The next NFL season may still be a ways off, but with the Super Bowl behind us, it's about time we look at what's to come with Madden 21.
New features are always a strong way to market the annual release of a sports game, but they don't always land.
One of the headline features for Madden 20 was the introduction of Superstar and Superstar X-Factor abilities within the development trait functionality.
We reported this back in August as part of the initial review, and with the reduction in overall player ratings, it made the best players stand out from the crowd.
The general feedback has been positive, with EA commended on getting the mix right for the number of players who had the abilities remaining static, with players added during the season due to performance but always at the cost of someone losing it.
With a demanding fanbase, any positive feedback is much appreciated.
POWER UP: Clear screens show you just what your X-Factor can do
As with many of sports gaming’s best ideas, NBA 2K is mostly credited with pushing the idea that development traits and supported by XP are the best way to manage performance in a sports gaming franchise.
Whilst the X-Factor abilities are more powerful, they have requirements to activate which can make them less effective over the course of a game. It is the Superstar abilities that have really changed the gameplay, for better or worse depending on who you speak to.
This functionality is one of few parts of the game that has appealed to both CFM and MUT players, as it has such a fundamental effect on any team as well as bringing with it a kind of childhood excitement of what types of players you can collect.
It has definitively improved the level of immersion of a Madden game. Understanding the players' traits, and therefore a potential upside that might not be represented in the current stats is hugely important in franchise mode.
This increases the emotional attachment you have to your CFM team as you want to see that Superstar CB you have nurtured from being 75 OVR develop into becoming a 92 OVR shutdown corner.
Likewise, in MUT, people are engaging with the game in a whole new way, trying to find the ability that is going to unlock a winning streak for them. This is what brings around the abilities detractors.
Changes for Madden 21?
Despite the overall positive impact that these abilities have had, there is no question that some tweaking to the effectiveness of each of the specific ability needs to be looked at.
For example, ‘Escape Artist’ is a Superstar ability that gives passers with it more speed and responsiveness while behind the line of scrimmage. This has led to numerous YouTube videos showing it being almost unplayable with certain QBs.
Another criticism is that in a CFM over time, more and more players get Superstar and Superstar X-Factor status depending on performance, but no one ever loses it.
In Madden 21, it would be important to have players declining in development traits if sustaining a major injury or poor in-game performances in line with standard regression.
The abilities have been the perfect mechanism to bring together the player development aspect of Franchise, and the gameplay improvements pushed for by the MUT Community. Anything that brings these two parts of Madden together is a good thing.
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Madden 21 should focus on tweaking the gameplay element to ensure abilities are not overpowered. At the same time, look to put in place different measures to ensure that the XP works alongside a franchise journey to continue to encourage emotional investment from players into their teams.
Highlighting more obviously these players in the scouting process would be appreciated, it doesn’t mean these players have high overall, but you could weigh up whether it’s worth the investment.
Overall though, this feature is a big success and should make a roaring return in Madden 21.
Future of the franchise
The NFL has signed EA on as the exclusive sim game creator for the next few years. However, they have also signed a new deal with 2K Games to develop non-sim football games, their first football games since 2004.
EA will look to impress with Madden 21 to protect their franchise, so expect this game to be one of the best yet.
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