For years, EA’s Madden NFL series has lagged behind some of the more popular sports gaming franchises on the prestige front, with MLB The Show and NBA 2K being the most prominent competitors. One of the main reasons is that both those games feature a single-player mode that has kept folks coming back year after year while Madden has really struggled to find something that hits on a critic and fan level. So with the Madden 22 Face of the Franchise reveal, there’s a lot of hesitation on my end to buy in. That being said, I want to come into it with an open mind even if I have not liked the mode in the recent past.
EA hoped to accomplish something special when the company revealed QB1, but the final product did not live up to the competition on multiple levels. Simulating ahead a couple years now, and Madden 22 is trying to climb its way up the minor league ranks with this year’s rendition, Face of the Franchise: United We Rise.
Now I won’t go over all the details. After all, most of those were covered earlier on Operation Sports. Instead, I want to discuss three major additions/improvements to this year’s FotF that make me optimistic about this year’s game mode.
Here are three reasons why I’m optimistic about Madden 22’s Face of the Franchise (while still being scared that it’s going to be bad).
Madden 22 Face Of The Franchise Reveal
Road To The Draft
One of the most marketed changes to FotF this year is the new Road to the Draft dynamic. What is Road to the Draft? Well, it’s exactly as it sounds. Your player will be put through the wringer before having the opportunity to pose for a photo next to Rodger Goodell — while holding up your newly printed #1 jersey. This year, some of the things EA Sports has promised gamers will encounter along their journey include 6 vs. 6, pre-draft workouts, interviews, the College Football Playoffs, and much more. Obviously, how you perform on the field will alter the story, but some of the decisions along the way will be most critical.
The developers have also added a new position to Face of the Franchise. Players now get to choose which side of the ball they want to play on. For the first time in FotF history, gamers can choose to play defense by controlling the middle linebacker. Adding a defensive position like linebacker could open things up for other positions to be available in Madden 23 and beyond. I love the addition. After all, it’s been the position I’ve user-controlled since my early days of playing Madden, dating back to the early/mid-’90s. How dynamic and different developers can make the game feel on defense will be a challenge, but something I’m interested in scoping out.
As with any game mode, the key to success is wanting to come back to it. Part of that is done by making sure the game mode doesn’t get stale, and that every decision made throughout your path plays a purpose. That is what sounds like the developers are hinting at here. Whether it be an interaction in the locker room — or the answer to an important pre-draft question on the Rich Eisen Show — what you say and do now can impact the story now more than before.
To be honest, if they’re going to start calling this Road to the Draft, I hope it starts to look a lot like what we’ve come to expect from MLB The Show. Allow me to interact with owners, coaches, players, and even coordinators after a win/loss. Players even have an opportunity to build their brands, work on their mental and physical recoveries, and form team bonds. Face of the Franchise may not be Road to the Show, but its fingerprints are all over the early footage.
Again, I haven’t actually had the opportunity to play this game mode as of now. But if EA can deliver on some of the changes it has discussed throughout last week, then it should be a positive.
New Class Progression And Rewards System
The best way to describe Madden 22’s new class progression system is by letting EA do the talking.
New this year in Madden NFL 22 is the concept of Classes that define how you play each position on the field. There are four positions this year to choose from: QB, WR, HB, and for the first time in Face of the Franchise, a defensive position – Linebacker. Each position has several Classes to choose from that reflect a specific playstyle on the field.
EA explains how each class has three superstar abilities and one X-factor ability that players can unlock as they level from one class to the next. One very important little nugget from the Gridiron Notes is that “Each Class can equip Superstar and X-Factor Abilities earned from other Classes if they have been unlocked.”
Somewhere in the class rewards section of the Gridiron Notes, EA goes on to discuss how players can earn points towards exclusive gear for The Yard. Now, I enjoy that game mode enough as is (when it works), but I have no interest in grinding to get certain jerseys or a special mouthpiece. More details on these exclusive “classes” will be announced at a later date.
Gameplay And Dynamic Pressure Moments
Another added feature in this year’s Face of the Franchise mode is “dynamic pressure moments.” Being forced into a pressure situation is what makes these single-player experiences unique. It’s what makes sports so unique. But they have never really felt as important or clutch as they could in the past. Perhaps that changes this year with the new momentum bar. This, to me, will give EA plenty of room to tweak the difficulty depending on each unique game situation.
The next-gen controller should also play a part in this. Based on my short time with Madden 22, Sony’s controller once again adds an element you didn’t know you needed, but you absolutely need it in sports video games. And it goes so much further than hearing the ball drop into your hands or the referee reversing a crucial challenge. Instead, it’s the pulsating of the controller in critical moments, or the grass beneath your legs as the ball carrier weaves in and out of traffic. It’s honestly one of my favorite things about Madden on the PS5.
Can EA’s promising gameplay carry over from the beta and go hand in hand with EA’s new pressure moments feature? This sounds like it could be game-changing on some level. Though, my biggest concern is that pressure moments won’t feel as impactful as they should. Will my middle linebacker be forced to make a critical third and one stop in the 4th quarter of a playoff game? How about being tasked with having to cover an RB like Alvin Kamara out of the backfield? There’s plenty of dynamic pressure moments in football, let’s hope the pressure actually feels real this time around.
It is no secret that I enjoyed the Madden 22 beta in the aggregate. And with so much promise surrounding the gameplay (in my opinion), all EA really has to do is deliver on what it showed us in the FotF trailer and Gridiron Notes. After all, the heart of United We Rise will always be franchise mode. And without significant improvements to that game mode, I wouldn’t have so much hope and promise for the game in general.
I may not have been able to play Face of the Franchise: United We Rise during my short stint with the beta, but I did thoroughly enjoy the core gameplay of Madden 22. If I put that together with the pre-existing excitement for all the changes and fixes EA has promised for this young game mode, and I think this might finally be the single-player game mode I can at least enjoy enough before getting to franchise mode proper.
All that being said, I will continue to worry that the Face of the Franchise is inherently flawed on some level. Due to the tight development schedule and inability to deliver an engaging experience that doesn’t feel simultaneously not worth replaying and altogether mostly empty at the same time, Face of the Franchise is a hard mode to make, well, good. EA will need to find a way to make our progression in the mode matter in a way that carries over into online gameplay and also carries into franchise mode in a worthwhile way. Doing all of that while still delivering an engaging story mode during the preamble is a tough task, and it’s one even NBA 2K seems to whiff on more times than not these days. The difference is NBA 2K and MLB The Show have at least delivered a gameplay loop in the past that makes people come back for session after session to create an unstoppable monster. EA is still trying to do that just once with Face of the Franchise, and until the developers can do that, it’s hard to be too optimistic about the mode.