Madden NFL 23 review

Madden 23 Review - Another Short Gain for the Series

It’s fitting that football is known as a game of inches since any improvements in Madden from one year to the next can often feel so incremental that it’s hard to tell how much progress is really being made at all. Madden 23 is no exception in this slow but steady grind forward, making significant strides in some areas and yet continuing to be stuck in place when it comes to certain modes and features. With a renewed focus on gameplay this year, many of Madden 23‘s best upgrades thankfully come out on the field. Defense has been particularly revamped to see pass rushers get to the quarterback with ferocity and defenders stick tighter to receivers in both man and zone coverages.

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Perhaps to counteract the stronger resistance, offenses have been given a new option that allows quarterbacks to place the ball more precisely when targeting receivers. There’s enough polish and innovation to be found during games in Madden 23 that I only wish there were more of that on display within its various modes. Let’s follow in the footsteps of the late great coach John Madden himself and dig into the nitty-gritty of the trenches where the games are really won and lost to telestrate how Madden 23 is able to unleash some impressive new flourishes in its drive for the end zone and also detail where it continues to fumble the snap in this Madden 23 review.

Madden 23 Review

Madden 23 review

What I Like

Intro Legacy Game

Madden 23 does a commendable job of grabbing your attention immediately with a Legacy game featuring legends all over the field and the face of the franchise himself, John Madden, patrolling both sidelines while coaching the two All-Madden teams. It’s legitimately thrilling to see a young Madden from the Raiders days so lovingly rendered, providing a fitting tribute in a year when they’ve posthumously placed him on the cover. If you’ve grown up with the series like myself and played every single Madden game since the original was released, it’s possible that you’ll even find the legacy game to be a slightly emotional trip down memory lane.

Defense

Madden 23 review

You’ll be tasked with making decisions as a quarterback faster than ever this year because of how quickly a pass rusher is likely to be in the backfield and in your face. There were those who complained about this clear shift in the game back when the beta was being tested, but there’s little doubt that it does make for increased realism with the need for shorter release times. That makes it more vital than ever to make pre-snap reads and adjustments before cycling through your progressions in a hurry once the ball is in your hands. Blitzing linebackers and defensive backs can easily slip through gaps in the offensive line untouched and being aware of your check-down options and sliding around effectively in the pocket can be the difference between a big loss or gain.

To add to the difficulty of moving the ball on offense, defenders show increased awareness and aggressiveness now in executing their coverage assignments. This is especially true in man coverage, which could be enough of a crapshoot in the past to largely be avoided but now can be relied upon to hold up more consistently without receivers being left wide open. While zone coverages meanwhile might not be quite as effective as they were in the beta, they’re still considerably better than in Madden 22 in how defenders stick to patrolling their area and make plays on any throws in their direction. When a running back or receiver does have the ball in their hands, it’s great to see the defense converge on the ball-carrier, with gang tackles now showing up in the game once again.

This all adds up to a more defense-oriented brand of football than in the past and one where any wrong move at quarterback, especially on All-Madden difficulty, can easily derail a promising drive with a sack or a turnover.

Skill-Based Passing

Madden 23 aaron rodgers

Thankfully, offense hasn’t entirely been left out of the fun when it comes to improvements to the game. The unveiling of a new (and entirely optional) passing system that gives you more control of your trajectory and target was overwhelming and somewhat perplexing when introduced in the beta, but it becomes a little less so with a proper tutorial and some time to practice. With the ability to decide whether you want to able to influence just the placement of the ball or also the accuracy of the throw as well, there are some helpful options to get you better acquainted with how the new mechanic can serve you well. For instance, using some amount of slowdown during the pass can give you a sense of how much you’re able to move the reticle, and when it can come in handy trying to fit the ball in a tight window or shade the ball away from a defender.

By experimenting with changing the speed of the reticle and the limits of its range when using free-form passing, you’ll likely find that less is usually more when trying to manipulate throws. If you put in the practice, it will become rewarding when you finally use it perfectly to thread the needle during a game with a throw you would never have been able to make in Madden 22.

Animations

Along with enhanced complementary visuals before and in between the action, a new feature dubbed FieldSense (available on next-gen platforms only) by EA brings a more organic feel to the way that players interact with each other during plays. Tackles aren’t as likely to entirely defy physics by producing an animation that makes little to no sense when considering the direction and speed each player was moving. You won’t notice as many weird instances now of players’ body parts morphing right through other bodies or clipping on each other to produce awkward animations when a play is over and everyone is emerging from a pile.

That’s not meant to suggest that all of the movements when players collide are perfect, as there are still some head-scratching instances of players contorting their bodies in weird ways during tackles or blocks, but these strange bugs and glitches are fewer and farther between than last year. The realism extends to players moving on their own too, where speedier and shiftier playmakers are elusive and dangerous. However, larger defensive linemen show off the kind of impressive wheels you would expect in the NFL and will no longer slow to a snail’s crawl when trying to return a fumble for a TD.

What I Don’t Like

Madden 23 offensive line play

Offensive Line Play

As if the newly ferocious pass rush needed any more help, the faulty logic displayed by the offensive line at times in pass protection will leave you wondering — as your quarterback peels himself off the turf — how a four-man rush could have possibly got to you in an instant. When you look at the replay, you’re liable to find that one of your lineman failed to get so much as a hand on the defender directly of front of him and instead allowed that defender to go right around him like a pylon.

The issue is hardly a case either where it’s happening to an inferior lineman who could conceivably be confused about his blocking assignment. Instead, it occurs with All-Pro guards and tackles who should know better. The reality is that these are NFL offensive linemen and nobody at this level should be making a rudimentary error like not touching the guy who’s treating him like a turnstile. To make matters worse, Madden 23 launched with a loop blitz money play that many have been exploiting to mess up offensive linemen and cause nearly instant pressure on the quarterback.

Madden Ultimate Team

Always a mode that’s sure to divide the community, the card-collecting Madden Ultimate Team mode makes its return to get you building your squad and, if EA has anything to say about it, purchasing lots and lots of packs. Disappointingly, not a ton has changed in the MUT world this year besides the new field pass form of progression and some smaller quality-of-life fixes. The lack of ways to play vs. the CPU is readily apparent (even if it’s improved), something that can’t help but feel like it’s by design to get you playing more online against others. Naturally, that’s where you’ll notice the weaknesses of your team when compared against others and this will entice you to visit the store for packs and maybe spend some real money.

There aren’t enough solo challenges to keep you busy and earning worthwhile rewards for as long as you would like to see shortly after launch. Solo Battles will only give you a few games per day to increase your points total and ascend the leaderboard, leaving you longing for some kind of season mode where you can play through a series of games versus CPU-controlled teams while using the squad you’ve assembled. And why does there seem to be an issue every year with receiving rewards promptly after completing challenges? I’ve had to quit out of the game several times and launch it again in order to get the coins and field pass progress I earned.

Face Of The Franchise & The Yard

Madden 23 review

After not having a ton of experience with playing the Face of the Franchise mode in the past, and being left underwhelmed during that limited time, Madden 23‘s incarnation did little to convert me thanks to some ugly bugs and baffling decisions. When I had finished with creating the look of my running back and was ready to start my career with the Jets, I was subjected to glitchy cutscenes in which walls were eerily floating where a desk should be and people walked through holes in the walls in the absence of all doors. Once I solved that annoying problem by restarting the game, there were plenty of other issues to be found that are holding the mode back from contending with career modes in other sports games like MLB The Show and NBA 2K. The activities and training that you choose to fill your days with each week leading up to a game become redundant before too long and feel more like chores that need to be performed rather than something you look forward to planning.

Even when you’re on the gridiron, the available camera angles inexplicably don’t have you following the ball, so it can be hard to tell when it’s coming your way as a receiver or even who’s holding it sometimes (especially on turnovers). If you’re hoping to take your created player online to compete against others, like you can for instance in NBA 2K and the NHL games, you’ll have to find a couple people from your friends list to join The Yard for 6-on-6 games because the game doesn’t provide any sort of matchmaking to find strangers to join your team.

Franchise Mode

Madden 23 franchise mode

Throughout the Madden 22 game cycle, EA slowly but surely delivered on its promise of releasing updates to its franchise mode with a series of patches that trickled out every few months, eventually adding a new scouting system and more in-season scenarios to encounter. On the heels of these patches, EA must be thinking that franchise players wouldn’t be expecting all that much more because of how they’d already been delivering updates over the year. That’s probably the best excuse for how little has been added or altered, and how the whole enterprise continues to be built on a flawed foundation that’s in need of a complete overhaul rather than continuing to slap a new wrinkle or two on the old one.

Perhaps the biggest item to be introduced in Madden 23‘s franchise mode is a reworked free agency period in which players weigh their own personal considerations when deciding where to sign, and it’s not working properly at release. As many people have reported, a bug that creates a free-for-all after your first season by not having any free agents sign back with their original teams ruins the implementation of this headlining addition.

Bottom Line

The on-field upgrades in Madden 23 make playing a casual game of football a more realistic and rewarding experience than in Madden 22 — and probably any other Madden in the past for that matter. With the focus on improving defense, especially the pass rush and coverages, you’ll be challenged with utilizing actual football concepts and knowledge of how to beat specific schemes rather than simply exploiting sub-par AI defenders. A new optional advanced passing controls give you an opportunity to drop dimes and place the ball where only your receiver can catch it, assuming you’re willing to put in the time to master its nuances. The game looks better from a visual standpoint in how the movements of players better reflect their true speed and power, extending that sense of authenticity to when players come together during collisions and gang tackles.

On the other side of things, offensive linemen too often struggle to identify threats and engage with rushers who will waltz right around would-be blockers untouched during worst case scenarios. Popular modes like franchise and Madden Ultimate Team don’t exhibit much in the way of innovation this year, instead returning with minor or largely cosmetic upgrades that in certain cases aren’t functioning as intended. Face of the Franchise is rife with bugs and unfortunate creative decisions that can’t help but hamper what should be a fun experience of guiding a player through his professional football career and then linking up with others for online games.

In short, Madden 23 has progressed on the field this year in terms of providing improved presentation and gameplay (when judged as a whole) but still can’t get out of its own way in terms of certain legacy-defining issues that have been with the series for years now.

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Author
Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott is a writer and video producer who's been contributing to Operation Sports since 2016. He's primarily been focused during this time on any and all video games related to football, baseball, basketball, hockey and golf. He lives in Toronto and still believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that someday the Leafs will finally win the Stanley Cup again.