It’s hard to believe football season is already right around the corner. In less than 2 months we will have a brand new Madden game in our hands. In the meantime however, I’m lucky enough to be able to share my impressions on the recent Madden 21 closed beta test. The beta took place over this past weekend from July 3rd to 5th, 2020.
A taste of exhibition play
The Madden 21 closed beta is a fairly bare-bones affair. The only mode available is exhibition play, and even then there are just 4 teams to choose from. Of course cover athlete Lamar Jackson and the Ravens flock are there, along with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Rounding out the choices are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in their new Tampa Bay duds, and finally the Atlanta Falcons.
I’m never shy about outing myself as a huge Ravens fan, so naturally I am selecting Lamar and crew as my team. In my first match I can’t resist the urge to jump in and see what Tom Brady looks like in crimson an silver. It’s time for the new guard to usher out the old!
On the surface the Madden 21 closed beta feels a lot like last year. The commentator intro is almost like déjà vu. However, when the game begins, a pattern of new features and tweaks in gameplay quickly begin to emerge. For the most part, I’m loving many of the improvements that I’m noticing.
More dynamic and realistic gameplay
I’ll start by simply noting the little things that are noticeable to me, even if they aren’t blatant new features. First off, tackling, animation, and responsiveness all feel like they are subject to vast improvement from my perspective. These are some things that stood out to me in the Madden 21 closed beta.
I honestly feel like I have a better opportunity to make realistic moves after contact when I’m carrying the ball. Players seem to bounce and roll off potential tacklers rather than just hitting the ground on contact. The animations reflect realistic situations where a player and slip a tackle and keep going—especially in tight scrums on the line of scrimmage.
On one play I launched a long pass to my star tight end Mark Andrews. It had the appearance being a bit too low and likely to hit the dirt. Instead Andrews reeled it in under tight coverage with a bread-basket catch, including a gorgeous catch animation that I’m certain wasn’t in the game last year.
Even overall button responsiveness feels better than last year. In Madden 20 I experience regular frustration when I tell the QB to throw the ball away in what I consider to be plenty of time, only to end up a sack victim on the turf. Right away I notice in the Madden 21 closed beta that my throw-aways are executing with much more realistic urgency.
Everybody dance now
On to a few of the more obvious additions apparent in the Madden 21 closed beta. First off, dances and celebrations now extend beyond touchdown plays. Coming up with a huge first down or making a big stop on defense will also prompt you to select a celebration animation—not to mention that the selection overlay is larger than last year, making it easier to choose. There’s nothing like picking up a big first down and performing the official first down signal as so many players are wont to do.
Another fantastic overlay improvement involves superstar factors. As players wait for the ball to snap, they can now prompt an overview that identifies all superstar factors on both sides of the ball. A text box appears above each player with a superstar factor, and fully identifies which ones they have.
This is huge in modifying you game plan play-by-play. My only nitpick with this is that the text is a bit small, but this may be necessary as there can potentially be quite a few active players with superstar factors on a given play.
Still, it’s a big difference. Before, players essentially had to memorize and be aware of superstar factors in play. Now that it’s so much easier to reference them, I expect them to have a much larger impact on strategy.
Big changes on defense
Overall defense seems to have the most significant overhaul. The offensive line shows a new system for pass-rushing, including a new method of choose actions such as “shed” or “swim”. There is also similarly a new and much deeper system for safety and cornerbacks to shift, focus, and predict receiver patterns. The latter also enjoys a more dynamic overlay that follows the play in real time and reflects where they should likely be focusing their attention.
I will be honest, while these new systems look great, they are also a bit overwhelming. I’m not sure I fully grasp how to use them properly yet. Unfortunately the Madden 21 closed beta lacks a tutorial to explain these new innovations.
That said, I’m certain that I’ll be able to get a much better handle on these with a bit of explanation—the new pass-rushing system in particular. And of course I fully expect that to be part of the final release. For now however, the Madden 21 closed beta essentially throws players in the deep end in a bid to teach them to swim when it comes to these new features.
The Madden 21 closed beta shows a lot of promise for this year’s entry in the franchise
I definitely see a lot that excites me in the Madden 21 closed beta. The new overlays and defensive systems are nice, don’t get me wrong. Yet what really shows promise for me is all the little tweaks and changes that I perceived.
For me, the greatest improvement is when something I thought didn’t play out quite right previously seems to track better in the next iteration. In just a few short games, I found plenty examples of this in Madden 21. From responsive throw-aways to improvements in shedding tackles and overall cleaner and more realistic animations, these are the sort of things that get me excited to dive in to a new sports simulation.
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