Tom Brady on the field in Madden NFL 22
Tom Brady on the field in Madden NFL 22

Madden pros say Madden NFL 22 is more than a ‘glorified roster update’

by Andrew Kulp

If subpar reviews are preventing you from buying Madden NFL 22, you may want to hear what players in the competitive scene are saying about the game first.

For the second year in a row, the latest edition of EA Sports’ football sim was met with mediocre scores from critics and review bombs from so-called fans. Yet, Madden pros who sink far more hours into the game than the average person or journalist and play it at the highest possible level describe an experience that -- while admittedly imperfect -- is a step forward for the series in many respects.

“I think people who say, ‘It’s the same game,’ are somewhat misguided,” said Chris “Ace” Lincoln, founder of AceMadden.com, which offers tips and coaching from some of the best Madden players in the world.

“They look at it as a glorified roster update, and that’s where a lot of bad reviews come from.”

The term “glorified roster update” has been the go-to knock on sports sims since the ‘90s, but it’s always hit closest to home with Madden since the exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA began in 2005. Now, any year the devs don’t reinvent the wheel -- and, let’s be honest, Madden has had the same core presentation for more than two decades -- it’s easy to make the claim the agreement is behind any perceived lack of innovation.

Whether you think these are good games or not, though, to argue Madden 22 plays very similarly to Madden 21 is patently false, bordering on absurd, as pros would tell it.

“The player movement is completely different from anything I've ever played in Madden,” said XSET’s Raidel “Joke” Brito. He’s currently ranked No. 4 in the world in the Madden Championship Series (MCS) standings and has been a player since Madden 07 (my personal favorite in the series).

“At first, I hated it. The reason I’m starting to like it now is, in my opinion, it takes more skill,” Joke said.

Don’t believe everything you hear

If one was to go off the critics, then Madden 20 looks like the high-water mark for the franchise in the last three years, with the PlayStation 4 version receiving “generally favorable reviews” and a cumulative score of 76, according to Metacritic. Madden 21 received “mixed or average reviews” and a combined score of 63, while Madden 22 for the PS5 earned the same “mixed” label and a 69.

In the eyes of hardcore Madden junkies, however, Madden 20 was an abomination.

“Last year’s game was miles better than Madden 20,” said Daniel “DCroft” Mycroft, currently ranked No. 15 in the MCS and a contributor at AceMadden.com. “I guess for the average fan, it did really well. The issue was the competitive scene was, for lack of a better word, absolutely horrific.”

“You could literally win a game without a quarterback. That’s how every single major tournament was won in Madden 20.”

Nobody understood that better than Joke, who famously defeated DCroft for the 2020 Madden Bowl championship with punter Tress Way under center.

While, to Joke’s credit, it was a genius move -- to make a long story short, he observed a left-handed QB was better for handoffs, and Way was the cheapest punter who was also a lefty -- it exposed a serious flaw in the game.

“I think many people in the pro scene would agree Madden 20 was an abysmal game because every single belt winner was running like 99% of the time,” Ace said.

The pendulum swung wildly in the other direction in Madden 21, albeit for the better -- but also in a way that demonstrates these games are not carbon copies from one year to the next.

“Madden 21 was like the complete opposite,” Joke said. “They made it pretty easy to stop the run, so everyone just passed the ball.

“They were completely different in that sense.”

“I kind of prefer this more”

The big change for Madden 22 that had our pros talking wasn’t the highly publicized Gameday Atmosphere and Momentum features, but an apparent step toward realism.

Even with its shift to pass-heavy offenses, Madden 21 players typically employed a simple blueprint on defense -- scheme the AI defenders to guard the perimeters while the user patrols the entire middle of the field. This game plan has been around for generations.

“For as long as I played Madden until this year, that was literally our strategy,” Joke said.

“We would make adjustments to guard the sideline and we would guard the whole middle of the field ourselves. That would mean guarding a 5-yard drag, then running up to a 25-yard post, and being able to guard both with one player.

With the movement nerf for Madden 22, user-controlled defenders aren’t able to cover as much ground, which has resulted in some complaints.

“It’s incredibly hard to user, and I think that’s just because in previous years users have been a little bit unrealistic,” said Ace, a Madden veteran dating back to Madden 05. “You could kind of fly around and cover the whole field on your own.

“I personally don’t really like that. I kind of prefer this more.”

The pros all seemed to agree the larger problem is not the more lifelike movement, but that the AI in zone coverages isn’t quite working properly. Of course, this is something everybody anticipates EA will address in an upcoming patch -- except, if history is any indicator, there’s a distinct possibility the devs will overcorrect and make zones too overpowered.

“The defensive back animations need to be strongly tuned, whether that’s zone coverage or how they attack the ball in the air,” DCroft said. “I don’t want zones to be insane. I’ve played Madden where zones have been insane, and those Maddens can be kind of annoying to play.

“As long as you know consistently what a zone is gonna do and, on top of that, when you put your player in the right zone they’ll actually be correctly picking the ball off.”

Some legit criticisms

There are some very important disclaimers here.

For starters, Madden pros don’t necessarily spend much time playing Franchise mode, so while that finally received a long-overdue update for this year, you probably need to read up on some more traditional reviews to help guide your purchasing decision if that’s how you’ll be spending your time.

“#fixmaddenfranchise became the No. 1 trend on Twitter for a day and that was a huge thing,” DCroft said. “That was a huge reason why Madden 21 was looked at so negatively.”

Furthermore, microtransactions still drive the Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) mode, meaning it can be costly to jump into the competitive scene.

“Anybody who wants to compete in MUT, which is basically their main game mode, has to pay a lot to really compete,” Ace said. “Honestly, I think that’s where the valid complaints come in.”

And those new Gameday Atmosphere and Momentum features? While clearly a source of mixed feelings among pros, critics and casual fans alike, they don’t seem to move the needle in either direction too much.

As a Madden player myself dating all the way back to '93, I know individual players will always find their own pet peeves with any entry in the series.

Some gamers are simply never going to look past those to give the game a fair chance.

“A lot of people, myself included, kind of try to judge things too early,” Joke said. “Everybody hates the movement because it’s something new, and when something new comes out in a game, people usually hate it first before they like it.

“I feel like that’s what happened again with Madden this year.”

The bottom line

Like anything else, Madden NFL 22 isn’t for everybody. Franchise mode finally received an upgrade, which should interest a large portion of fans. Gameday Atmosphere and Momentum won’t be for everybody, but new features like that come and go every year. And MUT is still expensive for anybody who wants to seriously compete, before you have any thoughts about going down that rabbit hole.

Overall, the players who know the game best seem pleased.

“I think most casual fans should be pretty happy with the direction gameplay is going,” DCroft said. “It has improved drastically since Madden 20.”

Lead image credit: EA

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