Madden 23 Review: Late Game Fumble
The long-running Madden series is back after last year's lackluster release. With the additions of FieldSENSE, new wide receiver/cornerback battles, and a more refined passing system, the question is: does this year's entry finally implement a scheme that will have fans cheering?
The short answer is that it doesn't. The biggest hurdle for Madden 23 is that it continues the recent series trend of resolving issues incrementally rather than completely. If you had a car with a few broken doors and some scratches, getting a fresh coat of paint wouldn't fix any of those underlying problems — it would just hide them. That is what Madden does once again.
Madden 23 Review: Late Game Fumble
From the initial snap, Madden 23 tries to push you into Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), the competitive, micro-transaction-heavy deckbuilding mode that is as random as it is chaotic — and one that's somewhat clunky, menu-heavy, and buggy. It crashed my game twice, so there are a few things left for EA to work out to make it a smoother experience.
If you opt-in to share your information with EA and the NFL, you gain access to a free MUT pack. Once you get into the mode, you are offered a free player card after completing some elementary challenges, which feel more like tutorials for systems taught in other modes. New Field Passes also try to cut down on the mode's pay-to-win mechanics.
Although, the grind is still very much here if you're not willing to pay up. It's a perfect encapsulation of the modern Madden experience. One step forward, two steps back. It's a rough introduction that the first mode you're encouraged to jump into is MUT. Thankfully, EA puts you on the field quickly in an exhibition match that is quite entertaining.
Replacing the usual Pro Bowl matchup (you can still play the previous year's Super Bowl if you choose), Madden 23 instead launches you into a legacy game between the NFC and AFC that is an homage to the late John Madden and the series as a whole. While being forced into a game like this from the start isn't usually ideal, it's enjoyable with Bradon Gaudine and Charles Davis back in the booth, accompanied by Madden's color commentary and facts about the legendary coach and commentator. It's a great highlight and a nice way to start the game.
On top of the Madden Legacy Game, new additions ground the experience in an authenticity that reflects the real-world, on-the-field game. First up, Madden 23 introduces a new gameplay system called FieldSense, which brings in four new mechanics. One is Skill-Based Passing, which gives you a more precise way to throw the ball.
For example, you can target where you want to place the ball after you press, hold, or tap the desired receiver's button, leading them away from defenders, toward the sideline, or into an open area of the field. Second, the new WR vs. DB battles provide a more strategic experience for the player. These battles are highlighted by the Hit Anything feature, which brings new elements to the Hit Stick feature, and you can press receivers to make plays with the ned mid-air tackling system. When you swap over to a receiver, you can make advanced release moves, better cuts, and new evasions.
Overall, FieldSense does a good job creating a more immersive experience that keeps you engaged everywhere on the field. The improvements in the passing game definitely help make the experience more challenging. It felt good to slice up Green Bay's defense as Justin Fields and put the ball in tough positions where only my receivers could catch them. While the precision passing can be turned off and switched to the classic Madden style, the new system helps up the realism.
That said, these features are not exactly groundbreaking, and they don't completely hide all the awkward tackles and animations that Madden is known for. It feels like Madden has been chasing the ghost of ESPN NFL 2K5 with its physics engine, and EA still can't seem to capture the natural animations that 2K was able to 18 years ago.
There are improvements to Home Field Advantage that create a balancing act for each matchup, where one mistake can lead to some heavy gameplay consequences. Introduced in Madden 22, it continues to be a shining mechanic in Madden 23. If you're already familiar with the feature, you'll know that each team's meter is tailored for the home team. If hot, some teams allow the defense to see the intended passing target, while others may hide the button prompts for the receivers on offense. It's a unique gameplay element that continues to be a great foundational piece in coalescing more strategy into a football game.
There aren't many changes from recent entries regarding the game's presentation. Outside of the Legacy Game, Gaudin and Davis continue to deliver an immersive experience with their broadcasts; however, the pre-show and the halftime show don't really do much aside from asking you to mix up and change your gameplan. It comes off a bit half-baked, especially when compared to other sports series like NBA 2K, which does a great job of presenting a game that looks and feels like an actual broadcast. Regardless, the player models on the new generation of consoles look good, and the game runs smoothly.
On the field, the presentation sees some improvements but nothing major. The developers boast that Madden 23 includes around 3,500 new animations, another aspect of FieldSense that builds on the series' already established physics tech — and that's about it.
Face of the Franchise is another mode that doesn't see vast improvements but seeks to kill off the dialogue-heavy narrative from Madden 22. EA does its best to trim the dialogue down, but the voice acting is still weird and awkward, especially when your player speaks to his agent or someone in the front office. Beyond that, the mode is more streamlined and gets you into the action more frequently.
Instead of playing as a rookie and climbing the rungs of the depth chart, this time, you play as a five-year veteran able to sign with any team in the league while chasing the coveted 99 Club. Though most (active) positions are available to play, Madden 23 adds the cornerback position as an option, but ultimately, the quarterback is still the most engaging of the positions available.
Finally, there's Franchise Mode, which brings with it all of Madden 22's significant improvements along with some new facets. Player Badges grounds the season-by-season mode in realism, adding player likes and dislikes to the mix. Players like Patrick Mahomes aren't leaving their team in weird off-season moves this year. The mode also introduces player motivations that tie into off-season negotiations. While I didn't feel major differences when negotiating contracts with players, I was a bit more engrossed in the overall experience because of these tweaks. Franchise Mode has a great foundation, and if EA continues to build on this mode, the future of Madden looks good.
Madden 23 Review — The Bottom Line
- New skill-based passing system.
- Player models are the most accurate they've been in the series.
- Madden Legacy game is a fun bit of nostalgia.
- Franchise Mode starts the drive to being better.
- Continues to push players toward MUT.
- Presentation still not up to par when compared to other sports titles.
- Small changes that don't improve the formula overall.
Overall, the experience of Madden 23 will hardly differ from the experience in Madden 22. There just aren't enough changes and improvements to the systems in place.
With EA going back to College Football in 2023, maybe they should consider taking a year off Madden and use that time to continue to build on the foundations laid out by this year's entry. Perhaps then they can return to the glory days of releasing more feature-heavy games. Until then, this one might be worth skipping.
[Note: EA Provided a copy of Madden 23 used for this review.]