What’s that saying about insanity? I know it’s something about doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different result. Anyway, that’s how I’m feeling right now in my fifth year reviewing the latest Madden NFL 23 game release. It’s best to go ahead and talk about that giant elephant just hanging out in the room. Is Madden NFL 23 worth its $70 base price tag on Xbox Series X/S and PS5 systems? Short answer, no.
The long answer is a little more complicated, and it’s best if I get a few of the positives out of the way first. So, let’s do that.
Gameplay: Madden NFL 23’s Gameplay Is Chaotic And Fun
In all honesty, Madden NFL 23’s gameplay is pretty fun. There, I said it. The game’s FieldSENSE system is a big reason behind that. The “new mechanics” under the FieldSENSE gameplay system include Skill-Based Passing, Hit Everything, 360° Cuts, and WR vs. DB Battles.
Skill-Based Passing allows QBs to have more control over their passes. While I found this mechanic incredibly difficult at times, it is a valuable and welcomed feature. I’ve gotten out of a few potential interceptions by leading the receiver away from a defender’s reach or simply by throwing it toward the sidelines (where only my receiver can grab it).
With 360° Cuts, running the ball is a little less clunky than usual, and players can actually make more precise cuts now. And on the other side of the ball, playing defense in Madden NFL 23 is a blast.
The Hit Everything mechanic lets defenders make better plays and become less of a liability on the field. Well, sometimes. Other times your defender decides to dive in any direction the ball carrier isn’t in (Even with the Heat Seeker setting turned on).
Gang tackles are also back in Madden NFL 23, along with a mini-game between the ball carrier and a potential tackler. In this mini-game, you’re essentially fighting to break or make the tackle. But, the ball carrier has to be careful during this mini-game because they are much more likely to fumble the ball while fighting for those extra yards. And if you fumble, you may get some exciting results (more on that in a second).
Again, these things help make this arguably the most fun Madden game I’ve played in years. However, even though the gameplay in this year’s Madden game is enjoyable, there are still some eyebrow-raising issues to dive into.
Gameplay (Extended): Madden NFL 23’s Defensive Backs Are Apparently Better Than Randy Moss In His Prime
I may have been exaggerating a bit with that subtitle but stay with me.
Defensive backs are the most reliable pass catchers in Madden NFL 23 by a large margin, regardless of whether it’s a user defense or a CPU defense. There were moments when my star wideouts would watch as a defensive back took the initiative and jumped a route for a pick.
I’m guessing this has something to do with the FieldSENSE mechanics and changes in how the defense is played, but it’s a problem worth mentioning. So, it’s best to be a little overly cautious when passing the ball, or you may end up like Jameis Winston and have a 30-for-30 season in your future.
Moreover, there are many moments in Madden NFL 23’s gameplay where a ball carrier will fumble (there are too many fumbles in this game, too), and nobody on the field seems to remember how to pick up a football. Instead, they just run around it or ignore it.
And, of course, there is a myriad of other random glitches across Madden’s game modes that range from amusing to annoying to game-breaking (which, sadly, has become a staple of this franchise).
Speaking of the other game modes, though, let’s talk about Madden NFL 23’s Franchise mode.
Franchise: Despite New Player Motivations, There Isn’t A Lot Of Motivation To Play Franchise Mode This Year
The significant addition this year to Madden NFL 23’s Franchise Mode is the change to Free Agency. Players have “Player Tags” and specific motivations that may impact where they end up. For instance, players may be more enticed to join your team if they feel like they are a scheme fit, are from that area, if you have a franchise QB, or if your team is a legit playoff contender in the upcoming season.
Once you get to the offseason, you’ll jump into the revamped Free Agency Hub, where you will negotiate with free agents via streamlined Team-Friendly, Neutral, Player-Friendly, or Very Player-Friendly deals. You can also negotiate with custom deals if you don’t like any of the streamlined contract options.
There is also some small quality of life improvements to Franchise Mode, including rollover cap, generational talent in the draft, and the ability to get immediate trade offers for players or draft picks.
Unfortunately, those are where the positives end for me. After playing it in Madden NFL 22, I really wasn’t a fan of the reworked scouting system. While I appreciate the changes made to the system in this year’s game (including revealing relevant attributes to players you’re scouting), I still find the regional scouting process to be somehow even more boring than the old scouting mechanic.
Other than those improvements I already talked about, the overhauled Free Agency, and the player tags/motivations, there’s not much else to say about Franchise Mode. It’s the same as last year.
It’s still missing content from 10+ years ago like real-life assistant coaches, retired players becoming assistant coaches, training camp (or mini-camp), a pre-draft rookie game like the East-West Shrine Bowl, and a ton of other things that used to be in this long-running series.
Other Modes: Face Of The Franchise, Ultimate Team, The Yard, Superstar KO, And The John Madden Legacy Game
As for Madden NFL 23’s other game modes, it’s a classic case of quantity over quality.
Ultimate Team, The Yard, and Superstar KO are what they are. You can go back to my previous review on Madden NFL 22, which matches up with my thoughts on these modes this year. In short, they are a few entertaining modes that could be a lot better if there was any real depth or meaningful innovation to them. As it stands right now, each mode ends up feeling hollow.
However, I will say that I enjoyed Face Of The Franchise this year. That’s because, for the most part, the game dropped a lot of intro story fluff and just let you play. They even added Cornerback as a potential position for your career, along with new mechanics for other positions like Wide Receiver.
You begin Face Of The Franchise as a fifth-year player signing a deal with the team of your choice to become a starter. You’ll plan out your weeks with practice drills, workouts, and off-the-field activities until it’s game day.
My biggest gripe with Face Of The Franchise, and I guess The Yard as well, is the lackluster player creation suite. The faces are the same as years prior, there’s a real lack of customization when it comes to The Yard, and the only decent addition to customization that I’ve seen is that you can now tailor your jersey’s style from relaxed to tapered.
There’s also the Madden Legacy game, which is a tribute to the late-great John Madden. Basically, it’s a play-now NFC/AFC Pro Bowl game featuring some of Madden’s favorite players across different eras, with John Madden coaching both teams.
All in all, while the intention is appreciated, I do wish there were more of Madden’s favorite players from the past on the NFC/AFC teams and an emphasis on making the Madden Legacy game look a little more distinct.
Graphics/Audio: The Frostbite Engine Continues To Show Its Cracks
Madden NFL 23 looks good from a general visuals standpoint. That said, many character models still have an uncanny valley look, and the game’s Frostbite engine continues to show its cracks.
I’m also pretty disappointed with the boring presentation in this game. The commentary is stale, and none of the game’s overall pre-game, halftime, or post-game presentation comes close to the halftime show in ESPN NFL 2K5 (which was released in 2004).
Conclusion: How Can This Series Really Change?
Madden NFL 23 is an excellent example of not just the state of sports games but also the state of AAA gaming right now. Many games are released in a bad state with the promise of fixing it later. There are a lot of games that want to be a live service with no real reason to be a live service other than, well, capitalizing off the current trends in the gaming industry.
Sadly, that’s exactly what Madden NFL 23 feels like. At this point, it’s a live service game that makes incremental improvements yearly. It’s riddled with bugs that may or may not get fixed. Oh, and although it’s a live service game, it’s also an annual release with a $70 base price tag attached to it.
In my dumb opinion, I think there are two solutions to this. Either ditch the annual release to allow the developers to make massive changes to the game or make it a free-to-play game. Because, at this rate, I don’t see any other way this franchise can legitimately make that major leap in quality across all of its game modes. There’s too much to add (or bring back) and not enough time to do all of it before the next annual release.
Both of those things probably won’t happen, though, and we’ll keep swirling around in this loop of insanity that is the current state of the Madden NFL franchise. I just wanted to throw out some potential solutions to improve the game instead of complaining about it.
Final Verdict: Regardless, Madden NFL 23 is an improvement on Madden NFL 22, Madden NFL 21, and Madden NFL 20. However, that’s not saying too much. Although I adored the actual gameplay in this year’s title, and I applaud the changes made to Face Of The Franchise and Free Agency in Franchise Mode, there’s no way I can recommend purchasing Madden NFL 23 at its total retail price. It’s best to wait until a decent deal comes and save a few bucks.
- Although it's imperfect, the gameplay is fun and chaotic.
- Off of that, Skill-Based Passing, Hit Everything, and 360° Cuts are welcomed improvements to the gameplay.
- Changes to Free Agency, including Player Motivations and Player Tags.
- Face Of The Franchise cuts out a lot of the intro story fluff in favor of letting you play.
- There is a plethora of bugs that range from amusing to annoying to game-breaking.
- Boring presentation from commentary to the pre, post, and halftime shows.
- Quantity over quality when it comes to the other game modes.
- Other than Free Agency, Player Motivations, and Player Tags, Franchise mode is pretty disappointing this year.
- The Frostbite engine.