I would not have a job in games media if it weren’t for Madden. From 1998 until 2009, my dad purchased every Madden and even every NCAA football once it came along. It wasn’t even a question; it was a reality. As sure as I was going to school the next day, we were getting any Madden that was released.
When games make the jump from $50 to $60, suddenly you have to make decisions about which games you are buying, and so my dad, knowing that I was a much bigger Ohio State fan than I was of my hometown Cincinnati Bengals at the time, chose to focus solely on NCAA. Once that series was shelved in 2013, the drive to pick up new games was gone for both of us. I wouldn’t buy Madden again until Madden 17.
I tell that story to say that from Madden 17 to Madden 23, it’s very possible that I’ve sunk over 2000 hours into this franchise. Madden Ultimate Team has a specific hold on me that’s difficult to explain but comes partly from the general comfort I feel in just playing a game of Madden. I have this unconditional love for the series, which was the reason my family got new consoles.
This is why it’s all the more depressing to report that Madden is stuck in the prison of the current model of sports games. These games are MMOs. Yes, there are new disks with new code and new features every year, but more and more, the changes that Madden 24 makes are no different than the slight mechanical changes from a Fortnite season.
Block in the back
Madden 24’s biggest attempt to show that it is improving is to put a huge emphasis on run blocking. In the past, it was always frustrating, especially as a newer player, to do the running game tutorial only to never have the natural running lanes open up in the game. Over the last few years, your biggest and most dependable rushing yards were going to come from mobile quarterbacks.
This year, it feels easy for the run gaps to stay open. The problem is that the blocking is now so powerful and so likely to tie up and knock down defenders that any moderately fast runner is going to sprint 70 or 80 yards for a touchdown unless the run defense is set up perfectly. In the nearly three dozen competitive MUT games I played, it was not uncommon to see both players return kickoffs for touchdowns, sometimes one right after the other simply because the blocks held up in the right way.
To counteract this, EA has finally done something fans have been asking for for years: make the AI aware of players spamming the same play. This is meant so that teams can’t just run the same halfback stretch to the outside 22 times a game. While this change was exciting on paper, it is overly punishing in practice, especially in games against the CPU, where you now have to constantly be more mindful of the specific formation you are using and if you have used this run play already. While it won’t turn off everyone, it’s definitely an adjustment, and if you’re a longtime player, you may find yourself unable to play on your usual difficulty and may need to knock it down a level.
If you ask most Madden fans, the golden age of Madden started with Madden 06 when they introduced Superstar mode. It was wildly successful and was the blueprint for NBA 2K to make Mycareer. Since dumping the superstar mode mechanics at the beginning of the PS3 era, Madden has struggled to find a mission or a message with its career-based mode.
Madden 24’s Superstar mode is an attempt to get back to the glory days. Stripping away the floundering story elements of previous years and simply giving you the goal of getting 99 OVR. Madden 24 gives you the ability to play one of five popular skill positions; you can drive the offense as either a quarterback, a running back, or a wide receiver. Or you can dominate on defense as a linebacker or a cornerback. It’s a nice base to start from and ensures that players who want to spend their entire year playing just Superstar Mode absolutely can.
That said, Superstar mode doesn’t let you save appearance data between different players. It’s here that Madden 24’s straightforward plans get undercut at every single turn by terrible UI and menu navigation. Menus often take several seconds to change tabs, and you end up spending so much time just creating a player and customizing a look that it makes the improvements to the pre-draft process moot, as it will often take less time to finish that than it will to make a player in the first place.
Once you get into the gameplay, it shakes out the same as most things in Madden 24: serviceable, but not anything that changes the way I feel about Madden. Nothing here is truly new; it’s just an attempt to copy NBA 2K in a slightly less grindy way. It attempts to copy NBA 2K even more by reworking The Yard into Showdown, a three-versus-three PVP mode where you and your teammates play against another team and try to earn XP.
While it’s wonderful that you could, in theory, decide to create your character, level yourself up before you get drafted, and dominate in the NFL to win Rookie of the Year, that’s still something that is going to depend on a lot of factors. Superstar mode earns an A for effort, but only because it was the only thing that was genuinely different from last year.
Ultimate House of Cards
Last year, Madden Ultimate Team was so broken that I stopped playing in early October. Missions were often bugged, sometimes taking hours to pay out coin rewards. And for most of my time playing, missions just weren’t tracking in the first place. The good news is that the mode actually pays out like it’s supposed to. The bad news is that it does little else to improve the experience.
While it’s nice that Champion cards can now be crafted with any card in the game rather than cards from a specific program, it’s undercut by the fact that head-to-head games are now longer, moving from four-minute quarters to five-minute quarters, making playing the actual game less valuable than just buying and selling cards all day.
EA still has issues getting specific daily rewards to refresh correctly, and just like the rest of the game, the menus are just not up to par. It now takes a few extra clicks to find the cards you want to buy, and you end up taking longer to look things up than you would want to.
While a stable mode will at least keep me around this year, Madden is already breaking its promises about when content comes out. Maxing out rewards this year looks like it’s going to require completing challenges by getting every possible star, which is going to be absolute hell at some point.
Relocation, relocation, relocation
Franchise Mode remains largely intact with some new additions, including refreshed relocation options. As a Cincinnati native now living in Jacksonville. I have no real reason to relocate my team, but the ability to do it as soon as you start your franchise is something players have asked for. Franchise also includes additional trade slots to help you throw away even more draft picks in the hopes of getting the one player who can help send you to the Super Bowl.
Training your team has also gotten slightly better this year, as EA has re-introduced minigames into Madden; a mixture of remade and brand-new minigames finally brings tutorials that have been missing from Madden into focus. This, to me, should be the future of Franchise. Double down on making it a good training ground for new players.
Madden 24 only looks better in comparison to the absolute disaster that was Madden 23. While the gameplay does feel better, it feels impossible to make a recommendation because everything off the field is so slow and sluggish. Madden has fallen from day one recommendation on the strength of its live service to a game you’re probably better off waiting until Christmas to even think about buying.
5 / 10
|+ Marginally better on-field gameplay that does fix problems players have asked for.|
|+ Mini-games put a focus on practice and learning that the Madden series has been missing for a while.|
|– Sluggish menus and bad UI decisions grind the game to a hault|
|– Ultimate Team is still greedy as ever.|