balance is a bit more favorable than usual. Among the new features are a couple of key changes that underscore the difference between a typical player and a true NFL superstar in meaningful and exciting ways, making the moment-to-moment gameplay as strong as it’s been since the switch to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. On the other hand, it leaves Franchise mode without significant new features and microtransactions continue to be an issue with Madden Ultimate Team. So EA’s ongoing quest to satisfy the entire spectrum of casual, competitive, and sim fans is only partially successful, though more so than usual.As we approach the end of the current console generation developers are learning to fully harness the real power of each system, and it shows in Madden 20. The new lighting system creates a softer, more natural look to the players and fans. Add that to the improved fluidity of the on-field player movement, and Madden 20’s overall experience has taken a solid step forward that looks and plays even more like what we see on a TV broadcast.
Of course, it is easy to say that the Madden 20 looks and plays better because Madden does that to some degree almost every year, but in this case, it’s true in some very important areas that make it a worthy upgrade. The biggest one that changes virtually everything you do on the field for the better is a revision to how players are controlled. In Madden 19, there were some real issues with the running game, as the foot planting and movement felt awkward and disjointed at times. These issues really were prevalent when running between the tackles and trying to execute a quick cut to hit a small opening to run through. While I enjoyed the intuitiveness of that running system, there were many times that I felt frustrated with the result of my efforts.
In Madden 20, control of the player I am using feels precise and connected, and the execution from my controller to the field is much more unified. This level of precision allows me to spend less time worrying about what my runner is doing, and more on thinking two or three moves ahead, observing the flow of the offensive and defensive line interaction, or the pursuit of the secondary.
That said, there are still some animation and clipping issues that I saw pop up, like players arms descending through another player’s body, or players forcefully bouncing in the air after a simple tackle was made. And while I love the defensive line improvements in Madden 20, the secondary play offers some real head-scratching moments. At times during zone defense the safety would play too far back, wouldn’t follow his assignment, or simply act like he didn’t understand the play that was called. This kind of thing was all too common, and forced me to play man defense or a zone call that wasn’t correct for the offensive situation. So it’s true that the gameplay isn’t perfect, but the improvements in Madden 20 are tangible and trending the right direction.
Another major change addresses a problem Madden has struggled with for years: creating consistent defensive line pressure in a way that felt organic. Finally, Madden 20 delivers a new trait system that forces me to not only scan the defensive scheme during pre-snap, but also to keep one eye on the defensive linemen – especially those who may have completed objectives to unlock an X-Factor ability. Why is that important? Because these superstar players can have an immediate impact on not only that particular play but the entire game, precisely as they should.
If I am a real NFL quarterback (I’m not – trust me) and looking across at the likes of, say, a Kahlil Mack, Von Miller, Aaron Donald, or Dee Ford I am going to be forced to mentally acknowledge their presence and account for the threat they pose. Madden 20 gives me that exact same feeling: when I see someone with an orange X underneath them I know to throw or run to the opposite side of them or call an audible to change my approach. Meanwhile, playing as an X-Factor player is the stuff dreams are made of: as Mack, I was able to swim, power, or finesse my way through the offensive linemen almost instantly, and have a direct and forceful impact on the current play. That kind of empowering fantasy wish-fulfillment is something I and many others have been waiting for. It gives you a small glimpse into what it feels like to be a dominant force in an NFL game, even if that moment is a fleeting one.
I’d initially worried about the implementation of the superstar X-Factors being too overpowered and exploitable, but in my experience thus far, at least, they bring a solid layer of enhancement to Madden and have a truly positive impact. It’s true that not every team has the same amount of star players and not every player has the same traits or X-Factor abilities – but the same is true of real-life football. Additionally, there are ways to counteract X-Factors both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and depending on how many star players a specific team has the effect these player-specific traits can have on each individual game can vary greatly. Being able to negate the ability of each player is what helps keep a realistic balance throughout a game, while still allowing someone to take over “moments” in the game.
Commentators Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis are back in Madden 20 with mostly the same batch of voiceovers, but this year we get to hear them also call the NCAA playoffs as well as the NFL games. While that is definitely a nice addition, the commentary doesn’t sound much different than it did in Madden NFL 19. The pair still usually does a solid job of calling a game in regards to situational emotions and references to teams’ and players’ previous performances, which adds to the overall flow.
It’s a shame EA didn’t take this opportunity to add more diversity to their assortment of canned chatter, though – I’m already hearing repeated lines, and occasionally commentary that flat-out made no sense, like crediting a player with scoring his third touchdown of the day when it was clearly his first of the game.
Madden Ultimate Team mode isn’t my favorite way to play (I’m not big on mixed rosters or card-collecting games) but there are some significant changes this year that made it more fun for me. Gone are Solo Challenges; they’ve been replaced with Ultimate Challenges which come with the ability to play at a one, two, or three-star difficulty, and you guessed it, the higher the star number, the more difficult the challenge and the greater the reward(s). Some may consider these just a rehash of previous Solo Challenges with a fresh coat of paint, but I found myself enjoying the quickness of them. I wanted to hit the “next challenge” button as soon as I accomplished the task at hand.
Also new to MUT this year is the ability to add the new X-Factor superstars to your team. To keep things from getting out of control you will only be able to add three to each side of the ball, but still, it’s great that MUT gets to benefit from Madden 20’s best new feature.
There are also new “missions” intended to guide you toward the best items. For instance, if you can collect 60 stars you’ll receive an NFL Epic Baker Mayfield, rated an 86 overall. Want to acquire the 86-rated Epic Deacon Jones? It will require you to collect 120 stars. Other specific missions will want you to gain a specified amount of yards against certain a defense, and if you do so, the rewards are 500 coins and a GridIron pack. There are multiple missions, and even more will be added throughout the year to help you build your fantasy team into a contender. The rewards can vary greatly depending on the difficulty, but for me, the missions are integrated nicely into MUT and the requirements are reasonable.
Madden 19’s Devin and Colt are out, and QB1: Face of the Franchise is in. Madden 20’s new career mode puts you in the role of a high school star whose plans didn’t play out exactly as he had hoped… and I’ll leave it at that for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say you have the chance to play in the NCAA college football playoffs, the NFL combine, and the opportunity to prove yourself worthy for any one of the NFL’s 32 franchises.
The open-ended story mode campaign was a lot of fun, in part because I had an impact on my career path through dynamic decisions in each situation. From the school I chose to the type of quarterback I wanted to be to how I performed in the combine and on the field, it all had a direct effect on how the story played out. Plus, it was amazing to play a form of NCAA football again, even if it was for only eight combined quarters. (This opportunity will likely have many fans devoting a lot of time to this mode, and rightfully so.) The cutscenes add a bit of depth to the mode, the choices make sense, and while some of the scenes and dialogue are a little cheesy, in the end, QB1 is a solid effort.
As a fan of Franchise mode who spends the majority of his time with each Madden iteration taking a favorite team (or a random one) through the gauntlet of a full season, draft, and off-season trying to make it to the top, it’s depressing to see my favorite mode continues to suffer from neglect. That doesn’t mean Franchise is bad in Madden 20, but it has grown somewhat stale over the years because of minimal updates, and there isn’t enough new content here to make this year’s version feel essential.
I did appreciate the two minor new features: Having to navigate the revised contract negotiations is a welcomed addition, as players demanding to be compensated at fair market value does add a new layer of realism. If you have played one of the more recent versions of Madden contract renegotiations won’t look a lot different, but unlike previous versions where negotiations could be easily manipulated and exploited, the players are now more aggressive in trying to secure a new contract or extension that matches those of other players who are similar in talent. For example, in my Bears franchise I had the option to resign my center, Cody Whitehair. In previous versions of Madden I may have worked around his salary request with added years, but this year he understands his value and wants to be compensated both in years and money. It’s not a massive change to the structure of contract negotiations, but can become a big deal as you are forced to deal with the ever-looming salary cap on a season-to-season basis.
On top of that, EA has also implemented a few new defensive schemes and a new scenario engine that add a bit of dynamic realism to Franchise mode. For instance, if a player is not getting enough touches during a game, they will make it known. If you, as the coach, decide to ignore his request, you will see a hit in his morale and performance. On the flip side, if you adhere to his request you will see a small performance increase in certain areas. I wish the effects were a bit more impactful, because in my experience, morale drops and gains ranged from only one to six points. I do like how the new system adds a little more depth to Franchise mode, and hope the effects can have a larger impact in the future.