Madden NFL 20 Review

By Pointus Blankus on 13th August 2019

Madden NFL 20 celebrates the superstars that make the sport so exciting to watch. Whilst the focus isn’t purely on the current legends, it provides moments that allow the best to really shine through. Madden 20 isn’t a major upgrade from its predecessor. A lot of the modes remain largely untouched. Specifically, Franchise mode hasn’t gone through any significant changes and the main emphasis is on Ultimate Team. Most dedicated players do enjoy spending most of their time on Ultimate Team, however if you’re a casual Madden gamer, apart from updated rosters, there really isn’t enough to make this a significant upgrade to Madden 19.

Perhaps this is largely down to the fact that the current generation of consoles is nearing the end. Perhaps EA has something in the pipeline for the new PlayStation and Xbox that will take Madden to new heights. There is no doubt that Madden 20 is visually the most stunning and realistic NFL game to date. In particular, the lighting effects in sold out stadiums are some of the best in any EA Sports title. It also allows player models to look less sharp and therefore more realistic. The developers have made some tweaks to player models and movement, which seems to be a theme for this year’s series of EA Sports titles (FIFA 20 also has significant changes in this department). The result is that you’ll end up playing a game that looks more like it’s being broadcasted live.

The biggest upgrade to Madden 20 is the player movement. The overall gameplay is just a lot smoother than before. Transitions from one move to another are fluid and you rarely see animation stutters. I’m not a hardcore Madden gamer and unlike FIFA, I certainly am not as passionate about the game as others may be. It could very well be that fixing the player movement in Madden is as important to its gamers as fixing goalkeeper movement is for us FIFA players. Due to the new player movement, almost everyone who plays Madden will be learning the game essentially from scratch. Naturally, those who are hardcore players will pick it up a lot quicker. Most gamers who are seasoned pros, never like change (although they like to complain a lot!). I can’t imagine that having to learn a new movement system will go down too well at first, however over time, it will make complete sense that EA did this for the better of the game. Instead of me having to worry about whether my runner will complete his run or just stutter, I can now just focus on my own game knowing that the AI will do its bit.

This doesn’t mean that the animation transitions are perfect. Especially when defending, I often saw limb penetration. There is nothing more off-putting in sports games than watching player limbs go through other objects. It happens far-too often in EA sports games, although with Madden 20 it is considerably reduced. What is probably more frustrating is how players ragdoll in the air after a basic tackle. Again, this happens rarely but when it does, can be very confusing. There are also some AI concerns when defending, especially when you’re trying to completely defend a zone.

To help you defend better, additional traits have been introduced that can help you scan your defensive options a lot better before the whistle blows. Not every player in your squad will have the ‘X-Factor’ trait; these are reserved for your superstars who are able to change the game. How do you know if your player has this trait? Each one of them will have an orange X glowing underneath them. If they’re against you, they pose the biggest threat. If they are on your team, you need to take advantage of them. Any opposing defensive player with an X is an instant indication to me that I should either take them on with a superstar of my own, or simply stay as far away as possible from them. There is nothing more satisfying in Madden than to take an attacking superstar on your own team and completely sack a defensive X-Factor player on the other. It’s risky but if you play it right, can result in a huge momentum push.

Fortunately, none of the superstar X-Factor players felt overpowered. You can’t just control them and suddenly enter God mode. They are the Ronaldos, Messis and Neymars of NFL. They can be game-changing if you know how to use their strengths in the right way. Also, it is likely that the opposition team will have defensive superstars to help counter your attackers. Of course, certain teams will have more superstars and often you’ll come up against these in online play a lot more.

To add an additional layer of authenticity to the game, Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis own the commentary for Madden 20. There are some new dialogues recorded, but I am sure many of them have been reused. The most welcome addition is that they also commentate the NCAA playoffs. It’s a shame that there isn’t enough unique commentary for the NCAA matches. I felt that the commentary was quite lacklustre.

The career mode is the most popular offline mode. You play as a high-school kid who must work his way up the ranks by challenging in the NCAA before going pro. You will get opportunities to make decisions that pave the path for your career. It means that you can replay the career mode just to make different choices and see how that affects the result. There are plenty of cutscenes which help you feel more attached to the character due to the added emotion that the storytellers have added.

Franchise mode unfortunately gets the silent treatment this year-round. If you’re expecting to take your desired team through an entire season with new challenges thrown your way, you’ll be disappointed. The mode hasn’t been revamped, only the changes in gameplay will keep you motivated. Contract negotiations are now tougher and there is also a new scenario engine that allows you to take feedback from your peers. Depending on how you react to them, you’ll see morale boosts or dips in performances.

Ultimate Team is EA Sports’ bread winner. Unlike FIFA Ultimate Team (I played over 2000 games for FIFA 19!), I just can’t seem to get myself to enjoy MUT anywhere near as much. I love the whole squad-building element of the mode; however, EA has changed a lot in Madden 20. Solo Challenges are now replaced with Ultimate Challenges. These new challenges have various difficulties and the higher the difficulty, the better the rewards. You can now also add the X-Factor players to your squads – of course these players will be worth a fortune. There are challenges where you need to collect stars that can then be redeemed for specific ‘epic’ players. The challenges are a hybrid of the challenges and swap deals in FIFA.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Ultimate Team without microtransactions, and Madden NFL 20 is no exception. In order to have a stacked team of superstars, you either need to be extremely fortunate (probably one in a hundred thousand people would be so fortunate), or you need to be willing to spend a lot of real cash. You can grind your way to better teams, however without some luck, you’re never going to be able to compete. My biggest problem with Ultimate Team is not the microtransactions. It is that players who do not want to/cannot afford to spend so much real money to buy stacked teams, must compete with those who do. Ultimate Team is EA’s main eSports mode. Therefore, it should never be pay to win. If you want to pay real money to buy your team, go for it, however you should be matched up only against other pay-to-win players. No gamer who aspires to be a professional Madden player will be able to live that dream without spending an extortionate amount of money. Also, that money only gets you a great team for the duration of that game. Next year, you’ll have to start all over again.

With EA Access on PS4, the prices of the packs are fractionally better (10% to be specific), however this is only if you’ve paid to be a subscriber of the service. There is currently then a 5% chance that you’ll pack an 87+ player, and this is from the Elite Series One pack (one of the more expensive packs)!  Thankfully, the Ultimate Challenge gives gamers new opportunities to earn packs and be fortunate enough to pull a top-class card.

Madden NFL 20 primarily focuses on improving gameplay and giving the superstars of the sport a podium to shine on. I don’t feel that either of these changes are significant enough. Many may argue that Madden NFL 20 is what Madden 19 should have been, however there is no doubt that the developers are heading in the right direction. I do believe that the developers are now limited by what the consoles can do and are perhaps waiting for a wave of next-gen consoles to begin revolutionizing the franchise. The main reason you’ll want Madden 20 is because you want to take advantage of what EA offers on Ultimate Team. From a gameplay perspective, Madden is 100% ‘eSports-friendly’. The question is whether EA will run events that level the playing field for everyone rather than those who have spent the most money. If there are LAN events that enforce rules to prevent pay-to-win players to have an upper-hand, Madden 20 can pave the way for an incredibly bright future for EA Sports in the eSports scene. 

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