Recent releases of Madden NFL have been a source of frustration for many fans of the franchise. A lack of investment into the improvement of the Franchise mode left many thinking that Ultimate Team was all that the development team at EA Tiburon cared about. Change was promised, with some tweaks added to Madden 22 and large-scale changes promised for Madden 23. The delivery of those promises is largely promising.

While it certainly isn’t a perfect sports game, Madden NFL 23 is a marked improvement that has placed a focus on making the experience more accessible to different types of players. No matter what mode you play, you will likely find the experience both deeper and more welcoming to all levels of gamers in years past.

Game Modes

Before diving into modes, I want to the nice and classy ways that the team at EA Tiburon paid respect to John Madden. Madden, the namesake of the game, passed away this year. Madden 23 celebrates his life and career with many additions to the game that honor him and his incredible contribution to the sport. This starts with the Madden Legacy Game when you first boot up Madden 23.

Madden NFL 23 offers a variety of modes that vary in degrees of immersion and experience. For players who want to just jump in and play, there is the Play Now option – just select two teams and go. Gamers who want to take their favorite team all the way to the Super Bowl have a somewhat revamped Franchise mode, and those who want to experience the full career of an NFL star can dive into Face of the Franchise.

If battling it out online versus other human players is your thing, there is the always popular Head to Head mode, and Connected Franchise returns for another year. You can also play online in The Yard, an arcade-style mode that I had decidedly more fun in this year than last.

Finally, there is Ultimate Team, where you build a fantasy dream team full of stars from today and throughout NFL history. While Madden Ultimate Team is often criticized for being pay-to-win, Madden23’s version makes having a competitive “no money spent” team far easier to do.

How Does It Play?

I was admittedly a little skeptical when EA Tiburon revealed the FieldSENSE technology that would dictate gameplay in Madden 23. We’ve been promised revolutionary changes to gameplay before in sports games, and those changes regularly underdeliver.

This time, though, EA seems to have largely gotten it right. FieldSENSE significantly impacts the on-field experience, and it has a positive effect on the overall experience.

Simply put, FieldSENSE makes players and actions on the football field behave more similarly to what you would see on your television on Sunday afternoons. Tackles are more realistic – not every collision is a big hit, and wrap-up tackling plays a larger role in Madden 23. When your running back makes a cut, it is smooth but also less arcade-like than in previous years. The player’s athleticism and attributes play a large role in the effectiveness of those types of moves. If you have ever felt that all players play and react the same way on the field, this will make you happy.

Defenders act and react in a far more realistic way in this year’s game. There is a level of anticipation present that eliminates some of the exploits of years past. This was refreshing but also frustrating at first. I threw more than my share of picks in my first few games until I was able to adapt.

Overall, FieldSENSE makes the Madden NFL experience much less reliant on animations in the game and more reliant on user input. If you adapt and execute, you will have success.

The passing game in Madden 23 has been revamped too. Now, you will have three options when you load up the game. You can set controls to focus on accuracy, power, or keep them as they were in years past.

Choosing accuracy gives you more control over ball placement than you would have had in the past. You can now more easily place the ball in a position where only your receiver can catch it. You can lead, throw behind, have high or low throws, and more – all while having more control over the touch you have on the throw.

If you choose the power related control set, you will have a greater amount of control over the power on throws, allowing for greater touch on your passes. Finally, you can keep the same throwing controls that existed last year. If you prefer familiarity, this might be for you – but the AI will have greater control over your outcomes.

Is Franchise Finally Improved?

The team at EA Tiburon promised extensive improvements to the Franchise mode experience in Madden 23. After the release of Madden 21, the fanbase expressed their displeasure with the perceived focus on Ultimate Team at the expense of Franchise. Some of the points made were valid – Franchise features had largely gone untouched for years.

Last year’s Madden 22 brought some welcome additions. The ability to set weekly strategies was nice, and made training feel more relevant. That said, the additions felt more like a down payment than a solution.

Madden 23 has brought another wave of changes to Franchise, and there are some notable improvements. With this year’s additions, EA Tiburon has made Franchise mode both more immersive and more accessible to casual fans.

Trades and trade logic are a central focus in Madden 23. I’ll be honest – I hated doing trades in Madden 22 and other iterations. It was a process of trial and error that took me away from actually playing games and having fun. Now, with one button click you can see what a team wants for a player you are targeting in a trade.

Free agency has received a lot of focus in this year’s game. No longer is it just about having the most money. Now, you will have to be strategic in how you target potential free agent acquisitions. Free agency now includes multiple stages and is adding Active Negotiations and Evaluations. You will be limited in each stage in how many offers you can make. No longer will one team come in and spend a ton of money to get every great free agent.

Players in free agency also now have priorities that impact their interest in signing with your team. They may want to be close to home – reminds me of NCAA Football games- or they may care more about winning, having a franchise quarterback, or a prestigious head coach. You will have to navigate these desires for every player your target and alter your offers accordingly.

Build the Ultimate Team

Always a popular mode, Madden Ultimate Team returns in Madden 23 with some welcome additions. Overall, the experience is more user friendly than it had been in past iterations, and there are more ways to earn coins, items, and player cards without spending money.

Full disclosure: I primarily play Ultimate Team modes in sports games. Anyone who knows me or listens to our podcast knows that I consider MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty mode to be the gold standard of Ultimate Team style modes. The reason is simple: as a player, you can easily build a competitive team if you are willing to grind even a little bit, and there is a lot of freedom to play how you want to play – without spending a dime.

The biggest way MLB The Show accomplished this was through featured programs. That’s where you earn XP in a Battle Pass-type system and unlock items, cards, and stubs along the way. Everything you did in the game applied to the earned XP in that program. Meanwhile, it felt like everything in Madden Ultimate Team was trying to funnel players into the store to spend money.

That has changed in Madden 23. Now, there is a brand new Field Pass program, allowing you to earn XP through doing different things in the game. It also functions very much like a Battle Pass, and it is free to all players. As you earn XP, you advance through levels and unlock items, coins, or elite players to add to your lineup.

Madden Ultimate Team will still require a lot of time invested if you want to build a great team without spending money. However, early indications are that it is a little bit easier to do so. Ultimate Team’s biggest win in Madden 23 is the shift toward making the mode more accessible and fun for casual players while protecting the core experience for the hardcore MUT fans.

Become the Face of the Franchise

At their best, Be-A-Pro modes give you the experience of living through a career as a player in your favorite sport. Madden’s Face of the Franchise felt like two different games in recent years. The first was the excellent college portion where you make decisions and achieve goals to help your draft stock. Once you got to the NFL, however, Face of the Franchise played like a very generic Be-A-Pro mode.

Cornerback is available as a position you can play in Face of the Franchise for the first time ever. It is extremely difficult relative to the other positions you can select. More available positions to choose from is a nice addition, but Face of the Franchise is still the most fun when you are a quarterback leading your team down the field.

Side activities have been given an overhaul too, with more activities to choose from on your off days throughout the week. You can choose from on-field training that gives you attribute boosts, off-field training that improves strength and endurance, and side stories that will trigger vignettes for your player. These activities are a nice addition, but Face of the Franchise still feels like an “also in the game” type of mode in Madden 23.

Go Outside and Touch Grass

The Yard returns for yet another go with the arcade-style mode featuring 6v6 football with huge offense. The mode is designed to play online, as you will create an avatar and level him up by playing in games and earning XP. That said, you can still enjoy The Yard through offline Live Events.

Playing games in The Yard is fun. It’s a nice chance of pace from the intense online Ultimate Team or H2H games. However, the more I play of The Yard, the more I wonder why I’m not investing my time into Franchise or Ultimate Team.

It is fun, and certain players will love The Yard. It just isn’t quite at the level of World of CHEL in the NHL series yet and I don’t see it being many gamers’ primary game mode.

If you’re looking for a quick game of football without the time investment, Play Now, H2H, and Play a Friend are all still available in Madden 23. Superstar KO also returns with quick games and special sets of rules with X-Factors always enabled.

Final Thoughts

It isn’t a perfect and comprehensive football experience, but Madden 23 is a definitive step in the right direction. EA Tiburon wanted to prove that they have been listening to the fans, and that desire is apparent throughout the game. Franchise mode has clear improvements to the experience, and Ultimate Team is the most accessible to the casual player it has been in years. FieldSENSE tech has improved the on-field game experience and lessened the amount of frustrating glitches that made past versions tough to put up with. You’re not going to get a revolutionary game with Madden 23, but passionate football fans should be happy with the experience.

THE GOOD
FieldSENSE tech moves gameplay in the right direction
Ultimate Team is more accessible and Field Pass is a great addition
Franchise mode has received several improvements
THE BAD
Face of the Franchise still feels bare bones
7.5
Good

Review Summary

Madden 23 won’t change the game completely, but it is a nice step in the right direction and should make fans of the Franchise mode happy.

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