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Madden 21 features: 7 things you need to know

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Madden 21 features are gradually coming to light ahead of its 25 August release date, with Madden 21 player ratings the latest development. We'll get to those below. The shelf date above refers to the PS4 and Xbox One editions; the NFL sim lands on PS5 and Xbox Series X to mark the launch of those consoles in December. Read on for the reveal trailer, and everything else you need to know so far such as cover star, gameplay tweaks, changes to Face Of The Franchise, and more. Here is your Madden 21 features guide…

Lamar Jackson is the Madden 20 cover star

Surprise! In the worst kept secret since Tom Brady departed New England, Lamar Jackson is confirmed as the Madden 20 cover athlete. Jackson outed himself on the Baltimore Ravens official Twitter feed in April - for more info on that, take a peek at our Madden 20 cover vote rundown. He started last season with an in-game base rating of 76 – that rose incrementally across the season to 93 as the play-offs got under way. It then dropped back down to 92, but should jump again now he’s on the box. Expect him to be the second-best QB in the game after Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.

Gameplay is all about the ‘Skill stick’

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Madden traditionalists swear by the old-school circle-button spin move - so this news is going to garner a mixed reaction. Madden 21 refocuses on right-stick trickery, with EA promising you’ll be able to “link together clever combos that set up amazing gameplay moments". New moves include “slide hurdles” which can be seamlessly motioned into spins or jukes.

I’m open-minded about this innovation - emulating the elusiveness of someone like Christian McCaffrey or a younger Darren Sproles is exactly what Madden should be about - but it’s going to be hard to police this online, and avoid turning Madden into an arcade game. So long as the traditional control scheme is included as an option and doesn’t feel downgraded, the change could prove a welcome one. 

Defense gets additional focus too

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Already the series’ Achllies heel in recent times, the defensive side of the ball is super important to nail if EA is to succeed in avoiding trick-stick abuse. Initial announcements sound promising. For instance, tackling animations have needed revamping for some time – and now we’re getting three different types of tackle: “location-based, breakdown, and improved dive tackling.”

All are welcome additions, but “location-based” tackling is the most transformative in theory. It means that your defender understands where the first-down marker, end zone, and pylon are when going in for a tackle, and adjust their body position (and the ensuing animation) as a result. This would put an end to years of frustration from your safety witlessly tackling a ball carrier into the end zone. Very encouraging.

The skill stick is coming to defense too: “All your pass rush moves and block-sheds for Madden NFL 21 will now be on the right analog stick.”

Face Of The Franchise is back

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Solo career mode returns, still called Face Of The Franchise but with a new tagline: ‘Rise To Fame’. Perhaps surprisingly, it isn’t an extension of what was on offer last year. Instead you begin again, as a high school quarterback trying to win a State Championship. Once your school days are over you get to play two seasons in the college football play-offs, before heading into the NFL Combine.

One big fan request has been granted here: while in college you can switch positions from quarterback to running back or wide receiver. Neat. And after being selected in the draft following the NFL Combine, EA is promising storylines in pro football across a number of seasons, “as you make your case for the Hall of Fame.”

50 new X-Factors are inbound

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Yes, fifty! These game-changers enable elite pros to feel much like their real-life counterparts, although a handful in Madden 20 again stretched the boundaries of authenticity. What are the new ones? EA isn’t saying yet. "Explore over 50 new Superstar and X-Factor abilities, fresh out of the lab designed to elevate the stars of a new generation in Madden NFL 21.”

The Madden 21 release date is 25 August

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Madden lands on PS4 and Xbox One on 25 August, and at launch on PS5 and Xbox Series X. A neat feature is that you’ll be able to buy it on current-gen, then upgrade to the next-gen version once those machines are released, free of charge. Originally this option was only to be available until 31 March 2021; now it’s been extended right up to the release of Madden 22. With the caveat that, “physical discs cannot currently be used to upgrade to discless consoles.” More info on the official EA website

There are three different editions of current-gen Madden! Here’s the breakdown of what’s on offer with all three:

Standard

  • 1 of 32 Players from NFL Team Elite Packs
  • 5 Madden Ultimate Team Gold Team Fantasy Packs
  • 1 “Your Choice” Uniform Pack

Deluxe

  • 3-Day Early Access to Madden NFL 21 (8/25/2020)
  • 12 Madden Ultimate Team Gold Team Fantasy Packs
  • 1 of 32 Players from NFL Team Elite Packs
  • 1 “Your Choice” Uniform Pack
  • MVP

MVP edition:

  • 3-Day Early Access to Madden NFL 21 (8/25/2020)
  • Lamar Jackson Elite Item with Power Up
  • 1 Large Quicksell Training Pack
  • 17 Madden Ultimate Team Gold Team Fantasy Packs
  • Madden Championship Series Ultimate Champion Pack
  • 1 of 32 Players from NFL Team Elite Packs
  • 1 “Your Choice” Uniform Pack

Madden 21 ratings contain five 99s

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A quintet of elite stars earn the maximum possible score where Madden 21 ratings are concerned. Recipients of the highly-sought 99 OVR are Aaron Donald (RE, LA Rams), Christian McCaffrey (HB, Carolina), Michael Thomas (WR, New Orleans), Patrick Mahomes (QB, Kansas City), and Stephon Gilmore (CB, New England). The fastest player in the game is Tyreek Hill (WR, Kansas City): he boasts the only 99 rating for speed, and a 96 OVR. Cover star Lamar Jackson (QB, Baltimore) nabs a 94 OVR, with 96 speed and acceleration. Watch (and cry) as the Ravens get a tonne of online use.

I'm GamesRadar+'s sports editor, obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB – and very occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym. Namely: Bill Bryson, Pitch Perfect, and the Streets Of Rage series. I have two kids who aren't quite old enough to play Madden yet. Soon, though…