Madden NFL 23, the latest in the long-running American football franchise, goes back to basics. While the past few years have focused on flashy updates, like a new scouting system for Franchise Mode and the introduction of Home Field Advantage in the form of team-wide buffs and debuffs, Madden 23 focuses primarily on nuts and bolts. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Fieldsense system.
An ambitious program of change and refinement, Fieldsense appears to be equal parts system and philosophy, intended to advance Madden towards authentic 11v11 football, with key elements focused on passing, running and defending. I had the chance to try out these new mechanics for myself during my visit to EA Orlando.
NFL quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of just hitting their wide receivers wide in the numbers every play. Defensive backs are too quick and the windows to throw in are too small. That’s where skill-based passing comes in. Hitting a button to aim your throw brings up a blue circle, representing where a wide can potentially catch a ball. A crosshair, controlled by the left stick, selects a target within this area, and a meter fills up, determining the speed and trajectory of the bullet.
That sounds like a lot, but in practice it’s actually very smooth and intuitive. I was able to quickly start hitting guys in stride, going deep into spots where my wide receivers had a slim chance of getting a hold, and even hitting back shoulder throws – infringing a fundamental rule by deliberately going behind a wide receiver in order to confuse defenders, an NFL staple not previously possible at Madden. Experienced players already know prime targets, and button press duration has long been the difference between lob and ball passes, but a new throwing power meter has given me greater control over the exact trajectory of my pitches, and I found myself throwing more by feel than just throwing fastballs every time.
Strike on the spot
Defense also has a new key weapon in the form of Hit Anywhere. In previous iterations, tackling largely consisted of preset animations, removing control from players’ hands once contact had begun. Revised hitting system now accounts for extra defenders coming in to add hits or trying to hit a ball from a carrier to force a fumble. The action I saw looked a lot more like a live NFL game, where swarming to the ball is key, especially when bigger defenders come in and roll over a scrum of smaller players. It also means that jumping wide receivers are now fair game for a headbutt in the air. As a Seahawks fan, I had flashbacks to the overwhelming Legion of Boom as I blasted receivers left exposed by a quarterback’s carelessly lobbed passes.
Running backs are the other mainstay of Fieldsense. On the move, a new 360 Cut mechanic allows them to plant their foot in the dirt and pivot hard by pressing the left trigger while changing direction. As someone who often prefers zone runs, where I don’t know what hole I’m running into until I see something open up in the offensive line, the nature of quick change took a few tries to get used to it. . But when I got the feel of it, I was constantly going over the defensive line with my running back.
The cuts also led to a series of one-on-one standing tackles, hauler versus tackler. When this happens, you and your opponent must quickly mash a button to gain an advantage, resulting in a player being pushed back or breaking free. This is not strictly a quick event, as player attributes and the exact location and angle of the collision are important. Additionally, standing tackles can be interrupted by the involvement of additional defenders, invoking the Hit Anywhere system to blast an overrun back.
I’m personally a big player in the Connected Franchise, and this mode is seeing significant refinement, the biggest involving player personalities. Players now have traits that influence who they are as a teammate. An example given was Bobby Wagner and the Mentor beacon. As a player willing to share the lessons he’s learned over the course of his career, he grants bonus training XP to players around him.
Another new feature that will impact team building is player motivations. While free agents were once purely at the mercy of the highest bidders, players now have specific criteria that can make them more or less interested in a club. Some players want to stay close to home and play for the team they grew up playing for. Others are interested in chasing a Super Bowl ring, or will find a team that needs someone from their position, guaranteeing them playing time. These are real considerations that real players make, and their inclusion has the potential to add a human element to Madden that has long been lacking.
A year isn’t long in the land of game development, but EA Orlando has implemented a litany of changes and adaptations on top of these new features. Scouting is being adjusted to allow for more scouts and more targeted player ratings. Excess cap space will now carry over from year to year, and the variety of draft class players spawned is improved. New body archetypes, improved “wick-based” hair items – move on, Kojima – and improved bandanas give players a more realistic look than ever before. Madden Ultimate Team progression is streamlined, while playbooks are refined to better reflect the real-world teams they’re based on.
It remains to be seen if these fixes will address some of our key criticisms of our Madden NFL 22 review. Bugs were a frequent annoyance, and shallow modes detracted from an otherwise solid gaming experience. But the team behind Madden NFL 23 at EA Orlando doesn’t shy away from creating the most believable 11v11 football game yet. With Fieldsense at its core and hundreds of fixes, tweaks, and improvements under the hood, Madden 23 might still be the step forward the series needs. Long live the Legion.
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