Madden 22 Review — Short of the Line to Gain
As someone who began their Madden NFL journey with Madden NFL 2002 on the PlayStation 2 and has continued to play every iteration over the last 20 years, I think it's safe to say that fans of the storied sports franchise are ready for some significant updates.
While fans get minor upgrades every year, and it's easy to get bogged down in simple roster resets, EA hasn't emphasized improvement outside of modes where microtransactions take precedent (i.e. Madden Ultimate Team).
Even though Madden 22 continues that new tradition of minuscule improvements, the list of updates to the ever-popular Franchise Mode is starting to feel significant. The problem is that bugs and glitches continue to hurt the franchise.
Madden 22 Review — Short of the Line to Gain
Exhibition Mode's home-field advantage and gameplay momentum systems add strategy to on-the-field play this year. While this RPG-esque layer to your everyday Madden mode is refreshing (and adds a nifty new bar to the top of the screen), it largely underlines issues that have been present in Madden for some time.
Screen-shaking from crowd noise and player skill boosts can now be influenced through gameplay effects, rather than just through the coaching skill trees found in Madden's previous Franchise modes. Called M-Factors, these effects target realism by focusing on "being on the road," as well as how X-Factor players can turn the tides of momentum in a game.
However, it feels like these additions are simply getting slapped with a fresh coat of paint and put in the spotlight in Madden 22, rather than actually evolving into anything substantially new. Paired with Gameday Atmosphere giving gameday a more intimate air, and an update to Next Gen Stats, the additions are welcome but not meaningful.
Madden Ultimate Team stays mostly the same, and the emphasis on cosmetics and purchases attached to your profile is a nice move forward for players who utilize this ecosystem. For simulation purists, The Yard returns with a single-player campaign that makes the experience more complete.
Face of the Franchise also returns with a more streamlined story, which ironically hurts the mode rather than helps it. It's true that some dialogue sequences were longwinded in prior years, but this year, things are so truncated that the mode simply stands in as a stat-improvement tool.
Taking the life out of story mode isn't the right move for making Madden a more complete experience, even if the push for games-as-a-service means the emphasis is on return purchasers in MUT. Resources have been undoubtedly diverted from story and franchise content, much like we've seen with several FPS titles on the market.
EA's given the defensive side of the ball some love, though, as players can become linebackers this year, which is a huge plus. Being able to finally enter the fray on the defensive side of the ball is a great addition.
Some of the more significant changes outside of the base gameplay experience come in Franchise Mode. An improved UI keeps you from scrolling through several useless pages; stats, transaction information, and news are easier to reach; and navigation, in general, is more finely tuned.
Additionally, the inclusion of coordinators in the coaching hire pages makes things more realistic, even if it fails to really deliver on its own promise. Madden 22 lacks real-life coaches outside of the current cast of 32 head coaches, with the coordinators filled in with randomly generated names and stats.
The skill trees associated with those coordinators are a nice touch, as well as the revamped head coach and new player personnel skills. The most significant change coming down the pipeline sometime in September is revamped scouting that includes hiring a team of scouts, though it's too bad it's a feature not ready for launch.
The biggest disappointment in Madden NFL 22 is the return of several bugs found in previous installments and the addition of some new ones that continue to frustrate.
Madden still bogs down in multiple, years-long Franchise Mode saves, and a new bug sees your Practice Team count towards your overall 53-man roster, meaning you're forced to cut your team down too short.
Additionally, players can vanish when being added from other team's practice squads, like when I tried to grab rookie fullback Ben Mason from the Ravens (Go Blue!). Game crashes persist as well, meaning you'll be doing lots of reloading as you try to simply navigate menus. Though bugs are unfortunately expected with AAA launches these days, it's disappointing to see things getting worse rather than better on that side of the ball.
Luckily, in terms of performance, the game runs smoothly at 120 FPS on the Xbox Series X (when in Performance mode), and visuals are crisper this season.
Madden NFL 22 Review — The Bottom Line
- Franchise Mode is starting to get some love
- The Yard gets a single-player campaign
- Gameplay improvements are welcome ...
- ... But not quite enough
- Bugs and glitches have never been more prevalent
- Most updates are rehashed systems from prior iterations
- Even greater push towards micro-transaction-laden content
Madden 22 tries its best to improve with some updates to its gameplay, The Yard, and Franchise Mode that feel like a step in the right direction.
However, rehashing of old systems and ideas, a continued push towards microtransaction-laden content, and bugs getting worse and worse means that this iteration will need extra time to really grow as a program.
[Note: EA provided the copy of Madden 22 used for this review.]