This year’s iteration of Madden already seems to be polarizing. When you open up the game for people to play on EA Access, you also open it up to reviews and impressions before it’s even “officially” released. Whether or not these impressions are biased due to agendas on both sides of the table become an issue for people who are stuck in the middle and just want to know if Madden 20 is good enough to buy this year. You also have to take into consideration a day-one patch. As with most games nowadays, there is usually a day-one patch. But unfortunately for some reviews, we don’t get to experience that since we are only playing the game before that.
With that being the case, I can only go off what I have played to this point (we’ll obviously also reassess things once patches start hitting). And with what I have played so far, I have to say Madden 20 has made some major improvements in some areas, yet stays stagnant in others.
Across the board, game modes remain largely the same. You have your standard exhibition matchups, franchise and MUT. You also now have the Pro Bowl. But the big edition to this year’s game modes is of course Face of the Franchise. Basically, you start with a created player that you get to customize with a fair number of options — from the standard facial options to even your voice. You also get to decide your archetype. They are Field General, Strong Arm, Improviser or Scrambler. Then comes the coolest part, you get to pick from 10 colleges you want to attend.
Once you make your choice, you are then put into the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. You are then tasked with leading your team to the NCAA Championship without ever throwing a pass before this game. You are put in this position due to the regular starting QB being injured. I won the first game but lost the National Championship. You are then thrown into the NFL combine and get to do some passing drills to show your skills. After the combine, you get a few interviews with NFL teams. You get to choose between a few dialogue options during these encounters. Then you are drafted and the rest is up to you to define your legacy. Overall, I really enjoyed the first few hours of the mode.
As far as the other modes in the game, they all remain familiar, but with some new twists. In franchise mode you have something called the Scenario Engine. These scenarios are basically communications between your coach, teammates and media in no particular order. EA has said it plans on adding new scenarios as the cycle goes on. I really hope EA does because, to be blunt, it’s kind of bland right now. At times you will get phone calls from your team’s beat reporter and have to answer questions. Depending on your answers, you might get an XP upgrade for a player or a group on your team. For example, I was asked which part of the team I thought needed work after the first game of the season, and I responded with defense. My offense got an XP bonus of 300 points — I guess because they got confidence after not being thrown under the bus.
I also had a player from another team text me and kind of try to rattle me about how he’s going to shut me down. You get four options to reply, and again, your reply will make something happen — like add to your archetype. You will also get calls from your coordinators asking about what to do with a certain player on the other team for that week’s game. Depending on how you respond, it gives you a gameplay goal. It does seem a little on the easy end to increase your ratings. This is probably done on purpose because a lot of people don’t want to grind for it, which is understandable from EA’s point of view.
As far as the functionality, you still have the same look and feel as in the past. You have your standard weekly training, big decisions, and so on and so forth. Simulated stats seemed okay, with just a couple weird things. After simulating one season, almost every quarterback had over 30 touchdowns, or at least in the mid-20s — not overly crazy though. Rushing stats were not too unrealistic. Ezekiel Elliot led the league with 1,839 yards, which is high but not unforgivable. From there, most of the top rushers started descending into the 1,300 yards and below mark.
The promise of EA’s commitment to franchise mode is great in theory. However, the studio must be talking about a multi-year plan. Don’t get me wrong, the Scenario Engine is a good start, especially if the developers keep building on it, but the mode as a whole has not improved as much as I had hoped. I would not say it’s bad because it’s functional and fun can be had. But we are still not close to that deep and realistic football experience we had many years ago.
Online functionality is pretty much the standard we are used to. Everything works fine, and I experienced no significant issues.
MUT immediately starts off by giving you a quick sell pack, a special pack if you played EA Access and a gold team fantasy pack. Once you pick your team, you are given a choice of one player from that team out of the players it allows you to select. Now, there is a scheme fit mechanic where you have a scheme fit chemistry slot as well. Challenges are a new addition to MUT this year. This uses a new star-based reward system depending on the difficulty you chose. And, in addition, obviously the rewards will depend on the difficulty you choose. You can also replay all the challenges on all levels. Superstar X-Factors and Archetypes are also part of MUT this year. The rest of the mode is pretty similar for the most part. It does feel like something some players who don’t play the mode might actually enjoy this year. However, I don’t like the pay-to-win formula for MUT. No matter what EA wants to call it, while it’s still possible to field a good team without spending money, it’s a true grind if you go that route.
What I Like
Where Madden 20 improves the most is in gameplay. If you are anything like me, gameplay is always the most important aspect in a video game. In a one-year cycle, the folks at Tiburon were able to improve the core gameplay more than they have between any other iteration in years. From the new passing trajectories to the Superstar X-Factors, gameplay feels much more realistic this year. Player movement plays a large part in this. I was not a fan of the player movement in Madden 19. I felt it was too deliberate. What I mean by that is when a player would change direction, he seemed to make it harder to change direction than it should have been. In other words, he would do unnecessary foot chopping to just change direction. This year, the player movement just feels right. It’s hard to describe in words without actually feeling it. Players seem more grounded and turning is much more realistic. There are less suction tackles and blocks. Your ball carriers can bounce off of players and push forward. Also the special ball-carrier moves are better and more realistic as you can’t just spin your way down the field anymore.
As it relates to passing, EA needs to tighten up pass coverage a bit to make the new passing mechanics work as more of a chess match between the best quarterbacks and the best defenders. To be more specific, EA needs to focus on defender reaction times. With the zone defense, defenders sometimes just don’t cover their designated space. With man defense, it just seems like the defenders are too delayed with turning their hips at times and get caught. These are real things that happen and should continue to happen, but it doesn’t always feel ratings-based, and it does feel like offenses end up with the advantage more than they should. It’s not egregious to the point of every play, but it needs to be looked at by EA. Also, some of the late-game AI by the CPU has been questionable in terms of clock management. Sometimes the AI does everything by the book, but it’s rather egregious when the AI stumbles in this regard.
When I talk about presentation, I am more talking about what we see on the field more than anything else. I feel like animations also go in this category, not just the look of things like the halftime show or end-of-game presentation. Regardless, the non-animation stuff still needs work. There should be more excitement for winning playoff games and the Super Bowl. Presentations and stuff like that could go a long way in these regards. The opening game sequences are good but get repetitive.
What I really like this year is the addition of signature animations. There may not be a ton of them, but the ones that are there there look great. From Tom Brady’s stance and throwing to Patrick Mahomes’ no-look passes, these add a ton to the game. On top of that, other quarterbacks who don’t have signature animations have improved throwing animations as well. This was an issue for years before Madden 20. Finally, most throwing animations look good.
As an aside, EA has also said we may get striped socks and mouthpieces in a future title update. This would make 90 percent of the world happy (that’s a joke).
One of the newest and most ambitious features in a while for the Madden series is Superstar X-Factors. The developers knew they had to do something to separate the best players in the game from the worst. They started by stretching out the ratings again, but that had proven in the past to not truly separate the good from the bad. X-Factors help make that gap feel a bit larger. X-Factors are given goals they need to accomplish to activate an ability. Once activated, the player will then reach another level. For example, with Patrick Mahomes the Dashing Deadeye will give you perfect passing accuracy when throwing on the run if you are outside of the pocket. It’s kind of of like getting in the zone in real life. However, every Superstar X-Factor has a counter. So when Mahomes has this ability activated, if you can apply pressure on him, the ability will then deactivate. Unfortunately, offensive linemen, kickers and punters will not have X-Factors this year (with punters and kickers it’s not really a big deal). However, EA has stated that this is on the radar for next year. I think there should definitely be Superstar X-Factors for offensive linemen to counter some of the edge rusher X-Factors in the future.
What I Don’t Like
As I said previously, it’s not that it’s bad. It’s passable. But the lack of depth here just brings it down to an average level. Most of the menus remain unchanged, which gives it all an antiquated look. Scouting remains mostly the same, and the draft could even be described as tedious by some. As mentioned above, a lot of tasks are the same as they have been in previous games, and overall the mode just needs a complete visual makeover. The Scenario Engine might shake it up a bit for some people, but just like other fans of Madden, I too wish for a deeper, better franchise mode.
Madden Ultimate Team
I get that this is going to be highly subjective, but MUT is not for me. I know some people make a living on it, and more power to them. I would never tell somebody to not like a mode in a video game. But to me, MUT is kind of all over the place. New additions this year could make the mode even more confusing than it has been in the past with first-time, or casual users. But I’m sure veteran MUT players will like these tweaks. I will say this, as far as functionality goes, it’s perfectly fine. Everything works, and I know people like to get packs because it’s a thrill to open them and see who you get. That being said, there is also the question of the pay-to-win dynamic that EA is trying to make sound like it’s not what some people think it is.
The best thing going for Madden 20 is its improved core gameplay and Superstar X-Factors. The people who are gameplay-first gamers will want to invest in this year’s game. Or, at the very least, they will want to rent it to get an idea if it’s for you. Even with strong improvement in gameplay and on-field presentation, Madden 20 still lacks what many fans of the series want to see, and that’s depth to franchise mode. EA has admitted it wants to get the gameplay as perfect as possible and then move on to other areas like franchise mode. This is reasonable, but gamers get tired of the promises that are not fulfilled. However, I do think there may be a sense of renewed confidence due to the developer transparency about the game and the fact that EA has mostly delivered on the improved gameplay.
With the combination of improvements brought forth by core mechanics, better animations, and Superstar X-Factors giving much needed differentiation to average and elite players, Madden 20 is a game that plays well on the field. From here, it now needs some major and minor presentation refinements, tweaks to gameplay and a deeper franchise mode in order to be called an elite sports game.