We played Madden 21, and here’s what we thought – Hands-on beta impressions

Tighter gameplay and a few new features may make 21 the most authentic Madden in years.

Sports franchises can get a bad rap sometimes, as you may hear people say that the latest installment of games such as Madden and NBA 2K are just $60 (or $70, in NBA 2K21’s case) roster updates. And while that might be true in some cases, Madden 21 does look to feature enough changes to where both hardcore and casual gamers will notice some significant changes to the gameplay.

Over the July 4th weekend, Electronic Arts launched a closed three-day beta for Madden 21, and we at Gamepur got a chance to try it out.

But before we get into our impressions, just keep this in mind: The beta of Madden 21 that EA launched this past weekend is not the final version of the game. The purpose of the closed beta was to give select gamers a chance to try out the latest version of the Madden 21, which is currently in development and is planned for an Aug. 28 release, and give feedback. Because of this, some of the aspects of the game we discuss here may not apply to the final version of Madden 21. With that said, let’s get into our impressions.

So, what’s different?

One of the most noticeable features in Madden 21 is that it is much harder to force the quarterback to fumble the ball. In previous Madden games, having your quarterback scramble and run with the football has been a pretty risky strategy thanks to the game’s programming, which has QBs more prone to fumbling. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially since it’s unrealistic. 

This year, however, it appears that the developers have patched this issue. While quarterbacks will still fumble if you hit them the right way, the frequency of turnovers after a hit was not as high as it was in previous games. 

The defense AI in Madden 21 does not seem to be as robotic as it has been in past years. Cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers in the beta were better in coverage compared to past games, thus making it a bit harder to make deep throws and expose the computer-controlled defenders. Just like with the quarterback adjustment, this is a much-welcomed addition, as it not only adds realism to the game, but it also makes it more challenging to complete plays.

How are the new gameplay features?

The Madden 21 release trailer touted some of the new gameplay features to expect from the franchise’s latest installment. One of those additions is a “new” skill stick (this feature was actually in Madden games of the past) that will give the ability to utilize jukes and hurdles on offense, as well as allow users on defense to execute powerful pass rush moves and tackling. On offense, the skill difference between Madden 20 and Madden 21 is minimal. Many of the moves that were in Madden 20 are still in this year’s game. The skill stick on defense, however, is a different story.

Defensive lineman can now wrestle free once again from offensive lineman using the right stick (on Xbox One). Previously, players used the A button to win battles against offensive lineman, but the stick has now been “re-imagined,” according to Madden game producer Clint Oldenburg, to give gamers more control and more options to use on defense. 

Here’s the controller setup for DL in Madden 21 (Screengrab from Madden developer live stream on Twitch, subject to change)

This change was noticeable during the beta, as not only was it easier to beat the opposing lineman, but you now have more control over how you want to do it, whether it is a spin or a rip. 

Now personally, we’re not big DL users, as we traditionally control either a safety or linebacker, like most players, when on defense. However, the re-addition of this feature may mean that more and more players will decide to control defensive lineman in Madden 21. That, however, may depend on how easy it will be to beat OL once the final version of the game drops.

Concluding thoughts

The changes in Madden 21 are not major in some cases, but as a whole, the overall gaming experience, from the AI to the animations, feels cleaner and more authentic. Whether this will remain the same once the final version is released, only time will tell. But based on the beta, the gameplay may be the best it has been in years.