden 21’s gameplay takes some appreciable steps forward as the generation comes to a close, with The Yard providing some casual fun. The experience is marred by an abnormal number of bugs though, and the single-player modes remain a major sore point. Ultimately, it’s able to pick up a few yards on the way to the next generation of consoles, but just a few.”
It’s not all bad, though. A few reviews, like Screen Rant’s own, have treated the game much more positively, praising its accessibility and its fun new mode The Yard. As mentioned before, the basic Madden gameplay is still relatively unchanged, and as far as some players are concerned, that’s just fine; why fix what isn’t broken? The general consensus, however, seems to paint the game as a disappointment, especially when one glances at the user reviews on Metacritic; hundreds of outraged fans currently outweigh the small handful of positive reviews recorded on the platform.
It’s not easy to make an annualized franchise and deliver consistently new, enjoyable content every time. But many reviewers seem to think that EA isn’t even trying with Madden anymore, and that the lack of competition in the football video game market has caused the series to stagnate. That’s clearly what the fans seem to think. One wonders how long the fanbase will continue to tolerate these lackluster titles before they start taking real action to demand better quality from EA. In the meantime, hopefully they can get at least some fun out of Madden NFL 21.
Madden NFL 21 is out now for PS4, Xbox One, and Windows.