It’s important but almost impossible not to get reactionary when a new game comes out, but in the case of EA Sports it’s even more difficult.
Resentment has been building among a section of the fanbase for two key reasons – An absolute lack of improvement, but in many ways the pretend acknowledgement and empty promises are much worse.
Don’t get me wrong there is some fun to be had in the latest edition of Madden 21 when it comes to Franchise mode, but questions need to be asked if you’re having to try and spark your own enjoyment.
To paraphrase a famous saying “EA are who we thought they were, but we’ve let them off the hook”
They’ll make a ton of money from MUT where kids get access to their parents credit cards and run the same three plays over and over, so the only way of getting a realistic footballing experience would be through Franchise mode.
There are some things to like about the game initially but they may be embellished by “new game excitement”, while the same old glitches and immersion killers keep popping up with alarming regularity.
There are two ways of looking at this – EA do deserve some credit for regularly updating and improving the gameplay, but the game has also been out for just over two months and it’s already seen at least 14 updates.
Every one changes an aspect of the gameplay and fairly radically in most cases, so it’s impossible to make an accurate assessment because it will change within weeks.
The general trend sees something become far too easy in one download so it then becomes impossible in the next, and in the most recent one it’s shut down the user running game and opened it up for the CPU.
The same old annoying animations are still there, if you’re unlucky then your tackler will somehow lie down and allow the runner to lay on top of them and roll on for a few yards, while the catch animation where the receiver suddenly buckles in mid-air and drops it behind them is still far too prevalent.
As the updates go on it’s honestly hard to identify where the major updates have come from Madden 20, but play action and screen plays are a noticeable change for the better in that you see variety and occasionally they even gain yards.
Drafting and Trade Logic (Or there lack of):
The best thing about a long term franchise save is developing and drafting your own players, while you will need to make trades in both directions for a variety of reasons, but this is a total mixed bag.
Trade logic hasn’t been touched at all, you can send a 2nd and a free agent running back to the Colts for a 90+ rated Quenton Nelson with ease, while you can put up a top rated QB in his rookie contract and see a 70 rated line-backer and a 3rd being sent your way.
On the flip side you’ll be inundated with offers of a future 2nd rounder for any reasonable veteran you put up, even if they are ageing and in the last year of their deal – bonus points for then signing them back in free agency when they inevitably don’t get extended either.
Free agency is also a big issue, mainly because teams are utterly incapable of managing their cap effectively. Everyone is always millions over the cap so they can’t trade and they can’t re-sign anyone, so you’ll get your pick of players at the end of each season.
There’s more bad news if you were hoping for any kind of revamp when it comes to free agents. There are so many fun ways this could go, you could talk to players about their possible role in your team, find out their demands, talk about your draft plans and try to woo them to your rebuilding project.
The reality is you can just keep making offers until the screen tells you that you’ve made the top offer, while no one has any money due to cap management so you can stack your roster with great players on pathetic deals.
The draft is also a mixed bag but at least the auto draft classes do appear to be more varied. You can’t just pick up numerous 70+ rated linemen in the later rounds, in fact finding O-line talent is tough unless you look at the centre, because every draft has multiple great centres after having none at all last year.
You can find gems in the deeper rounds and receiver classes are deeper, while CPU logic has certainly shown some improvement. The lack of O-line quality means the early picks are always average guards or tackles which again is an immersion killer, while the draft stories and scouting are identical to before.
I’ve definitely found that I’ve had more fun in the draft this year but you need to train yourself to be responsible when amassing picks and signing free agents to a realistic standard or it becomes too easy far too quickly.
There is very little depth to the whole experience which again results in you having to try to cultivate your own stories and entertainment.
Winning a Super bowl is simply met with a text message from a random person, game planning is a faceless email asking if anyone has thought of not letting Derrick Henry run for 300 yards, and there’s no storylines or feeling about anything at all.
There will be a caveat that it’s likely EA can’t have the in game versions of real life players kicking off in game, but there’s no reason that the regenerated rookies can’t have something more going on.
You regularly get a disgruntled receiver or running back asking for more carries, but you can ignore it and literally nothing happens so again it’s just a useless feature.
Why can’t they start pushing for a trade or refusing to sign a new deal if they aren’t in the game plan? We don’t need to get into the territory of criminal offences happening, but positive or negative attitude changes should affect something and provide some depth to the experience.
We also need to see something happen with coordinators in the game, because it’s the same old scenario where you can just adopt an entire playbook from whoever you want and that’s it.
In game you get the same old play suggestions when you use the coach suggestions screen, and it become a never ending cycle because it starts to suggest the play to you because you’ve used it x amount of times.
It would be a huge step if we had to hire coordinators who have different levels of competence – perhaps they can be enticed be having talent that fits their philosophy, and you can have a mode where they call the plays for you with some kind of realistic game plan in place.
Every update promises that improvements will be made but there are two major issues here. 1) it’s unacceptable to sell a game on the promise that things may or may not be upgraded in the future and 2) the changes are small cosmetic ones that will make sod all difference.
The biggest issue with Franchise Mode is there is little sign of longevity in your save unless you try to make it exciting on your own, but it’s just now how things should work.
Situation Football and irritating situations
This needs it’s own section because the absolute lack of logic from the CPU is astounding at times, and it just completely kills the immersion in the game and ignores a major part of the sport which can be the difference between winning and losing.
Here are some examples of things which you could occasionally tolerate as the occasional glitch, but you can expect to see them every single game.
CPU 2 minute drill and time outs – There’s a pretty set formula here, hurry up for the first minute followed by a time-out with 1:00 to go, a time out with the next completed play in bounds and one more from 20 seconds in to complete a field goal.
The issue here is that only happens if they have the ball for the entire 2 minute drill. I’ve seen at least ten occasions where they have been in field goal range and let the clock run out with time outs remaining. It’s not even close situations either, as many as 16 seconds can be left on the clock and they just stand and let the half expire.
In the 4th quarter they will still just take dump offs and run short plays every time even if they need a TD or more, and it’s rounded off by a Hail-Mary that’s easily defended.
Punting – A serious bug bear of mine, punting has absolutely no logic or planning at all. You can have a player run beyond the bounce and be in the perfect position to block it from the end zone, but they don’t react at all and if you’re very lucky the ball actually bounces through their torso.
Added bonus of CPU punt return logic, I had a play off game where I was up by 5 away to KC and had to punt with 4 seconds left so it was the final play of the game. THE CPU FAIR CAUGHT IT AS THE CLOCK EXPIRED!!
Field Goals – The CPU will continue to kick field goals from a similar distance even if the kicker has failed to come close to making that distance multiple times in the game before, there is no logic.
There also needs to be more development with field goals, perhaps a confidence meter for the kicker or at least make the atmosphere mean something if you are away from home and it’s loud (more on this later)
Fumbles – The animations and logic surrounding fumbles do not make any sense at all, players seem to have cat like reflexes to react to a loose ball if it’s in reach, unless it’s the receiver that’s just dropped it.
I’ve seen it on multiple occasions both with the user and the CPU will fumble the ball while falling over, they ball will either be next to their hand or on their chest but they immediately play dead and do nothing to haul it in, often leading to a turnover.
We also need to see a proper difference with the QB pocket vs running the ball as fumbles will happen when trying to make throws, but it’s a 50/50 fumble rate if your QB gets hit as a runner.
CPU play selection and sacks – You’ll often hear complaints about Robo QB where the CPU will have a 90% completion rate and they can’t be stopped, but it’s only half true.
The truth is that the CPU QB is virtually incapable of taking any kind of risk and throwing up a contested ball unless it’s 4th down or a Hail-Mary, so they just dump it off to the checkdown option and slowly move up the field.
It generally means all you need to do is manually cover the short option on defence, and you can actually see the glitching happening as the CPU’s QB starts to panic, and you then get one of two options here.
If they aren’t the scrambling type then they just keep backing up, often 10/15/20 yards until you get there and sack them, sometimes they might manage to throw it out of bounds but this becomes incredibly irritating for a number of reasons.
Firstly they wait until you hit them to try and throw, so it means you get a throw away from an impossible animation or you get the sack, but the animation tends to be a strip sack but you can’t challenge or get on the loose ball for a turnover.
If you are up against the scramblers then it somehow gets worse, as they run around and make huge throws from impossible positions and angles, but at least it makes the game somewhat challenging.
I’ve managed to make the games much more enjoyable by simply muting the TV and putting a podcast on, but that’s not really how this should work.
The commentary is as irritating and lifeless as possible – you could complete a 50 point comeback in the Super Bowl or run up the gut for a gain of two yards on 2nd and 14, the tone and excitement factor won’t vary one jot.
Obviously this is something that’s difficult to implement properly, but if I do something ridiculous or stupid then I want the commentators to point it out or at least remark on it. The season could be on the line on 4th and 1 and you don’t make it, and it barely even registers.
There is one way to provoke a reaction and get some serious passive aggression from the commentators – skipping their half time show – but that’s about as good as it gets.
The year issue with the gameday experience is everything is soulless. Yes the stadiums look accurate but the noise is always the same, there is no atmosphere or anything exciting about playing a big game in front of a rabid crowd, because it just makes no difference.
You can artificially inject something into this yourself by turning the difficulty up or tampering with the sliders for away games, but there’s honestly no difference in any situation.
There are still some things that could be done to make this a factor. Teams should be more aggressive at home and go for it more often on fourth down, if it’s noisy and it’s clutch time then there should be mix ups or broken coverages more often if you start trying to audible at the line, and some players should either be emboldened or inconsistent depending on their personality type and situation.
Some things would be harder to implement than others, but it would still be better than the current option of nothing.
There are suggestions that this was a half-arsed effort due to the next generation consoles coming out soon and the Covid-19 situation has affected things, but EA have still found the time to introduce a brand new mode with more microtransactions while ignoring Franchise Mode so that argument falls down.
There are slider mods out there that do improve things so I do recommend looking those up. I use these and have found they do make things more enjoyable.
It’s also possible that a connected franchise with other users would enhance the general team building side of things as it’s humans making more realistic choices, so that could paper over some cracks too.
Madden games haven’t developed a lot in recent years and this is the latest example for Franchise users, so the main hope now is that the next gen version somehow has something big and noticeable to make up for this roster patch to Madden 20.