So as of today, Madden NFL 21 is free for everyone on every platform until January 31. If you go to the digital store of your platform of choice, Madden should be there for download. This includes current-gen consoles, next-gen consoles, PC, and now even Google Stadia — which means you can also now play Madden on your phone. Now, we have not played the Google Stadia version as of yet, but we assume that version will be the current-gen/PC version. With that being said, we thought we would make a Madden 21 guide of sorts that fills you in on how to maximize your time during this free preview.
In addition, if you end up liking Madden during this free preview window, EA is offering a hefty discount on a premium version of the game. The Madden 21 Superstar Edition usually retails for about $80 and instead will be about $30 until February 8. This premium version gets you some Madden Ultimate Team stuff that is not as important with the mode being months old now (since tons of awesome cards now exist), but would still help you get your MUT team off the ground if you’re doing a bunch of solo challenges and so on.
As a reminder, Madden 21 is also a “dual entitlement” game, which means if you buy it on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you also get it on PS5 or Xbox Series X for “free” and also get to transfer over your MUT/franchise mode/The Yard progress.
Okay, now let’s hop into this primer.
Current-Gen Madden 21
Current-gen Madden 21 covers PS4, Xbox One, and PC (and we think Google Stadia). Our review of current-gen Madden 21 can be found here. At this point, we think it’s fair to say current-gen Madden 21 is the preferred Madden for a majority of more competitive folks and those who like the more arcade feel of Madden (in comparison to the next-gen version). We as an editorial staff like the gameplay in the next-gen version more, but we’ll get into why in the next-gen section.
In terms of everything that does not relate to gameplay and graphics, the two generations are the same. Any modes that exist on current gen also exist on next gen, and vice versa. When it comes to current gen, if you think you’re someone who will want to “mod” the game or customize it a bunch, then you certainly want to go the PC route. However, the mod community for Madden 21 is not very strong as the tools were more updated and maintained for Madden 20. So if you want to mod Madden, you’re still going to want to stick with getting a copy of Madden 20.
PS4 and Xbox One are indistinguishable from each other, so otherwise you’re good to hop in and play as you wish.
Next-Gen Madden 21
With next-gen Madden 21, you can read our review of the game here. You can also find our most updated thoughts on the game here — a recent patch improved the defensive secondary play, which was a big issue at launch.
When it comes to graphics, you can watch the video above to see how next gen compares to current gen. The graphical leap is somewhat noticeable on your massive HDTV, but the feel of the game between the two gens is the real difference maker at this point. The PS5/Xbox Series X version of the game is slower than current gen, and we think it’s a little more realistic due to the added weight of the players and how they move. This mostly comes down to improved foot planting that makes it so you can’t simply cut on a dime anymore. Again, not everyone loves this change — especially those very used to how Madden has played for years — but we think it’s a smart change for the future.
Everything else that’s in the next-gen version of the game that’s not in the current-gen version can be found here. You can also see how the presentation, arenas, and crowds/sidelines look now on next-gen consoles.
What To Do In Madden 21 Free Preview
We always recommend jumping into the game first and getting a feel for things before you change anything. However, if you don’t feel like the game is hitting for you, then gameplay sliders might be worth checking out. In that case, we recommend Mike Lowe’s sliders for current gen and next gen (a full explanation of them can be found here), and you can see his most recent sliders here. You can also find various other sets of sliders on our forums.
Otherwise, you can play Madden from the usual camera view and feel right at home.
It may not be worth hopping into franchise mode during the first couple days with the game if you’re not going to stick with it. But if you do, the best way to enjoy franchise mode is by getting a roster from our forums. The official roster updates are solid, but using something like the TrueSim Roster Project from Cycloniac will add some longevity to the game after year one. Madden 21‘s progression system can still be a little spotty, so this helps alleviate some issues.
On top of that, since a new NCAA Football game is still missing from our lives, the best way to enjoy the draft is with a custom draft class. One of the best ones you can find is the Shotcallers fictional draft class as it provides more intrigue to the draft process. If you simply want realism, again, head to our forums for a draft class based on the folks projected to be coming to the NFL. In addition, if you do buy the game, we always have awesome community members who share their updated draft classes/rosters that come in post-NFL Draft in April.
As for the franchise mode itself, it’s still receiving updates, but it’s still a disappointing mode in the grand scheme of things. There is one more update coming before next year’s game is released, but it won’t be major enough to make you a believer if you are not already. If you don’t like what’s there when you check it out, just wait until next year’s game to check in again.
Madden Ultimate Team
MUT is the card-collecting mode in Madden 21. At this juncture, you’re going to be very behind, but this also means there’s a ton of single-player content to scope out. If you want a taste of multiplayer, I would do a MUT Draft because your team won’t be as outmatched there. The theme teams are very strong now at this point the season, and the content for the game basically peaks around the Super Bowl before sort of dwindling. If you get into MUT, you can catch up with people who have been playing for a couple months, but to do that you will probably need to spend some real money if you don’t want to grind a lot.
All in all, I would mostly ignore MUT unless you really want to play the single-player aspects of it, or you don’t mind being an underdog in a lot of your games.
The Yard is the new mode for Madden 21, and you can find our original thoughts on it here. Think of it like backyard football mixing with Blitz and NFL Street while still having rules. It’s a change of pace where your players are two-way athletes, and I do think everyone should at least check it out at least once. The mode is 6 on 6, but you can only play with two other friends if you want to indulge in some co-op of sorts. Basically, you cycle through the other three players, and so each of you controls two players on any given play.
The microtransactions here are more limited to aesthetics if you want to swag out your team, but this is something you can hop into and not feel totally overwhelmed in comparison to MUT.
Face Of The Franchise
This is the version of EA’s story mode/RPG for the year. We still don’t love it, but if you’re looking for a more linear way to play Madden on rails, then you can absolutely finish the first part of this mode during the free preview. You will get some narrative, be able to try out some mini games, and it’s not a bad way to play Madden 21 if you have not played the series in a couple years. It would not be where I spend my time initially, but modern sports games give you enough variety that I know some others might want to go here first.
At this point in Madden 21‘s cycle, we absolutely think three days is enough time for you to get a feel for the game and decide if you want to stick with it or not. There are not a ton of gameplay patches that should occur after the Super Bowl, and we’re just waiting on one final franchise mode update before EA turns its focus to Madden 22. If you don’t want to buy the game now, there should be another discount after the Super Bowl, and usually EA puts Madden on its premium platform service (EA Play) in January or February.
However, since there’s a discount for the game ongoing until February 8, we assume Madden 21 will hit the EA Play service a little later than usual. But since EA Play is now a part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, on top of still being its own service, you will have a chance to play Madden 21 at some point in the somewhat near future for a monthly fee (on top of a bunch of other EA games) if you don’t want to pay for a retail/digital copy of Madden 21.