A mainstay in the sports video game genre, Madden NFL has been one of the most popular sports game franchises for decades. Along with its popularity, the series has also received its share of criticism over the years for not providing a significantly improved experience for players year over year. With Madden NFL 19, developers at EA Tiburon promised a game that would play and feel differently from its recent predecessors. Have Electronic Arts delivered on this promise? In many ways the answer is yes, and Madden 19, while not perfect by any means, provides an enjoyable football experience that both casual and competitive players can have a lot of fun with.
Madden 19 does have a story mode, as Devin Wade and Colt Cruise return in Longshot’s sophomore campaign. In Madden 18, this Longshot story largely revolved around Devin as he tried to exorcise the demons from his college career to earn a shot at playing in the NFL. In Madden 19, however, the story largely centres on Colt. Whereas Devin’s story in the first iteration is about redemption and overcoming the things that stopped him from achieving greatness, Colt’s tale in Madden 19 is about finding out where you belong and can make the biggest impact in life. Colt struggles with the conflict between his dreams of playing in the NFL and the pull of his hometown and the ability he has to be a leader there.
While Madden 19’s Longshot story is somewhat better and more heartfelt than last year’s, it is still very cliched and predictable. From early on in the story, it is easy to see where both the story and characters will end up by the end of the campaign. However, Longshot does serve as a decent enough tutorial on how to operate many of the controls and mechanics in Madden 19, such as low and high throws, running routes as a receiver, and learning how to break punt/kick returns for touchdowns. For any achievement hunters out there, Longshot is also a good way to rack up some achievement points for only a 4-6 hour investment to complete the story.
As one of the most popular game modes in any sports title on the market today, Franchise Mode also returns in Madden 19 with additions designed to enhance the players’ experience and make them feel more immersed in the NFL season. Like years past, players can choose to compete in a franchise against all CPU teams in solo, or take part in a connected franchise with friends, where some to all of the teams in the league will be user controlled.
Franchise mode features additions designed to make the game more of an authentic NFL season experience, while making the mode more accessible to fans who don’t want to mess with the details of player progression. At the same time it protects enough of the details of team management throughout the season to ensure die-hard players will still feel rewarded for their effort. Rather than investing XP into very specific traits and attributes for players as in years past, you will now be able to increase a broad range of attributes at once for a player using skill points that are earned in-game. You will apply these points to one of four player archetypes. This type of progression is still specific enough to appeal to more hardcore players, while at the same time hopefully enticing more casual gamers to take the time to dive into all the details Franchise has to offer.
In addition, there have been tweaks made to the presentation in Franchise, as well as the draft in between seasons. The pre-game and halftime shows have been enhanced, though maybe not as much as EA would have players believe. Jonathan Coachman provides some pre-game tidbits to inform you on what is happening in the game, but I would like to see more of the information tailored to the game you’re actually playing in at the moment – key matchups, upcoming stat milestones and such. Overall, the presentation is a step in the right direction for gamers that enjoy that part of the experience. Drafts in Franchise have also been revamped, with custom draft classes being introduced into the game. Players can choose from auto generated craft classes each offseason, or upload draft classes from Madden Share to give their league a more fantasy feel to it.
The mode EA tends to focus on the most with Madden, Ultimate Team, is back this year with some noticeable improvements. For those who aren’t familiar with the mode, Ultimate Team is the modern digital equivalent of collecting football cards when you were a kid. Through completing challenges, playing games, or opening packs, you can acquire better players to improve and shape your team the way you want to. Want a team that airs the ball out? Build a team that has a great passing QB, offensive live with great pass blocking, and receivers that have speed and great catching ability. Or, you can build a team that dominates on the defensive side of the ball. New players are introduced all the time, often with higher ratings, so the opportunity to constantly improve your team is there for months on end. Granted, packs of cards can be purchased in the store, making Madden Ultimate Team a mode where players can pay to win by buying packs and getting better players, and whilst some players have a problem with that, others do not. This review isn’t meant to address the ethical issues of Ultimate Team though; rather, it is to review the quality of the mode since Ultimate Team within Madden is one of various modes a player can take part in, unlike a game like Star Wars Battlefront II where the pay to win model affected the balance of the entire game.
Most of the improvements in MUT come in the form of giving players who like playing solo more opportunities to play with the additions of Solo Battles and MUT Squads vs the CPU. Solo Battles allow you to take your custom built squad into games against the CPU controlled rosters of some of the premier MUT players in all of Madden – players that routinely play in the pro events. By playing these games you earn points which accumulate over the course of the week depending on how many games you play. At the end of the week, your point total lands you in a tier which has rewards for MUT.
Squads in Ultimate Team return in Madden 19 too, allowing you to team up with two friends to play cooperatively against another team of three. The change this year is that you can now play MUT Squads against CPU teams, which should make the mode more appealing to players who like to play casually.
Pack openings in Madden 19 appear to have a better drop rate for elite players than in previous years. Full disclosure: In preparation for this review, and for my Twitch stream, I spent about $150 on packs within MUT – mostly legend packs. I had far greater success this year than in others. Maybe I was just lucky, but I have heard from other players that they have had the same improved success. Playing solo challenges and buying some packs quickly got my team to 86 overall, including the 91 overall Michael Vick at QB and a 92 overall limited time player – the first time I have ever pulled a limited time card in 5 years of playing Ultimate Team. Whether or not the model is right, the drop rate within packs appears to be better in Madden 19.
In MUT and Versus modes, multiplayer is a huge component, and there are noticeable improvements in the lag this year. In the games I have played in multiplayer, there has been extremely limited lag with the kicking game, and no noticeable lag when throwing the ball to a receiver. This is a notable improvement over previous installments, where lag could often affect the outcome of a close game in multiplayer. The constant roster updates, along with the regular commentary updates, add to the experience in multiplayer as well, making the game always feel fresh and new.
Gameplay in Madden NFL 19 features a couple of key changes which have a large impact on how the game is played versus previous iterations. First, the running game has undergone an overhaul and is extremely different than it has been in the past. Gone are the days of immediately holding the right trigger to accelerate and gain 3-5 yards or more on an inside run play. New mechanics have made it so players have to look for the hole in the line, attack it, and then accelerate through it into the open field. This has made running the ball much more challenging in Madden 19, as it is much more difficult to control the clock by simply running the ball inside when you have the lead. In the passing game, block shedding for defensive lineman has been adjusted in Madden 19, meaning that as a quarterback you no longer have what seems like an eternity to let long passing plays develop without getting pressure from the rush. Blitzing is no longer the only way to get to the quarterback, and players on offense can no longer only choose deep passing plays without paying a price. If you want to choose a play that takes longer to develop, you will need to select a formation that adds additional blocking or make pre-snap adjustments at the line.
Madden 19 certainly isn’t without its flaws, though. There are still glitches in the game that take away from the immersive experience that EA Tiburon is shooting for. After scoring a touchdown, players will often keep running in place, not allowing you to select one of the touchdown celebration options that are new to the game this year. Cutbacks can be clunky, and there are times where receivers will seem to get a mind of their own and move in the wrong direction on the field, causing you to lose yards on a passing play because their momentum carried them five yards behind the line of scrimmage after catching the ball. Most sports gamers know that the annual development cycle means there will inevitably be glitches in the game, and that’s certainly true with Madden 19. However, in 40+ hours of playing Madden 19 I feel that they are more minimized than in years past, though I can’t say they aren’t still annoying when they do happen.
Madden NFL 19 isn’t exactly breaking new ground when it comes to EA’s football franchise, but it is a step in the right direction. The additions to Franchise and Ultimate Team modes provide a more complete experience that appeals to more players, and versus play is more seamless this year, though I can’t promise it will be any less frustrating when you run into a player who knows how to user his linebacker to perfection. Overall though, Madden 19 delivers a fun experience that will keep both casual and hardcore players engaged for months to come.