The first thing that must be acknowledged about the patch Madden 18 received from EA earlier this week is that it’s sort of amazing it was released at all. It was pushed through with urgency by the EA Tiburon team in advance of the studio shutting down due to the powerful Hurricane Irma hitting the Florida area and potentially wreaking havoc on their offices. Obviously, Madden fans are grateful for any work at all that was accomplished on the game prior to this unpredictable natural disaster and what’s most important is that the EA Tiburon team stays out of harm’s way during this ordeal.
Though it’s unclear what else this first patch may or may not have included if the development team had a little more time to implement their ideas, it does manage to fix some glaring issues that Madden 18 players were experiencing upon release. While there still remain plenty of bugs and glitches that will need attention in the coming days, it’s at least a step in the right direction at optimizing the game to play a little more like real football.
What Works Now
One of the most welcome updates to be found in the patch notes is what developers deemed improvements to “a small framerate drop when the ball is snapped on PS4.” Now, it’s a little disingenuous to refer to such a disruptive regular occurrence as a “small framerate drop” as it was typically a substantial enough drop to be plenty distracting when trying to run plays on offense and discern what was happening on the field with the action slowing down considerably. Also, to say that it happened “when the ball is snapped” is true to the extent that all action in football happens “when the ball is snapped,” as the framerate problems would often persist from the time the ball was snapped to the whistle ending the play. But without splitting hairs or getting caught up too much in semantics here, the important thing is that all of these framerate issues have been eliminated and the game now plays smoothly throughout.
A few of the other items that were addressed in this patch were slight tunings based on initial feedback. For instance, changing the quarter lengths in online head-to-head matchups from 4 minutes to 5 minutes was something that many Madden players seemed to be quite vocal about on social media. Some of these more surface changes were hard to miss when playing the game, like the Steelers fans’ terrible towels being the wrong color or the odd sight of teams’ coaches milling around awkwardly in the middle of the field sometimes at the end of MUT challenges. Even something like players on the sidelines not reacting appropriately to big plays was more of a minor inconvenience than anything else but could still take you out of the immersion of the game enough that it’s gratifying to see it fixed.
What Still Needs Work
Amidst all of the patch notes, however, there are a few key items that are almost certain to remain talking points throughout the year from Madden players as things continue to be tweaked and improved. A lot has been made about zone coverages in Madden 18 not being as effective as they were even just last year, so there’s been an attempt to improve these zones now by “increasing ‘Break-on-Throw’ times.” Though this wording does admittedly read a little confusing, I think what it means is that defenders should break on the ball faster to defend passes.
The trouble is that, while zone defenses may have indeed been improved because of this change, it could be more of a band-aid that does little to remedy a deeper underlying problem. Defenders will now be faster to react to balls that come their way, but there’s evidence to suggest that their real deficiency is often more in anticipation rather than reaction, with safeties being especially prone to playing on their heels at the back of assigned zones and possessing limited intuition and vision to properly identify a route quickly and then jump it. Linebackers will show better instincts when diagnosing slants but safeties remain sluggish at a position where being even a split second late can cost you a touchdown.
The other major item when it comes to this patch is tuning to slightly increase pass rush when QB holds onto the ball for longer times in the pocket. On the surface, this would seem like a necessary solution to a problem many were having in getting pressure on the QB and not allowing him to stand in the pocket forever and dissect defenses (especially against a CPU QB who can be awfully statuesque in the pocket). Surely, one of the hardest balances to strike when making a realistic football game is the delicate matter of how quickly the pass rush should get home. But again, just as this patch aims to rectify the issue, it also exposes inherent flaws in the game’s increasingly stale line play.
As long as this component of the game continues to rely on a rudimentary button-mashing win-or-lose engine where a defender either pushes past the blocker or possibly spins harmlessly in place while remaining attached to said blocker until he repeats this shedding process all over again as many times as needed, it’s always going to be difficult to replicate the real-life intricacies of a pass rush that are far more dynamic than Madden 18 allows. Furthermore, the logic of pass rushers can often be critically flawed, as they will sometimes be more concerned with engaging in another blocker after getting off their initial block rather than getting up-field and attacking the QB like they would in a real football game. They lack a fundamental killer instinct that sees them get from point A to point B as relentlessly as possible or at least the kind of game play engine that would allow this kind of merciless execution.
There are always going to be some problems that can’t be be fixed with a patch. It remains to be seen how many of the issues affecting Madden 18 the EA Tiburon team will be able to resolve after its release and how many will have to wait until Madden 19 to be properly addressed. But this first patch is a useful building block in creating a better game and one that we weren’t sure when we would get based on the hectic weather conditions in Florida. Now we can wait patiently while the authorities make sure everyone in the area is safe and dry and eventually it will be time for the team to get back to the comparatively inconsequential business of refining Madden 18.