Ron Schwane/Associated Press
Madden NFL 21, like prior releases in the juggernaut sports series, offers plenty to analyze in the way of new features before the August 28 release date.
One of those is The Yard, a mode EA Sports hasn’t offered a ton of details on that gives off plenty of NFL Street vibes. Other big-ticket items include a new Skill Stick to help players pull off more moves offensively or as a pass-rusher, as well as weekly-updating playbooks to reflect real life—just like player ratings.
And then there’s the new Rise to Fame mode.
This year’s game will again stray from the fictional characters and high production values of recent career modes and put the player front and center.
Players start their NFL journey in high school, competing for a job and partaking in a storyline with choices that could affect the storyline over the course of the career mode. Then it’s off to college and eventual participation in the NFL combine itself.
That’s a simplified version of what sounds like a lengthy intro to one of the game’s biggest talking points. More important is the daunting list of storylines EA Sports has weaved into the game to keep each playthrough feeling fresh.
One storyline, called Franchise Savior sounds just like Joe Burrow this year. Others, like Bitter Rivals hint at fun off-field integration of storylines to keep things interesting, as a post at EA Sports explained:
“Whether it’s team versus team or player versus player, the best rivalries are forever etched in the NFL’s long, illustrious history. Now in the social media era, it’s possible for rivalries to become more contentious and public than ever. When you and a defensive player on a division rival get into a war of words on social media, it’s only the beginning of the rivalry to come.“
Several other storylines hint at happenings based on results from prior seasons and even storylines closer to the player’s retirement.
As a whole, it just sounds like a greatly expanded-upon idea from Madden 20. There are more positional options for players, and the mode clearly stresses player agency right from the jump, as they are free to pick out logos and colors for the high school.
There are also some NBA 2K vibes in terms of production values, with high-profile celebrities like Snoop Dogg making appearances over the course of the player’s journey.
Pair extensive high-quality cinematography with more player choice and the continual improvements to gameplay, and the Rise to Fame mode has the potential to be the best player-centered football sports story presented to date.
And it helps that the on-field portions will get a boost from the wide-sweeping changes to gameplay. That Skill Stick means better control over slides, dives and jukes. And on the defensive side of the ball, fluidly working through pass-rushing moves while reacting to what the offensive lineman does should make for a better experience.
Similar story for tackling upgrades, which promise better location control. In turn, that could mean more big plays, gang tackles and potential turnovers created. As always, the balance to making sure offenses don’t run too wild is key, and the defensive side of the ball has hardly gone ignored in this year’s game.
But the real story for many will be Rise to Fame. Fun as past editions of the game that featured fictional characters were, it’s clear from EA Sports’ approach here that players wanted to put themselves in the NFL.
The centerpiece of Madden NFL 21 does just that, making key upgrades from the prior release and putting players in control of their NFL destiny with expanded storylines that could encourage playing the mode multiple seasons and potentially until the player’s character has to hang up the digital cleats.