Madden’s lost its way a bit of late. Having suffered a brutal opening few weeks last year, it’s no surprise to see the team dial things down a notch this time around. The result is a Madden game focused on the fundamentals rather than flashy new modes and mechanics. Thanks to this refined focus, funnily enough, Madden 23 actually nails the essentials of the game, making for one of the more enjoyable (and stable) footy games in recent memory.
The team at EA Tiburon’s pushed some small but significant changes to Madden’s gameplay this year, with passing a major part of the focus. You’re now offered up three different passing control schemes, dubbed skill-based passing.
Each of the options for skill-based passing comes in a different form. One, called placement + accuracy, gives you visual feedback for specific control over passes as well as control over ball placement. The other, known as placement + power, places a heavier focus on the power of your pass. These both offer different incentives for players, allowing you to pick the one that suits your play style best. If you want particular control over where your pass will land, go for the former option, whereas those that prefer to dictate the power of a pass will find the latter the better option for them.
Of course, you’re also able to go back to basics and not use either of these. Much like legacy and tactical defending in the FIFA games, skill-based passing can be turned off for the classic style Madden’s used for many, many years. I do think this change is a fantastic one, though, as it gave me a lot of control over how I wanted my receivers to receive a pass and where to place the ball to avoid any potential interceptions.
On the topic of interceptions, defenders in Madden 23 have seen a significant upgrade. My first few matches saw opposing defenders pick passes out of the air with ease and put an end to any momentum I’d gained. And this is where skill-based passing becomes important on the harder difficulty levels – you really do need to spend some time practicing, because the classic passing scheme will see passing plays torn apart fairly often.
Even so, general gameplay in Madden 23 feels fun to play. And that’s something I haven’t been able to say over the last couple of years. Rather than load the game with unnecessary features, it feels like the team’s just looked at the basics and made subtle improvements. Whether it’s the new skill-based passing system or the way animations now feel more weighty and interact with one another more fluidly, there’s just something about the way Madden 23 plays that recent entries have lacked.
Madden’s Face of the Franchise mode continues to find itself in an identity crisis, though. The mode, which sees you joining a club of your choice on a one-year contract in an attempt to become one of the greats, has its fair share of visual bugs and cringe-inducing moments. It’s still got some way to go before it can reach the heights of other sports sims that do modes like this.
Face of the Franchise gives you a handful of positions to choose, though Quarterback is still the most enjoyable to play – allowing your player to get more time on the ball and deliver those spectacular moments in-game. That said, the mode meanders more than it does move at any enjoyable level of pace, and as such becomes more a borefest than anything else.
Enter Franchise mode, by far my favourite mode in Madden. Franchise mode continues to provide the most entertainment for new and veteran Madden players, offering up a range of options to customise and suit your experience with the game to a t. Want to just play games each week and not stress about transfers and training? You’re free to do that. If you want to dig deep into the simulation, you’re also free to tell Madden to take the training wheels off and leave you to your own devices.
It’s a fairly deep mode that really does encapsulate the drama of Madden. There’s a solid amount of new smaller additions for those seeking a deeper and more meaningful experience in Franchise, too, like player motivations that dictate a player’s keenness to join your team and draft class changes.
Madden Ultimate Team continues to be one of the weaker pieces of the puzzle, though it’s also seen some refined focus in this year’s entry. Better set management and the introduction of a Field Pass, effectively a battle pass for MUT, certainly help make it a more enjoyable experience. That said, it’s still the same old, same old for Ultimate Team as it continues to be filled with predatory microtransactions and unnecessary grinding.
Before jumping into the modes above, you’ll also be treated to the Madden Legacy Game. And it’s a great way of honouring one of the absolute best in the business. Madden 23’s a celebration of the late, great John Madden, and the legacy match sees teams composed of some of the players Madden adored the most going against one another. It all comes together nicely and is presented in a really beautiful way, filled with interesting bites of commentary and video packages. Don’t miss it.
With all that said, this year’s Madden game isn’t a revolution but it does do a lot right in terms of necessary gameplay improvements. The modes, while a bit thin, offer up enough for NFL fans to engage with and enjoy, though there’s definitely more room for improvement in future entries. I do wish there was more to do here, but Madden 23 feels like a course correction more than anything else. I can only hope that we see even more improvement in subsequent entries.
The Xbox Series X|S version of Madden NFL 23 was played primarily for the purpose of this review.
Stripping away the flash with a bigger focus on the core basics, Madden NFL 23 feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s still a series lacking an identity right now, but this year’s entry is the course correction the series has desperately needed.
Skill-based passing is a welcome addition
Focus on the core gameplay makes for a more enjoyable game
Defenders are a lot smarter this year
The Madden Legacy Game is a really nice touch
Lacking any real identity as a series
Quite weak when it comes to modes
Face of the Franchise isn’t that enjoyable
Ultimate Team is, as always, predatory and uncompelling