The first official gameplay trailer for Madden 23 was released this week, which followed last week’s news that there would be three different covers to honor legendary head coach John Madden. I would say overall the fans were pleased with the covers, but the trailer left a lot to be desired. Folks on OS wanted to see some franchise mode news and other details beyond just gameplay, and the gameplay itself looked similar to what we’ve seen years prior. However, how it looks and how it plays can be entirely different things (hence the Madden 23 beta impressions), and EA promised the game would feel different this season with the addition of the new FieldSense gameplay engine.
For those unfamiliar with FieldSense, the latest Gridiron Notes should have you covered.
Nevertheless, these new features were something I was excited to get my hands on. And thanks to the fine folks over at EA, I was fortunate enough to score a copy of the Madden 23 beta. Please remember that the only game modes available in the beta (as of now) are “play now” and “head-to-head” online.
Here are my early Madden 23 beta impressions after playing for a chunk of hours.
Madden 23 Beta Impressions
Graphics And Presentation
To say this is the most visually appealing Madden to date would be an understatement. It’s also what you would expect from a next-generation sports game. Players look and feel more realistic than in Madden 22. It also appears that EA started over fresh with the player models. Pad sizes are much more natural, but they still seem a bit off and, at times, look like shells from a non-contact practice. However, most of the new player models look good, especially the running backs, defensive ends, cornerbacks, and linebackers.
However, to put it nicely, some of the interior linemen look like bags of potatoes held together by two legs. This is primarily seen with the interior defensive linemen and most of the interior offensive line. There’s a chance this will be tweaked between now and the game’s release. But to see, for example, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis of the Miami Dolphins shaped the way he was, was a little off-putting.
Madden 23‘s broadcast presentation is probably my favorite to date for the series. The graphics that appear after a touchdown look like something you’d see on Fox or CBS on Sundays — maybe even better. They’re sleek and refined, so this is by far my favorite layout to date. The same can be said regarding the screen’s ticker at the top and bottom. Next-Gen replays find their way into the game again, which is reasonable considering how impactful they felt in last year’s game. Overall, the graphics and presentation are a step up from last year. The lighting and shading are fantastic, and the new player models are a step in the right direction.
Commentary in the game seems a bit outdated, and it perhaps would have been interesting to pay homage to some of Madden’s most iconic lines in some of the replays, but ultimately I like the general direction with the presentation.
FieldSense Gameplay And New Animations
The first thing you should probably know is what FieldSense is and the answer to that, according to EA, is “the foundation for consistent, ultra-realistic gameplay that gives you more control at every position and affects every game mode in Madden NFL 23.”
This new system is noticeable from the very first tackle. Your running back no longer feels like he gets suctioned into a defender, which then locks on to another player, resulting in a canned gang tackle animation. Instead, this year’s tackles feel more organic, and instead of the pile being pushed three or four yards after contact, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of tackles that stopped the ball carrier dead in their tracks.
EA has also promised more organic gang tackles. Defenders can now try to keep a ball carrier upward, allowing a teammate to come in and potentially knock the ball out. This is not something I’ve been able to pull off in the beta, but I have seen this done to me a few times by the opposition. The competitive crowd is concerned about this tactic (and I get why), but you can go to ground as the ball carrier to mostly avoid these situations. On top of that, offensive players can “protect the ball” in these situations, which can be effective. Nevertheless, it adds a new challenge for folks to master and, when timed perfectly, could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Another new gameplay feature in Madden23 is that defenders can now blow up blocks or the ball carrier using the hit stick button. I use this often (it’s not OP), most notably as a blitzing linebacker running over a running back on my way to the quarterback. This is countered offensively with add-on blocks, allowing players who may not be involved in the play to add to a run or chip on a pass play. Running backs are also more intelligent, and instead of getting stuck on the back of an offensive lineman, they navigate their way towards daylight. The only issue I found with this is the actual animation. I often saw the running back’s legs or body warp into the offensive lineman. Nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air not to get stuck behind a wall of offensive linemen, only to be tackled in the backfield for a critical loss.
The new wide receiver vs. defensive back system could change the game, especially for those who like to team up and play with friends. I haven’t messed around with it yet in that sort of setting due to the constraints of the beta, but it seems like wide receivers will have the ability to set defensive backs up with their footwork. Some of the battles I’ve seen downfield look fresh, but it still leaves a lot to be desired when you think back to playing NFL 2K5. EA’s tweaked mid-air collision system is as good as advertised, and it seems like defensive backs not only play the ball better, but they take better angles and leave lasting hits. I tried to fit a pass between the corner and safety a few times and paid the price.
I’m not sure what is up with the defensive line in the beta, but they make life difficult. There were many times when a typical four-man rush would create instant pressure. This doesn’t necessarily mean the offensive line is terrible because there are times when they protect well in the passing game or open up lanes in the run game. Still, the defensive line definitely seems cheesy and probably needs to be tweaked before the final release. We do not need another year where the meta is running the ball because the offensive line can open up run lanes but not give adequate pass protection. On the other hand, defenders did seem much better at setting the EDGE and playing the run, which was a problem in the past.
Somewhere along the lines, It felt like EA took away some of the user’s abilities to cut on a dime and utilize some of the other ball-carrier features we’ve relied so heavily on over time. Perhaps, this was my problem, but it often felt like my perfectly timed juke would fall short of its mark. That shouldn’t be the case anymore with EA’s all-new 360-cuts feature. 360-cuts give users more control over their ball carrier, allowing them to make fluid moves at the drop of a hat.
Want to change direction during a run play because the entire left side of the offensive line got blown up immediately off the snap? Or maybe you’re returning a kick and see a sliver of daylight as a hole opens up. 360-cuts can help with that, and it’s easy to use: simply hold down the LT or L2 button and use the left stick to execute the mechanics. I love this new feature, as it makes running the ball seem fresh and rewarding. However, sometimes your ball carrier will make cuts or do things that don’t seem natural. Regardless, I finally feel like I have ultimate control over my skill players.
If EA can find a happy medium, 360-cuts should be a crowd favorite.
New Skill-Based Precision Passing
This new passing system allows players to control the placement and velocity of each pass like never before. Simply put, it has the potential to be a game changer. Now, if only I could master how it works. The premise of this new feature is to allow gamers to place the ball exactly where they want using the left stick. In addition, the reticle can be changed to allow players to keep it near the intended target or infinite, which allows you to free roam. This will probably become a popular feature for competitive Madden players.
Another new addition to the passing game is the power meter, which allows you to determine how much velocity you’re putting on each pass. How long you hold down the intended WR’s button can determine this. We’ve been able to do this in the past, but implementing a meter makes things more precise. Passing should be much improved with this new feature, and the ability to place the ball at the receiver’s back shoulder or lead them downfield should be more common now. Completing passes felt more rewarding, and I think many folks will come to enjoy it.
If the new passing isn’t for you, there’s an option to use the classic system. Or, if you want to explore the new precision passing, EA gives you the option to slow down the game speed during passes to get an accurate understanding of how it works. This can only be used in offline play now, but it came in handy. And this is precisely what you have to do if you get your hands on the beta because there is still no tutorial or screen to help explain this new feature. I also struggled with trying to perfect the art of user-catching with this new system — switching to a wide receiver to try to make the catch while also trying to evade the pass rush and learn these new mechanics was frustrating.
On the surface, Madden 23‘s improvements may not be as drastic as the fans want. That said, once you get your hands on the game, you can feel the difference. During my short time with the beta version of the game, I’ve been impressed with the new FieldSense gameplay system and the influx of new animations that come with it. However, the one thing I’ve been most impressed by is the new precision-passing system. This is a game changer and, if done right, could change the way people play Madden.
Now, I just hope EA can deliver on its franchise mode promises. If they can do that, Madden 23 will be a great game to honor the Hall of Fame coach that sits on the cover.