Whether it was a professional football player wearing a football around his arm like a bracelet, or a player who seemingly was tackled during his high school football practice and remained motionless on the field during the ensuing cutscene, it is clear that Madden is still trying to find its footing with its sophomore year using the new Frostbite engine. Despite the few bugs that were present, most of which actually occurred during a playthrough of the Longshot story mode, this years iteration of the long-running football franchise is a large step forward for the franchise and represents one of the most revolutionary changes to the sports gaming genre in many years, particularly in the offline, single-player modes.
The main improvement to the technical gameplay side of this year’s game is the introduction of Real Player Motion. While this feature was present in two other EA sports franchises, FIFA 18 and UFC 3, this year was its debut in Madden. Gone are the days of a defender hitting the ball carrier so hard that his body defies physics in ways that would seemingly end the career of any athlete in the real world. Movements are fluid, realistic, and further break down the barrier between Madden and its real-life counterpart. As mentioned earlier, there are still bugs that will need to be worked out, but by the look of it, the developers finally are starting to feel comfortable building this game from the ground up in the Frostbite engine. As incredible as the game looks and feels to play, even in short bursts of one-off play now games, all of these gameplay enhancements are overshadowed by the major changes brought to the two signature offline modes of the franchise.
Now in its second year, the single-player story mode of Longshot brings back the dynamic Mathis duo of Colt Cruise and Devin Wade. Rather than carrying over the decisions you may have made in the first chapter of Longshot in Madden 18, all players will have the same starting point. Devin Wade has signed with the Dallas Cowboys while his high school teammate Colt Cruise has failed to land a contract and spends his time, when he is not trying to contact scouts for NFL teams, trying to land gigs at open mic nights. Despite these two seemingly divergent paths (Colt and Devin only interact in the final act of Longshot), the star of the show is not the NFL player, but rather the aspiring one. Most of your time with Devin consists of NFL games where you complete 3-4 drives and then the game ends. With the exception of a few interactions with one coach in particular, rarely is much time spent on the character development of Devin. The real themes of Longshot this year are present during your time spent as Colt Cruise. The idea that football is family, and what happens when you put your own dreams ahead of your family, are on full display as Colt constantly feels pulled between wanting to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL with Devin while also feeling pressure to return to Mathis football. While this setup seems to provide the perfect opportunity to present truly engaging choices for the player that can affect not only your character but those around, the reality of how this pans out also brings out the greatest flaws in Longshot.
Unlike last year, the story has a largely predetermined path for both Devin and Colt. While even in the first Longshot your choices did not ultimately have large effects on the world, it did change how you interacted with those around you. If you missed a pass or failed to score a touchdown, you actually felt like you let your teammates down. There were a few times where even completing the particular task before you still saw you reprimanded or sent to the bench. While Longshot did such an effective job at delivering moments of great sadness and silly humor, you can’t help but feel detached from it all while it happens and never felt any responsibility for the events in Longshot.
As a result of this, your on-field performance mattered very little. If you had a bad game and didn’t score the game-winning touchdown, you never suffer the consequences for that. Instead, you are presented with a screen that says try again. Because the events even on the field were so scripted, there were times when even basic football intelligence was thrown to the wind. If you had the ball as Devin on the opening drive of a game and got the ball down to the 1-yard line, rather than the end zone, it was an automatic failure. Of course in a real NFL game, that would be seen as a successful drive as it allows for the special teams unit to kick a field goal. Playing in a vacuum like this where the results were either all or nothing really is jarring and takes you out of the game, particularly for those playing the mode who are well-versed fans of football.
With the ever-growing trend of loot boxes and microtransactions invading every genre of games, sports games have not been immune. Every year, it seems that every sports game is neglecting updates in the traditional offline modes in favor of bringing new features to the online fantasy modes. Madden 19 is the first title in a while to buck that trend, bringing one of the largest changes to any sports franchise mode in many years. With the ability to import draft classes, you can now bring some of the biggest names in college football to your Madden franchise. In the past, when it came time for the draft season, you would draft generic players with fake names to be the future of your franchise. After a while, it would be hard to stay truly connected to your team once Tom Brady chose he had thrown his last pass in your Patriots franchise. The real benefit of this will be felt in the coming months as the community spends the time to create the most realistic draft classes possible. This long-requested feature from the Madden community will ensure that you feel a true sense of ownership over your team and make it a viable option to keep players invested through the life cycle of Madden 19 until next August. It will also be interesting to see some of the historic draft classes come to life. Being able to draft Dan Marino right out of college will add a whole new dimension to the franchise mode that has been absent in years past.
Another important change to talk about here is the intersection of the franchise (and Ultimate Team) with Longshot. After completing a playthrough of Longshot, the player will be asked if you want to continue the story either with Devin in franchise mode or with Colt in Madden Ultimate Team. Being able to continue Devin’s story as an NFL player in the same season you were playing in Longshot proved to be a fantastic way to meld the two modes and give some additional meaning to the hours that you invested in Longshot. It is important to note, however, that choosing to continue as Devin will only give you control of Devin during the entirety of the franchise, and not of the entire team.
Madden Ultimate Team remains largely unchanged this year, but based on its popularity EA has little reason to change a system that is not broken. There have of course been some updates, one of the notable ones I noticed was being able to utilize team chemistries. This meant trying to find players that fit a particular scheme you were trying to employ and not necessarily the player with the highest overall. This makes sense from a realism perspective as few teams can succeed in real life by having ball hogs at all 3 wide receiver positions. After all, only one of them can catch the ball at a time.
Still, as much as I have tried to get into Madden Ultimate Team in years past, I simply have been turned off by the frustrating grinding necessary to earn coins, only to gamble those coins away in player packs in hopes of pulling a top player. For all the work it takes to earn those coins, seeing them go away so quickly, and often times with little in return, I never felt it was a good use of my time when I could be continuing my Longshot story or jumping back into my franchise. If you are a long time veteran of Madden Ultimate Team, however, and enjoy building the ultimate fantasy team, the mode is still there for you and there won’t be much for you to be upset about this year either.
Madden 19 does so many things so well, that it becomes frustrating when it falls just short of executing some of its ideas perfectly. There is so much to love about the best story mode in any sports game in Longshot, but with the loss of any player agency that we saw last year, there will be little reason to experience the story more than once, even with how good it was at times. That said, if you are a veteran of the Madden series who have fallen off in recent years, there has not been a better time to jump back in. The introduction of Real Player Motion and the added longevity to franchise mode make this year much more than simply a roster update.
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