Madden NFL didn’t have a great 2020. The PS4 and Xbox One version was panned by critics and fans alike, many who zeroed in on the perceived deficiencies of single-player modes like Face of the Franchise and Franchise Mode. It was also buggy. Really buggy.
Like most games in 2020, Madden NFL had to deal with the unprecedented challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the team to shift to work from home right in the middle of development. EA also had to deal with a console transition — always a tricky period for a sports game as developers try to balance old and new tech.
Fast-forward to 21, and EA is now more fully settled in to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, allowing the team to begin weaving some more ambitious changes into Madden 22. Key among them is homefield advantage, a feature that has been neglected in past years. While Madden has typically been able to capture the look and feel of a stadium like Seattle’s Lumen Field, where ear-shattering crowd noise makes it impossible for a quarterback to even hear themselves think, none of that has translated into actual gameplay.
That will finally change in Madden 22. Now, away teams forced to play in notoriously difficult stadiums like Lumen Field will see their playart waver dangerously, with some of their receiver buttons hidden. EA is calling such features “M-Factors” — special advantages enjoyed by all 32 teams that will activate depending on the momentum of the game. Yes, even the Chargers, notorious for having more away fans than home fans in their stands, will gain an offensive boost if they are doing particularly well at home.
If this sounds familiar, it may be because NCAA Football 14 had a similar feature back in 2013. Going to a stadium like Alabama would even produce the same wriggling playart. Gameplay producer Clint Oldenburg acknowledged the similarities during EA’s briefing earlier this week, “It has its origins in what we did in NCAA Football, for sure, but it’s modernized. One of the key pieces of feedback we received in NCAA Football was that it was a little ambiguous and it wasn’t clear when you unlocked certain things, so that’s what we really attacked with Gameday Momentum.”
Gameday Momentum refers to a meter that swings to one side or another depending on the flow of the game, with perks being unlocked for the home team when they are playing well. The Seahawks, for example, have three levels of homefield advantage: The 12’s, which distorts playart; Unstoppable, which prevents home team players from being knocked out of their X-Factor or Superstar ability, and Nerves, which will result in receiver icons being hidden. Homefield advantage also varies from team to team, with stamina being an issue in Denver, and kicking meters going awry in Chicago (cue visions of the infamous Double Doink).
It’s a long overdue addition to Madden NFL, and should help make playing at home feel more meaningful. Its main risk is that it might start to feel gimmicky, and that the advantages conferred by homefield advantage might result in more games getting out of hand quickly (just like in real-life, but I digress). On the other hand, M-Factors are built on the proven X-Factor system. Similar balance concerns arose when X-Factors were introduced in Madden 20, but Madden has largely managed to keep them under control.
In fact, strip away the bugs, wonky sideline detection, and weird animations, and Madden is actually a pretty enjoyable football game. Its main issue has always been polish — a problem certainly exacerbated by the pandemic. By and large, I don’t mind the recent direction of the gameplay, and I think homefield advantage is a smart addition that’s frankly been a long time coming.
Madden NFL 22 Screenshots
Outside of homefield advantage, here are some of the other improvements that I learned about during EA’s unveiling of Madden 22.
- A coaching tree is being introduced: Outside of homefield advantage, another feature that Madden 22 is seemingly lifting from NCAA Football 14 is the ability to hire offensive and defensive coordinators and improve them through a skill tree. It’s a long-requested feature that should add a solid layer of depth to franchise mode. As for its inspiration, Seann Graddy says Madden isn’t looking toward NCAA Football. “[H]onestly, their influences are more rooted in games like God of War,” Graddy says, “My son and I had been playing a lot of it.”
- Scouting will be updated… later: Scouting has been another sore point for franchise mode, and fans will be happy to know that it’s finally being overhauled in Madden 22. It’s just not happening right away. Graddy says the team considered pushing the update to Madden 23, but ultimately decided to make it part of a live update. “We’ve been treating the whole game and certainly not just franchise like a live service,” Graddy says. “So we said, well, let’s continue to work on it and get it out, you know, close to the NFL season in that September timeframe. So the fans can have it this year.” When it does arrive, it will feature elements like a dynamic draft board that changes throughout the year
- Franchise will include more than 35 new scenarios: A key criticism of Madden’s franchise mode in recent years has been its scenario engine — a one-dimensional attempt to add a bit of storytelling to each game, usually in the form of accounting for the other team’s star player. In response, EA hired a community member to build up the engine, and they have responded with some 35 new scenarios. “This year we hired somebody out of the community who is super passionate about this, taught him the tool, and allowed him to create, I think, some really compelling scenarios,” Graddy said. “I think you’re going to enjoy the refresh.”
- Halftime adjustments will add a bit of realism to the flow of the game: Franchise mode has long featured the ability to choose certain plays to emphasize before the game, thus incurring corresponding stat bonuses. Now it’s possible to do something similar during halftime. It’s a minor change, but it does add just a bit more realism to the flow of the game.
- The Super Bowl presentation will finally be different: After years of pointed video showing how the big Super Bowl trophy presentation hasn’t changed a bit, Madden 22 will be changing things up this year. The improvements will be joined by updates to the broadcast package, including flyovers and a great big American flag.
- Superfans will be in the stadium: Back in the days of Madden 12, crowd close-up shots were a major part of the game’s presentation, only fading away when the PS4 and Xbox One rolled around. Crowd close-ups (ironically) returned in Madden 21, and now Madden 22 is enhancing them with so-called “Superfans” — cosplaying fans who serve as a sort of team mascot. Plenty such fans exist in real-life, but characters like Fireman Ed won’t be leading the J-E-T-S chant in Madden 22, alas. EA says the cost of tracking them down and adding their likenesses would be just too high.
- Face of the Franchise is back: Yep, Face of the Franchise is back. It’s not a new feature, per se, but it will be a new story. This year’s version will be called “United We Rise.” Face of the Franchise is an intriguing story mode, but over the last two years it has been criticized for its brevity and lack of depth, not to mention its stilted dialogue. Graddy said that this year’s version has to be better, “There was enough feedback from some of our reviewers and our fans that they were looking for more out of the story and more of the progression. And so I think what we’re going to share in the coming weeks leans into some of that feedback. I think it’s going to be a stronger Face of the Franchise.”
- Next-Gen Stats rolls into Year 2: Last year, the next-gen version of Madden 21 introduced Next-Gen Stats — an ambitious attempt to use real-world data gathered from on-field sensors to give star players bespoke animations and other improvements. As expected, Madden 22 will include a multitude of enhancements to Next-Gen Stats, with data governing passing aggressiveness, how ballcarriers break tackles, and team strategy. This is on top of improvements being made to sideline detection, tackling mechanics, and other gameplay features.
- The PS4 and Xbox One versions are also getting updates: While EA’s focus has plainly shifted to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, previous-gen consoles will continue to be supported for another year. Graddy confirmed that all of the modes should be very similar across all platforms. “So Face of the Franchise is going to be very similar between Gen 4 and Gen. Ultimate team will be very similar. The Yard and Superstar KO, which we didn’t talk a lot, those that are going to be a fairly similar,” Graddy said. With Franchise, staff management will be there, game planning will be there, but some of the other dynamic gameday elements around atmosphere, and obviously the Next-Gen stats gameplay, which is only available on Gen 5, won’t be there. But I think our Gen 4 audiences are going to be happy with a lot of the content that they’re getting.”
All in all, Madden 22 is an intriguing update on paper, with lots of interesting improvements to the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S version in particular. Much will depend on EA’s execution, which has been lacking of late. A little bit of extra polish would do wonders for the series as it forges ahead on next-gen consoles. We’ll see whether EA takes that lesson to heart when Madden 22 launches later this year.
Madden 22 releases August 20 on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PS4, Google Stadia, and PC. It will available via early pre-order access on August 17.