Thanks to EA, we’ve had a chance to check out the ongoing Madden NFL 23 closed beta. Below, you’ll find Matt Paprocki’s thoughts on the current state of the closed beta.
[Updated on 6/26/22]
Face of the Franchise
There’s a significant narrative change to Madden 23’s career mode – no longer does the story follow a young rookie through college (or even sooner). Now the focus is on a four-year veteran who has yet to solidify his role on a team, a journeyman stuck with one-year deals trying to prove his worth. It’s a clever way to let people choose their team too – no random draft picks, just a list of contacts from every team (and letter grade ratings based on the front office’s interest).
This means a better starting position in statistical terms, player ratings somewhere in the mid-70s overall compared to the mid/high-60s previously. Leveling, at its base, is relatively simple with a few position-specific categories to boost and an X-Factor to choose from (which add choices as ratings jump into the 80s and 90s). Each week offers various stat boosts through activities, some interactive, but most not. A few cinematic scenes offer minimal context, hardly enough to consider this a direct storyline beyond the ebbs and flows of the career itself.
By default, the camera sits lower on the field, tightening tension for a marginal film-like aesthetic. Otherwise, the presentation doesn’t change from the dead ball cutaways to commentary. It’s not particularly exciting, but the way to play if low on time given how quickly games finish given the simulations when not on the field. On the plus side – and it’s possible this is only the beta – no microtransactions are involved, and leveling happens consistently. In the early going, every new week earns an attribute point to assign. This likely slows as the mode progresses, but the systems in place look positive, even as the surrounding “story” material slips toward nothingness.
Every year, in prepping the latest iteration, the Madden NFL team undoubtedly sits in a conference room, bouncing creative ideas off one another. Marketing is likely in there with the developers, coining salable terms like this year’s “FieldSENSE,” obnoxious capitalization and all.
FieldSENSE isn’t one specific thing. Rather, it comprises on-field tweaks like improved physics, new tackling animations, and notably, a refreshed passing system. Yet if EA didn’t market these things with focus-tested names, no one would notice beyond the hardcore competitive players.
It’s difficult from this position, behind a keyboard, to so readily dismiss something that under the hood necessitated hundreds of man-hours to implement. Madden 23 doesn’t feel different though, at this beta stage. It’s not new. It’s not fresh. For the country’s premier pro sport, it’s awfully dull.
EA tried various schemes through the years to invigorate passing, like the wonky Vision Cone years ago. This year, there’s added control over the ball in the air. After the throw, holding the left trigger and pushing the left stick can locate a pass ahead of, behind, shorter, or deeper than the receiver. There are even on-field indicators – circles and icons to show the location.
Over multiple games during the beta, this system made a limited difference.
If anything, passing comes off as overly complex. When scrambling to dodge defenders, the instinct is to hold back on the left stick. That results in a shorter throw. It’s not without logic – dropping back under pressure and slinging the ball will likely result in less arm power – but making those adjustments as intended isn’t organic. On the catch, receivers barely seem bothered, and adjust on the fly. Years ago in EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, ball spin could save a shot from doom after the swing. Madden NFL 23’s passing feels eerily similar.
Given the infestation of meters and bars and circles and icons, this generation’s Madden inches ever further away from simulation, even as the advertisements spin the physics engine’s greater realism. There’s a tug-of-war between the efforts to make Madden video game-y and a reliance on technology to bolster hit impacts or ball movement. Madden NFL 23 is looking to become a victim, because even with the new physics and animations, tackling feels identical to prior years.
The current beta status only includes exhibition games; EA will add more later, and updates will follow. This gives enough sense as to the gameplay and the utterly failing presentation (the inauthentic, repetitive broadcast style still hasn’t caught up to NFL 2K5, and that was 17 years ago) to suggest Madden NFL 23 is another nominal jump for a series still playing catch-up since the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X debuted.
Madden NFL 23 is scheduled to be released on August 19th, 2022, for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.