It's another year, another late August where EA Sports' Madden arrives again, like the first leaves of autumn. EA Sports has promised big changes this year to the game's Franchise mode and its stat-based performance of players. (Don't they always, though?) We've been playing and these are our impressions so far: Scott Stein for the Jets angle and Eli Blumenthal for Giants. Just like we did last year, we're seeing how things have changed as we ready for another real NFL season. (Let's hope the real-life Jets and Giants fare better, too.)
Scott: Another half-step over last fall's next-gen update
I've spent the last year and a half playing endless games of the New York Jets on Madden 20 and 21. Right now I'm in the 2037 season in Madden 21. No names are recognizable now: my star QB is Chris Abraham. My amazing RB, Darren Allen. Speedy upcoming WR Ron Moorehead and veteran Blaine Urban. My all-star tight end, Owen Todd. Those all need to go away now that Madden 22 is here: EA still doesn't carry franchises over to new versions of the game.
I wish they would. I've continued this ritual for so long, I've gotten familial with them. Fourteen Super Bowl championships and counting! Madden 22 has a lot of upgrades that I'm learning to appreciate, though, especially in Franchise Mode. That's the only mode I really play and for the most part I see improvement - with some awkwardness I hope gets addressed.
Madden's biggest change, a Momentum meter, makes every game feel a bit like college football. It also means that swings in game energy are very real. Madden already had this quality before, in a sense: I found my team getting on a roll and opponents crumbling during blowouts. The momentum meter unlocks specific effects that impact the other team, which sometimes feel a little artificially imposed (the camera shaking, or wide receiver icons randomly disappearing after the snap). I think I like it though?
The graphics and physics upgrade that last year's Madden 21 for PS5 and Xbox Series X got in the fall feels a lot more polished now, and player movements do seem more full of normal momentum... with some ways I think I'm already exploiting the behaviors. I'm getting intercepted more, but learning to push and barrel as a running back more too. And there are plenty of rough spots. Jets coach Robert Saleh looks like a weird last-gen uncanny version of himself. I am also way too aware of repetitive fan reactions in the stands and player animations.
Even weirder are the new press conferences, which are how the game tries to inject some decision-making trees into the pre-game prep. They're the same commitments of goal-setting for the most part as Madden 21 (and 20), with XP rewards given depending on how you succeed. But the awkward story-mode style of the press conference moments feels way too slow. I skipped through them. Lots of the new glosses feel slow. I play lots of Madden games: I prefer quick notifications over elaborate cinematics.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X versions feel pretty much the same, but the PS5 does at least have more prominent buzzes from the controller (which I found helpful to "feel" running and player tackles). Also, the DualSense speaker talks out some ambient effects and QB sounds. It feels kind of 3D-sound-like, but if I play with the sound down, that controller still gets noisy.
I'd prefer better stats on the season, a sense of what players are hot and not. A lot of Madden still feels extremely familiar. Like always, you probably don't need the upgrade...except, of course, that's how you get the new player stats for the coming season. And, a chance to play an actual 17-game regular season. Ah, EA Sports, some things never change.
I still wish I could import my phenomenal 2037 Jets squad.
But how are the 2021 Jets? So far, 6-3. Shocker! The defense is good. I find sacks easy, coverage hard. The running game is something I'm successful at. Zach Wilson gets intercepted a lot. I can't tell if that's me, the game AI, or Zach. Probably a little of all three.
Eli: Small gameplay tweaks, much of the same
EA has talked a big game of the new gameday features in Madden 22, designed to more accurately replicate a real-life experience in a packed stadium on next-gen consoles. A new "M-Factor" momentum toggle sits atop the score board, sliding after each play towards the home or away team.
Home teams have three of these M-Factors -- which can do everything from provide stamina boosts, help QBs withstand pressure, ice kickers midgame or help defenses see wide receiver routes pre-snap -- and in practice they have added a nice new element to the video game.
Playing as the Giants in some online games, these effects were noticeable. Seeing players get flustered with a packed MetLife Stadium on its virtual feet did feel a bit more like real life (even if real life may not necessarily imitate art this season). The M-Factors also change with each game, keeping some variety which I've enjoyed as a long-time Madden player.
As for the gameplay itself, well, as Scott mentioned it's a bit more polished but it's still Madden at its core. Sideline catches and ball carrier momentum have improved, but running with the ball remains a lot easier than tackling. Playing on the Xbox Series X, graphically not much has changed to me compared to last year's game.
There are new game plan tendencies you can set pre-game and at halftime, but no ways to adjust those on a set-by-set basis. I wish it allowed this as it would bring another dimension to the game, particularly when playing against other people.
EA says player tendencies will adjust based on NFL Next-Gen Stats, but I haven't seen any real change yet. We'll see how this adjusts over the course of the coming season.
All of my small realism gripes from last year's game are similarly still here. Whereas 2K's NBA games make continual refinements with its players year after year, EA seems content with where it is at. Tattoos on a number of players seem to be MIA, including for big names like last year's cover star, Lamar Jackson.
Refs remain off the field for some reason (not that there are many penalties called during a Madden game, anyways) and celebrations didn't get much of an adjustment either. You still won't be able to get the whole defense together to celebrate a big stop or a Logan Ryan pick-six.
Sideline players did seem to no longer be so generic, which is nice.
As with last year, none of these are "deal breakers" for long-time NFL fans looking to get their virtual football fix. That said, it is still low-hanging fruit for finishing off a truly realistic NFL experience.