EA Sports has the unenviable task of reintroducing Madden to gamers every year. The broad strokes never change — Madden 23 is a football game that prioritizes simulation and it immediately brings to mind Madden 22, Madden 21, and really, every game in the franchise since the Super Nintendo era. But after a couple matches in the closed beta over the weekend, it’s clear that EA is slowly but surely ironing out some of the rough patches that have dogged the series since the 90s. Madden 23 isn’t likely to convert any nonbelievers, but it should give longtime fans a bevy of new ideas to chew on.
The closed beta only offered the standard quick play mode, which means I didn’t get the chance to dive into what the studio has cooked up for Ultimate Team, Franchise, Superstar KO, and so on. But I did get to take a look at some of the legitimately inventive ways EA is shaking up Madden’s core fundamentals. The thing you’ll notice first? Passing has become incredibly more intuitive. Madden quarterbacks were previously saddled with a fairly limited set of arm motions; we could dart a throw with white-hot speed, or lob the ball in the sky on deep routes. Now, all of those mechanics are on something of a gradient. The pace on your throws are determined by the exact amount of time you hold down the button, and you’re given much more agency over where you locate the ball for your receivers. You know how Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams seemed to improvise routes on the fly? It’s kind of like that.
It took me a bit to get used to the change, but once I understood the quirks, I came away thinking that Madden 23 opens up a much higher skill ceiling than previous entries in the franchise. Your quarterbacking skills are determined by how deft you are with your inputs, which is a welcome departure from the dice-rolls and animation locks that have left countless fans praying to the mercurial whims of RNG after tossing a button hook. It makes me excited to try the game online for the first time in years, if only to see how the best players in the scene take advantage of the added freedom.
Honestly, this is a point of emphasis across the board for Madden 23. EA has said that the new Madden’s tackling animations are more realistic and are less likely to gum up the ball carrier in a cheesy, uncanny loop. The studio has also loosened up restrictions on ball carrier movement, and you no longer feel as funneled towards the play design. Do you want to make a strong backwards cut on a screen pass? Be my guest.
We’ll need to see a lot more from Madden 23 before it merits a judgment, but EA doesn’t seem to be rewriting the book here. This is the same engine, the same aesthetic, and the same overarching design philosophy that has powered the franchise for generations. That said, Madden 23 does seem keen to address some long-simmering issues that have dogged the game for the entire time I’ve been playing it, and honestly, that’s more exciting to me than whatever fresh coat of paint the other modes are getting. EA looks to be prioritizing the core, couch-multiplayer feel of Madden and expanding outwards from there, and I hope that attitude bears fruit as we see what else the game has to offer.