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Madden 21 Gameplay Improvements: What the Gridiron Notes Mentioned and Left Out

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Madden NFL 21

Madden 21 Gameplay Improvements: What the Gridiron Notes Mentioned and Left Out

We are roughly two months away from the release of Madden 21 and excitement for the series is beginning to pick up. With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown on Madden 21‘s gameplay enhancements.

Improved Pursuit And Angles

The run game was overpowered in Madden 20, and one thing I’m most interested in seeing is what will be done to fix that. This year, Madden is focusing more on force defenders that will play a crucial part in your defensive game plan. These players will take better angles, set the edge and give the defense a chance versus an unstoppable offense.

We were also introduced to hammer and fill players, which are referred to as:

Hammer and Fill players, who are the defenders in the run fit responsible for the open gaps inside of the Force player, will take wider initial pursuit angles vs. outside running plays, that will help them get over the top towards the outside of the formation quicker, and prevent them from getting mired up inside by blockers and other traffic.

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We’ve all been put in a situation where the linebackers and other defensive players don’t hit a gap or take the wrong angle of pursuit. This would often happen with outside runs where LBs and DBs would get caught in a cluster of players, unable to get to the outside. It seems like the development focus was on trying to alleviate this issue.

These enhancements should help stymie the run game. In relation to the run game, one thing that wasn’t explicitly talked about that we’ll have to see on has to do with dive plays. Will the defensive line still get pushed back one to two yards most of the time on those plays?

Tackling Enhancements And Player Awareness In Madden 21

EA has also revisited the tackling in this year’s game, and it sounds like it should be vastly improved. On top of that, more contextual field awareness should be shown by players.

Now, players will extend the ball at the goal-line, first-down marker or in critical situations. This helps bring more realism to the virtual playground. It would have been nice to control this stuff yourself, but it sounds like it will be determined by your player’s ratings and superstar abilities.

In relation to tackling:

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 involved blocks inside the trenches, and in the open field vs. impact blocks.

Hit-Sticks and Dive Tackles have been tuned to make them more accessible and functional, all of which come together with our new Breakdown Tackles for a more intuitive defensive experience.

Way too many times, I have watched a defensive lineman engage with an opposing offensive lineman and not reach his hand out and try to make the stop. This year, EA is insisting this won’t be an issue. We also saw the new open-field tackles that were in the trailer.

Overall, there’s a ton to like about the changes coming on defense. What we probably still need to hear about more on defense are things relating to pass coverage elements. Passing way way harder than running last year, but there were still some quirks here that need some more information. The biggest one might be how often your players in the secondary did not react when a ball was thrown directly at their face. Players were generally good about swatting the ball or noticing it when it was outside their immediate vicinity, but a ball being thrown directly at them was sometimes the hardest one to handle.

Quarterback And Passing Upgrades

Over the years, one of Madden’s most frustrating things was the delay between hitting the desired WR’s button and the ball leaving the QBs fingertips. Now, EA says that a QB’s animation will be broken immediately after the receiver’s icon is selected. This means you should have more abilities to get the ball out while in other animations or being tackles. This improvement in button responsiveness interrupting animations should allow you to make some throws you otherwise could never make before.

This also pertains to dropping back with the QB. If you intend to roll right and throw the out route at the sticks, you can move your QB that direction during the drop back. 

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Accuracy has also been tweaked in this year’s game, as well as the addition of QBs throwing out of sacks. This will be interesting to see how it plays out because it’s mostly tied to when you get hit in relation to where you are in your throwing animation. So it does not have anything to do with ratings or abilities, rather it’s just an animation priority thing.

Another addition that should be helpful is the introduction of deep pass under pressure and a the throw under pressure rating. This will allow QBs to adjust depending on how close a defender is and unload the ball quickly. According to the stream, this is for passes over 40 or more yards. The change seems like an excellent addition, but I’d like to see it done for short and intermediate passes as well. That being said, it was very frustrating on deep balls because it felt at times like even QBs like Michael Vick would not have enough urgency on getting the ball out on bombs. You would feel like you had an open player, but since QB X didn’t have the Rodgers release, he was at a disadvantage trying to throw deep under pressure because he still had to do a major load up even though he had elite arm strength. So, again, contextual awareness should hopefully help this out.

We didn’t hear much about play-action blocking or if PA will be stronger in general this year. It’s nice to hear that you can branch out of PA animations more quickly, but the bigger issue with play-action passing was more the blocking than anything else. On top of that, when plays fracture or breakdown when a QB scrambles, will the AI receivers have that same contextual awareness the developers are harping on in other areas and look for open spots on the field to make themselves available? Or will they just sort of funnel to the middle of the field or even towards other defenders like they generally have in the past?

Other Enhancements

There’s plenty of changes that will have a big impact on head-to-head play.

When trying to come down with a user catch, players can now control what the receiver will do next. Pushing forward means the receiver’s movement will continue forward with the chance much more likely of getting a first down. This will be extremely useful on slants and other routes that lead to yards after the catch, adding another element to the passing game. On the flip side, pass interference and illegal contact will be called much more (hopefully this carries over to AI vs. human games as well). This is something that desperately needed to be implemented on the competitive scene.

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One of my favorite additions is the improved pre-play audible system. Here’s what EA had to say about the improvements.

The pre-play audibles system now considers the actual personnel on the field. When changing your personnel in the Play Call menu, either via packages or formation subs, your pre-play audibles will now match the personnel package on the field. If you are using 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s) in a formation like Gun Empty Flex, you will be able to audible to any other formation in your playbook that also uses 12 personnel. For now, this feature only applies to the offense, but as it continues to evolve, we are looking for opportunities to continue to expand upon it.

On top of that, I at least need to point out two other elements. The fact that you will now have a modifier that makes offsides penalties more likely if you’re constantly flipping plays or calling audibles at the line is a good thing. Watching competitive Madden can be brutal purely because of all these shenanigans, and it sort of takes away from the strategy of calling a play to begin with. You’ll still see oodles of hot routes, but at least this should help curtail some of the other pre-play chaos.

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On top of that, there is now a zone drop coaching adjustment so you’ll better be able to modify your coverage to stop money plays when the AI simply is not getting it done anymore. This is a bit of a “cop out” since on some level you would hope the AI can just figure out the issue and stop it if it’s happening over and over again, but it’s at least a way for the user to override spotty AI and fix the issue on their own during a game.

Bottom Line

On the surface, EA’s Madden 21 trailer looked all too familiar to me. But after hearing what Clint Oldenburg had to say and reading through the Gridiron Notes, I think there is some promise here. At the very least, it does seem like EA read a lot of gameplay feedback and knocked out most of the high priority complaints in terms of at least trying to address them this year one way or another. They probably won’t all be successful fixes, but at least it’s easy enough to point to the developers trying to fix a lot of the high-level complaints — especially as it relates to playing someone else on your couch or online.

On top of that, most of the new improvements aren’t “back of the box” features, and that’s perhaps a good thing. With Madden’s gameplay, the football still needs to get better and that has to override marketing buzzwords, especially if we have a new generation of consoles on the horizon. Because although this may be the last installment on current-gen systems, EA is trying to set themselves up for the next-generation of gaming. In order to have success, they must go back and rework some of the game’s finest details.

Now we wait for the beta.

What are you most excited about in Madden 21? Least excited? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  1. This is the same process as M20, M19, etc. Trailer looks alright but nothing special (although admittedly this year was worse than previous), everyone is ready for Madden to be Madden again, then we read Gridiron Notes and start talking ourselves into it because of gameplay "upgrades," then we start getting hyped and preorder, and then the game comes around and is a complete letdown.
    I've been loyally buying Maddens since 06 (which means I'm part of the problem, lol) but I'm just done. I'm waiting a month or two  or three before release and if the gameplay isn't improved and the game goes the same way as M20, I'm just not getting it. I don't have high hopes. I don't think that they can make a competent football game playing on this engine and on M13's legacy code. The foundation they are working on is utterly flawed.
    They're finally including REACH TACKLES??...this is why APF 2k8 still comes up in this forum as it featured reach tackles 13 years ago. Little by little, Madden is getting to where we already were.

    "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 involved blocks inside the trenches, and in the open field vs. impact blocks"
    Kanobi
    They're finally including REACH TACKLES??...this is why APF 2k8 still comes up in this forum as it featured reach tackles 13 years ago. Little by little, Madden is getting to where we already were.

    What are you talking about? Reach tackles have been a part of the game for at least the past two years. In M19 everyone could do it, in M20 you need an ability.
    Kanobi
    They're finally including REACH TACKLES??...this is why APF 2k8 still comes up in this forum as it featured reach tackles 13 years ago. Little by little, Madden is getting to where we already were.

    I think they're trying to improve what they already have.
    Kanobi
    They're finally including REACH TACKLES??...this is why APF 2k8 still comes up in this forum as it featured reach tackles 13 years ago. Little by little, Madden is getting to where we already were.

    If you want to talk about All Pro Football 2K8, there is a forum for that. It is not this one. This is the Madden forum.
    MtVasuvius
    This is the same process as M20, M19, etc. Trailer looks alright but nothing special (although admittedly this year was worse than previous), everyone is ready for Madden to be Madden again, then we read Gridiron Notes and start talking ourselves into it because of gameplay "upgrades," then we start getting hyped and preorder, and then the game comes around and is a complete letdown.
    I've been loyally buying Maddens since 06 (which means I'm part of the problem, lol) but I'm just done. I'm waiting a month or two* or three before release and if the gameplay isn't improved and the game goes the same way as M20, I'm just not getting it. I don't have high hopes. I don't think that they can make a competent football game playing on this engine and on M13's legacy code. The foundation they are working on is utterly flawed.

    you are absolutely correct about that, people see small adjustments and it all of a sudden hypes them up to purchase the game, then it releases and the same people end up just complaining about it.
    Syce
    you are absolutely correct about that, people see small adjustments and it all of a sudden hypes them up to purchase the game, then it releases and the same people end up just complaining about it.

    Partially because so many are die hard fans of our favorite NFL teams and/or the league itself, and there’s no other option. It’s the most popular sport in America, but it’s video game is so basic.. when in the past NFL games used to set new standards.
    I hope M21 has half of the Franchise features 2K19 has. Talking about a game that came out almost two years ago. Even ea’s NHL series has caught up and began to offer a deeper experience off the ice. In M20 any defensive player you draft in franchise will not have their name said. Still no refs? Still can’t even pump up the crowd?
    I think NFL gamer fans are desperate for a better experience that Tiburon can’t provide without competition. A lot of us just want to see Madden get back to what M05 and M06 gave us on ps2! Any glimmer of hope and a lot of people want to try and give it a chance.
    stinkubus
    What are you talking about? Reach tackles have been a part of the game for at least the past two years. In M19 everyone could do it, in M20 you need an ability.

    You're absolutely right! Lol
    I haven’t heard anything that honestly excites me about this at all. This mostly sounds like enhancements we could’ve received in patches and tuners, nothing truly game changing at all. Plus, if these are key features, we’ve already had some form of these controls in the past.
    M20 was mostly a waste beside the fact that the TD/INTs ratios are better than M19 and that’s likely due to mods this time around. Plus it took months until the game was playable for me in franchise because I was waiting on patches and mods to address a few issues. So I’m really not about to spend $60 on this game if these are really the biggest changes they are leading their advertising with.
    the fact that the things touted aren't really user controlled, but triggered by player ratings is a let down. 
    QBs throwing out of sacks,  and pressure affecting accuracy and trajectories existed in the NCAA title on the PS2 series (NCAA 11), believe it or not.   
     the tackling and awareness is that user input based?
    The only thing that I am remotely excited about is the ability to adjust the depth of the zone coverages but that means absolutely nothing if the defenders just stand there and watch you catch the ball like they do in Madden 20. Of course, that means we may very well return to Madden 19 where the AI has lockdown zone coverage on every single pass play.
    And when I read about the "improvments" on run defense, all that means to me is that it will now be impossible to run the ball even after the 4th patch in December.
    Yes... EA has made me jaded.
    stinkubus
    What are you talking about? Reach tackles have been a part of the game for at least the past two years. In M19 everyone could do it, in M20 you need an ability.

    The worst part about posts like his, and they're all over this forum, is that by disparaging EA constantly for stuff that is demonstrably false, it undermines the legitimate criticism, of which there is of course plenty.
    Same as when I see people say, oh gameplay is the same every year. I mean that's not even remotely true, and the only way someone could believe that is if they weren't aware of the changes (case in point on reach tackles) or didn't understand them (like much of the coverage upgrades) or didn't care about them.
    Which inadvertently, if I were an EA exec, would only reinforce to me that gameplay changes focused on realism don't matter. Because so many of the very folks who supposedly care about it, aren't even aware of it.
    Aestis
    The worst part about posts like his, and they're all over this forum, is that by disparaging EA constantly for stuff that is demonstrably false, it undermines the legitimate criticism, of which there is of course plenty.
    Same as when I see people say, oh gameplay is the same every year. I mean that's not even remotely true, and the only way someone could believe that is if they weren't aware of the changes (case in point on reach tackles) or didn't understand them (like much of the coverage upgrades) or didn't care about them.
    Which inadvertently, if I were an EA exec, would only reinforce to me that gameplay changes focused on realism don't matter. Because so many of the very folks who supposedly care about it, aren't even aware of it.

    Excellent post here Aestis and I was thinking about talking about the same thing in a post earlier today, but you definitely nailed it perfectly..100%. Anyone that's actually played Madden every yr knows that isn't true in regards to gameplay not changing.
    Aestis
    The worst part about posts like his, and they're all over this forum, is that by disparaging EA constantly for stuff that is demonstrably false, it undermines the legitimate criticism, of which there is of course plenty.
    Same as when I see people say, oh gameplay is the same every year. I mean that's not even remotely true, and the only way someone could believe that is if they weren't aware of the changes (case in point on reach tackles) or didn't understand them (like much of the coverage upgrades) or didn't care about them.
    Which inadvertently, if I were an EA exec, would only reinforce to me that gameplay changes focused on realism don't matter. Because so many of the very folks who supposedly care about it, aren't even aware of it.

    I think equally adverse to the progress of the game and how the "execs" prioritize features is the defense of gameplay aspects that are two to three years old in Madden but 13-18 years old in terms of football video games on consoles.
    So, while the notion that Madden's gameplay is the same every year may be technically inaccurate, not holding EA/Tiburon accountable for the pace at which they trickle in long ovderdue and generations old gameplay elements is equally if not more detrimental to the game's progress and future.
    Kanobi
    I think equally adverse to the progress of the game and how the "execs" prioritize features is the defense of gameplay aspects that are two to three years old in Madden but 13-18 years old in terms of football video games on consoles.

    Maybe, but one happens like 100x more often here than the other.
    Aestis
    Maybe, but one happens like 100x more often here than the other.

    No one defended EA in that exchange. All that happened is someone got called out for being FOS and instead of taking it on the chin they try to shift the goal posts instead.
    stinkubus
    No one defended EA in that exchange. All that happened is someone got called out for being FOS and instead of taking it on the chin they try to shift the goal posts instead.

    Yes it would be tough to find many examples here of people actually defending EA or saying they've done a great job with Madden overall, but unfortunately that's the straw man we're competing against whenever the negativity is overwhelming to the point of being abjectly false.
    Milticket
    Excellent post here Aestis and I was thinking about talking about the same thing in a post earlier today, but you definitely nailed it perfectly..100%. Anyone that's actually played Madden every yr knows that isn't true in regards to game play not changing.

    things are definitely added year to year or how could sell the iteration. so you're right that game isnt the "same".
    what does say the same though are those game play legacy issues we come to know and love.
    SolidSquid
    things are definitely added year to year or how could sell the iteration. so you're right that game isnt the "same".
    what does say the same though are those game play legacy issues we come to know and love.

    Those types of fixes aren't marketable & hard to get the green light from the top at EA. Legacy issues are a different conversation.
    Aestis
    The worst part about posts like his, and they're all over this forum, is that by disparaging EA constantly for stuff that is demonstrably false, it undermines the legitimate criticism, of which there is of course plenty.
    Same as when I see people say, oh gameplay is the same every year. I mean that's not even remotely true, and the only way someone could believe that is if they weren't aware of the changes (case in point on reach tackles) or didn't understand them (like much of the coverage upgrades) or didn't care about them.
    Which inadvertently, if I were an EA exec, would only reinforce to me that gameplay changes focused on realism don't matter. Because so many of the very folks who supposedly care about it, aren't even aware of it.

    Excellent point. I think a problem though is there is just no coherent long term goal with gameplay in Madden, that I can see. They didn't come together in 2015 and decide, in 5 years, we want the gameplay to look like this *points to amazing proof of concept demo*. Not graphics, I mean gameplay. At least, if there is something like this, it hasn't been expressed to the fans/consumers.
    If there was something like this, and they were showing clear gains towards the goal year in and year out, attitudes would be a lot different, I feel. Right now, it seems Madden's gameplay is a concoction of loosely related yearly changes that seem, if anything, reactionary to issues they introduced in a recent previous iteration or just re-freshed ways of doing the same thing slightly differently with similar results. There are precious few real honest enhancements.
    There doesn't seem to be a plan beyond the current year, and it shows IMO.
    Unmoved, unmotivated, unexciting. Every issue madden has had stemmed from poor animation priorities. Getting sucked into blocks, passes being smacked out of hands that were pre-canned. If I don't see any franchise features or changes to created players like adding some different animations for running backs and/or recievers, i will simply wait for the inevitable $14.99 price before I consider buying...
    Ugh. After 3 straight years of garbage Madden releases to go with 12 prior years of mostly disappointing Madden releases (save for Madden '08 and '12 which I thought were decent enough) I have ZERO excitement for this gaming IP anymore , just more frustration.
    It's gonna be more of the same for this now almost 3 Generation Console yearly crappy IP release. One that has become even more lazy, featureless, and flat out criminal with their MUT gambling addiction marketing/business model pertaining to this particular (aka: the ONLY) licensed football videogame product.
    They use the dumb dumb "diehards" as game testers from August to Oct, those that drop $60 to $3,000 duckets a year for this sham of a football videogame product. That just hypes preset animations, coins, cards, and re-hashes old features (and takes more and more features out) for the only "sim" mode that matters to Madden players from the Gen-X demographic: Franchise Mode . It will be full of bugs and glitches, a barely playable "Day 1 Release" after the modern model of Patchwork Development that EA is well versed in via nearly ALL of their Triple A title releases that go sour, and pissing off gamers of many genres of games.
    EA, Tiburon, Madden and the WWNFL marketing execs are dug in so deep to this zombie like cycle of: "dev"/hype/rehash/release/patch and spam advertise MUT mode: that videogamers have become subservient too. It really will take a full on boycott of the product to get some innovation, depth of management/creation, and an exciting immersive presentation back into this series LONG overdue for an overhaul.
    It will require vigilance from the longtime frustrated sim community that want change (most that cave by November and still get the game when it price drops). The same from actual sports athletes and sports sites (sports content creators/writers and gamers) that have played this game since the '90s  and don't like the stale state EA/ Tiburon, Madden and WWNFL "oligarchy" has been since the 2005 exclusive deal.
    It will require frustrated Madden fans in the Youtube community via  the channels of: The Angry Joe Show, Ryan Moody21, That Franchise Guy and SoftDrinkTV to create a persistent campaign to get back sports football videogame development to being competitive and innovative again. This to counteract the strong Madden Challenge and MUT Mode only YouTube hype and ballwashing community.
    And even folks here at OP that keep saying to us longtime frustrated fans that  "Complaining is futile, support the EA/Tiburon devs, be constructive, become one with the Madden Borg Collective or be destroyed." lol...
    STOP making excuses and STOP purchasing  this now 15 year BAD product. One that is so transparent with it's lameness to anybody that has a memory/attention span of what sports gaming (especially football videogame) releases USED to be. Real hype, real choice, real excitement, real competitive development that constantly pushed the genre for the betterment of us: the consumer.
    As someone who has never played MUT before I now feel compelled to take out a loan and buy 20 copies of Madden 21 and spend several thousand dollar on Packs.
    kenchun24
    Ugh. After 3 straight years of garbage Madden releases to go with 12 prior years of mostly disappointing Madden releases (save for Madden '08 and '12 which I thought were decent enough) I have ZERO excitement for this gaming IP anymore , just more frustration.
    It's gonna be more of the same for this now almost 3 Generation Console yearly crappy IP release. One that has become even more lazy, featureless, and flat out criminal with their MUT gambling addiction marketing/business model pertaining to this particular (aka: the ONLY) licensed football videogame product.
    They use the dumb dumb "diehards" as game testers from August to Oct, those that drop $60 to $3,000 duckets a year for this sham of a football videogame product. That just hypes preset animations, coins, cards, and re-hashes old features (and takes more and more features out) for the only "sim" mode that matters to Madden players from the Gen-X demographic: Franchise Mode . It will be full of bugs and glitches, a barely playable "Day 1 Release" after the modern model of Patchwork Development that EA is well versed in via nearly ALL of their Triple A title releases that go sour, and pissing off gamers of many genres of games.
    EA, Tiburon, Madden and the WWNFL marketing execs are dug in so deep to this zombie like cycle of: "dev"/hype/rehash/release/patch and spam advertise MUT mode: that videogamers have become subservient too. It really will take a full on boycott of the product to get some innovation, depth of management/creation, and an exciting immersive presentation back into this series LONG overdue for an overhaul.
    It will require vigilance from the longtime frustrated sim community that want change (most that cave by November and still get the game when it price drops). The same from actual sports athletes and sports sites (sports content creators/writers and gamers) that have played this game since the '90s* and don't like the stale state EA/ Tiburon, Madden and WWNFL "oligarchy" has been since the 2005 exclusive deal.
    It will require frustrated Madden fans in the Youtube community via* the channels of: The Angry Joe Show, Ryan Moody21, That Franchise Guy and SoftDrinkTV to create a persistent campaign to get back sports football videogame development to being competitive and innovative again. This to counteract the strong Madden Challenge and MUT Mode only YouTube hype and ballwashing community.
    And even folks here at OP that keep saying to us longtime frustrated fans that* "Complaining is futile, support the EA/Tiburon devs, be constructive, become one with the Madden Borg Collective or be destroyed." lol...
    STOP making excuses and STOP purchasing* this now 15 year BAD product. One that is so transparent with it's lameness to anybody that has a memory/attention span of what sports gaming (especially football videogame) releases USED to be. Real hype, real choice, real excitement, real competitive development that constantly pushed the genre for the betterment of us: the consumer.
    They've killed football gamers like us unfortunately. You cant fight money and Ppl who care wayyyy less about "real" football, to sum up your statement, throw it at them. Ive accepted this and just accept we cant change it and they dont want too.
    Sent from my SM-N975U using Tapatalk
    kenchun24

    STOP making excuses and STOP purchasing* this now 15 year BAD product. One that is so transparent with it's lameness to anybody that has a memory/attention span of what sports gaming (especially football videogame) releases USED to be. Real hype, real choice, real excitement, real competitive development that constantly pushed the genre for the betterment of us: the consumer.

    As consumers of football videogames, the other important thing to do is to support the smaller, indie studios and their efforts, namely Canuck Play and Maximum Football.
    With Canuck, I see an emphasis on community input coupled with an innovative aggressiveness towards building a game with depth and customization that reminds me a bit of Visual Concepts and their previous efforts with APF/NFL 2k.
    So, to me at least, it is vital to get behind these guys so they can grow their teams and continue to build their game(s) over the long haul as viable alternatives to Madden.

I like video games and the miami dolphins.

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