Madden 23 wants to change the game like John Madden, and the building blocks are there in the beta – Hands-on impressions

Here’s what we liked and what could be improved in EA’s next gridiron game.

Image via Electronic Arts

It’s been an interesting few years for the Madden franchise, thanks in part to the team needing to split its work across two console generations. However, controversies with Madden Ultimate Team, Franchise mode, and an increasingly stale gameplay system have only added to the issues. Fast forward to today, and EA is promoting a much different experience for Madden 23.

Recently, users had a chance to experience the beta version of Madden 23. We also got our hands on the beta, which revealed some intriguing new features that we think could make this year’s version of Madden much healthier from a gameplay point of view.

Big changes coming to the series

EA Sports’ Madden NFL 23 has been hyped up as a game-changing installment, thanks to the addition of Fieldsense technology into the game. Fieldsense is aiming to be a “physics-informed animation and animation-branching technology” that aims to bring a much more realistic gameplay experience, something Madden has sorely needed since coming to current-gen consoles.

There’s a lot to unpack with the gameplay in Madden 23, but two things stood out compared to past games were the updates to passing and blocking. 

An aerial assault on the field

Image via EA

Let’s start off with passing, or what EA is calling it, Skill Based Passing. Skill Based Passing sees the addition of new power and accuracy meters, designed to give users a visual indicator as to how hard, and where, the football is slated to be thrown. Another key component to this is how users can lead, with the QB, where a receiver goes to catch a football. Traditionally, Madden players needed to use the Playmaker feature, which offered less-than-ideal precision. Madden 23’s Skill Based Passing is looking to fix all of the issues players had with Playmaker.

I will say that, even from the very beginning of my experience, I really liked where the passing was in this beta. The controls are, more or less, the same, so bullet and lob passes still exist. However, having visual feedback and being able to have more control over where the football is going on a pass is a huge and much-needed change. Now, it feels much more comfortable to attempt somewhat riskier passes, thanks to the fact that users can now have a difference in where the receiver ultimately ends up.

Cracking down on the checkdowns?

In a somewhat interesting tweet during the Madden 23 beta, EA Sports touted that in Madden 23, users would have a much harder time using checkdowns — passes that are primarily used in the NFL as safe plays — because they have become an easy-to-spam tool in Madden games for years.

I can’t say for certain that this will or will not be the case come August when Madden 23 comes out, but the beta results left this a bit inconclusive for me. Short passes to the sidelines toward tight ends are still pretty simple to pull off, making it difficult to gauge where this particular part of the gameplay is at this point.

However, one thing that is worth noting is the new blocking and defensive animations. Fieldsense’s Hit Everything includes new blocking and defensive animations, including ones geared toward multi-player tackles. One noticeable feature that was readily apparent was that these kinds of tackles happen quite often, and it’s good to see from a realistic perspective. Tackles and blocking have felt way too animation-focused in the past, a problem that has not just resulted in misses by linemen, but also a cluttered gameplay experience.

Everything else

Throughout the beta, EA Sports offered a number of different experiences for the modes that will be in Madden 23, including Franchise, The Yard, and Face of the Franchise.

Face of the Franchise is back for this year, as users can now choose to play as a cornerback, in addition to the previous options of past years. Face of the Franchise, in the Madden 23 beta includes scenes in which your character interacts with players, coaches, and agents, as well as the ability to play in side activities prior to the week’s actions. It looks a little too much like it did last year, but just a few changes could go a long away towards making this a worthwhile mode.

Madden Ultimate Team also made an appearance in the beta. But with no sets to complete and no live content to speak of, it was impossible to gauge where MUT will be for Madden 23.

What to expect for Madden 23

It was very clear that this beta was far from the final product of Madden 23. There were a number of visual issues, ranging from players having silver hair, to coaches having parts of their bodies in an assortment of different colors.

Outside of those expected problems, the gameplay, at least at this stage, is promising. Skill Based Passing adds much-needed precision to the passing game. Coupled with the new 360° Cuts running system that makes it easier to cut in the open field, it should make offense much more exciting.

However, that will ultimately depend on how the defensive animations and AI function on the other side of the field. If both of those shake out as it has in previous years, then the offensive updates might be all for naught.

Image via EA

This is a massive year for the Madden franchise, as last year felt unchanged from previous editions. The gameplay felt more or less the same, and the new Momentum system didn’t work the way it needed to. To top that off, EA Sports’ much-hyped overhaul of Franchise mode didn’t come until months after launch.

EA needs to come out strong for Madden 23, especially after how poorly received the last few editions have been with the community. While not a complete success, this beta has at least shown some potential for EA Sports to finally take a step in the right direction with the long-running franchise. 

Ultimately, it will depend on a number of factors, including whether the gameplay can glide away from the staleness that has been blatantly present over the past years, and whether EA can build on the building blocks inserted into Franchise late last year. If it can, this Madden could be a fresh change of pace, something that is sorely needed.