Substance wins out over style, and that’s a good thing

Gaming, NFL

The focus on improvements to the on-the-field action helps Madden 19 overcome a lackluster Longshot sequel and a relatively quiet year for Franchise Mode.

If Madden 18 was all flash, Madden 19 is all substance.

Last year, EA’s Madden 18 dazzled us with its new Frostbite engine, creating the best looking Madden game to date, and also took a big swing with a new story mode called Longshot. While the Longshot story mode is back this year, it’s clearly taken a back seat to improving what was already a solid and fun entry in 2018.

The team at EA has had more time to work with Frostbite, and it shows. The play on the field not only looks improved visually but so does everything else from menus to graphics packages. Playing a game in Franchise mode feels as close as EA has come to simulating a real NFL broadcast.

What Madden 19 lacks in bells and whistles, it makes up for by improving its fundamentals. The folks at EA have steadily been improving player motion and physics each year, but this version represents a great leap forward for the franchise. Last year, player movement was smooth and fluid and the players almost seemed to glide. That isn’t the case in Madden 19. The players run more like actual human beings with joints and muscles. They don’t feel like race cars. This is all thanks to what EA is calling Real Player Motion. If you are worried about a the players having herky-jerky movement, don’t. Once you get the hang of the new controls, not only does the action feel more realistic, your efforts to avoid defenders feel earned without seeming impossible.

Madden 19

Everything also feels more balanced. It’s always hard to tell early on in the review process, but the AI zone defense seems much more logical, making the passing game a bit more challenging. The running game feels a lot like last year, with the addition of Real Player Movement and a few new ball carrier tricks. Still, just like running the ball in the real NFL is hard, running it in Madden is equally challenging. We found ourselves relying a lot on audibles in an effort to catch the defense in bad sets to allow our backs space to move.

Lastly, when rushing the passer on defense, timing your reactions seems to have been tweaked — and in a good way. Last year, getting a perfect jump on the snap didn’t seem to matter very much. In Madden 19, your player comes flying out of the blocks and often gets the better of his blocker. It doesn’t happen every time, thankfully, but enough to feel like your skill matters more. It makes playing defense a lot more fun.

The other big updates came to the popular Franchise mode. If you were hoping for a Franchise overhaul this year, you are going to be disappointed. That said, the mode was given a nice facelift that should keep the mode’s die-hards interested for another year.

Finally, the long requested ability to customize and share draft classes has been added. It is hard to oversell just how valuable this addition will be to gamers. Players have the ability to create or change players at any time during their Franchise season as long as scouting is available that week. That means if you get frustrated with the prospects you have been scouting for the first month of the season, you can create new players to spice things up or even download an entire class created by the Madden community. It is going to be a wonderful experiment, and we can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.

Another new addition is the ability to choose and set offensive and defensive schemes. This new wrinkle works hand in hand with the overhaul of the player progression system. Instead of having to painstakingly upgrade a million different attributes as your players earn XP, Madden 19 has simplified the process. As your players gain XP, they will eventually be awarded a skill point. When that happens, you can go into the player menu and choose from a handful of position-specific attributes to upgrade. For example, for a WR, you might get to choose between upgrading the player’s possession receiver attributes or his deep threat attributes. If you choose possession, your skill point can nab you improvements in multiple areas like catching and route running. Had you chosen the deep threat option, your player might improve his speed and separation. The bonuses get applied for you, which might drive control freaks crazy, but for those looking for some control over how a player develops without having to spend hours on the project, this is a massive improvement.

The player archetypes are important in relation to the scheme you choose. If you want to deploy a power run offense but your players are better suited for a vertical passing offense, you will have to draft and sign players who are a better fit for your scheme. If you don’t, the players you do have will earn XP at a slower rate. The players on your roster that do fit your scheme will progress faster. This may cause you to have to choose between building for the future or building for now. This is a really fun way to approach building a team that we are really excited about, because it made us think about more than just acquiring players with the highest possible overall rating.

Other than the mentioned alterations, this is your father’s Franchise mode, but again, that isn’t a bad thing. The mode is solid as is, and while we can certainly think of a thing or five we would like for EA to add, this is still the most customizable Franchise mode to date. For us, that’s good enough for 2019.

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