As a Philadelphia Eagles and general NFC East onlooker, this NFL season has been – for lack of a better word – bad. Hopes were high at the start of the season, but in recent weeks have all but disappeared. And the same goes for Madden NFL 21: with this year’s instalment receiving a free next-gen upgrade, hopes were high. In the end though, whether it be across previous instalments or compared to the Xbox One version, it is much more of the same.
For our thoughts on the majority of the game, check out our initial review of Madden NFL 21 here. In this review, we will be focusing on the improvements the Xbox Series X|S NXT LVL Edition offers.
First off, it’s worth noting what progress can be carried over from old to next-gen. Unsurprisingly, Madden Ultimate Team progress carries over, though not any progress in competitive modes such as Weekend League. Unlike FIFA’s lack of next-gen progress though, games modes such as Classic Franchise and Face of the Franchise do carry over also. For those playing a more traditional Madden mode, you don’t need to restart all your progress on the way to the Super Bowl. The Yard progress and customisable avatar also carry on. In fairness, it is the vast majority of modes that can easily be continued on new consoles.
Menus remain poorly designed and sluggish. Loading times have been improved significantly across the board but the menu system is hampered by constant pop-ups displaying what new players are available in Ultimate Team. This occurs every time when swapping between modes, or even when visiting the Settings menu to see if these pop-ups can be turned off. Unfortunately, they cannot. It feels like Madden is constantly trying to remind you of this other mode where microtransactions reign supreme. You did get this next-gen upgrade for free, after all. Faster loading times do mean you get into the action a hell of a lot quicker though.
On the field is where you can finally begin to see the power of the next-gen upgrade. There are improved visuals and better presentation through crowd animations and the introduction of Next Gen Stats.
Next Gen Stats are the headliner for the Madden franchise on Xbox Series X|S and gives the simulated players more uniqueness in line with their real-life counterparts. Utilising RFID tags in players shoulder pads, tons of data is collected from each game and then used in Madden to make everything feel a bit more ‘real’. You will see this mostly through Next Gen Player Movement, with the addition of thousands more player animations to help nail real-life routes, movements and speeds. It might seem that a lot of the improvements between generations is a little bit ‘under the hood’, but the difference is noticeable. Some nuances and little niggles do still exist, however. It isn’t perfect but is a marked improvement.
Next Gen Stats also allow for improved replays, more in-line with what you would see on NFL Sundays. Perform a good run or pass and expect to see this analysed into the minute details; Next Gen Replays will show dynamic stats such as a player’s speed during a run, or number of seconds the ball was in the air for during a Hail Mary pass. It’s certainly impressive for the first half dozen times, but for anyone that is eager to get back into the action this will simply be skipped just like the regular replays.
Play calling itself has also been improved. Now, you can search for plays ‘By Player’, making sure you target your Superstars more often. And if you find a play you like to run repeatedly, you can now favourite this and find them in their own specific tab.
There is still a glaring issue though between both the standard and NXT LVL versions of Madden NFL 21, and that is that most of the game itself has been reused and recycled from the past few years. Game modes remain disappointing: The Yard attempts to recreate NFL Street but has no personality at all, character models in Face of the Franchise remain in the uncanny valley, and Classic Franchise is exactly the same from previous instalments. Sadly, it remains abundantly clear that Madden Ultimate Team is where the majority of the updates have been applied between instalments. But even with this generational update for Madden, Ultimate Team has not had any improvements.
For the achievement hunters out there, it appears that the buggier achievements on the Xbox One version of Madden NFL 21 have been fixed in the Series X|S NXT LVL version. And this next-gen version does come with a fresh 1000G to aim for.
Whilst improvements have been made to overall presentation and data analytics in Madden NFL 21 NXT LVL Edition on Xbox Series X|S, this remains largely the same disappointing entry. It is severely hampered by shallow game modes such as The Yard, Superstar KO, Class Franchise and Face of the Franchise. In the months since the initial release these could have been fleshed out, but the only major update comes in the form of Next Gen Stats. Whilst this new feature is a worthy addition, it fails to address the fundamental flaws of Madden NFL 21.