In Madden NFL 23, developer EA Tiburon focused on the fundamentals: authentic 11v11 football and cleaning up many of the bugs plagued by previous Madden iterations. The result is a small step forward for the franchise and a strong foundation to build upon.
The most important changes in Madden NFL 23 lie beneath the surface. EA’s team calls this FieldSense, a change to more physics-based interactions on the field. In practice, this is mostly positive change. Running the ball between bodies is chaotic and violent, true to real-world play. Sometimes there are issues; For example, whoever is driving the ball, the tacklers are coated in Teflon. The way the defense wraps the opponents and how the ball carriers fight for extra yards sounds authentic, but the high frequency of the fumble on these plays requires adjustment. It’s incomplete but a solid first implementation of a system that should improve in future iterations.
The overall presentation is a remarkable step forward. From boot up, everything is filled with the legacy of the late John Madden—a fitting tribute to the man behind the name. Updated scans of equipment and players look excellent, and the GameDay presentation has more vibrant graphical overlays and cinematic camera work that feels like an NFL broadcast. Authenticity is attractive; I left fewer transitions during games to enjoy the presentation.
The much-discussed skill-based passing adds an interesting (and optional) wrinkle to throwing the football. It takes a bit of getting used to having a goal area and goal reticle, but the extra control over the placement of the ball makes a difference, especially to avoid defenders when throwing in the middle of the field. It quickly became second nature, and when I went back to play a game in Madden 22 I missed fine aim control. On the other hand, the passing meter is a non-factor. Normally, my muscle memory doesn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on the area for how long to hold the pass button with the correct pass and turn the feature on or off.
The connected franchise evolved into Madden 22 with an updated scouting system and an overhauled interface. This year it’s more of a refinement. The association of Motivation and Tag brings a good sense of humanity to the players in the league. Motivations include a franchise quarterback or a desire to play in fair weather stadiums. If you have a free agent looking for you, you may be able to attract them with a team friendly deal. Otherwise, you may have to pay more to land your man. I worry about how it will play out in a competitive league; It will not be clear whether this creates a significant imbalance immediately, but the potential is there.
Tags are rare and reflect a player’s role and how they affect the dynamics of the team as a whole. A player with a mentor tag may not be the best on the field, but they will accelerate the development of young players in their place. It’s the kind of off-the-field factor that NFL GMs consider, and I enjoyed the added element when I built my team. When I drafted a star safety, I was immediately inspired to look for a veteran to learn from them, something that Connected franchises often lack in playing a fun role.
The face of the franchise has remained a mixed result. Playing exclusively as a quarterback, running back, or linebacker can be fun, as you are involved in every play. This year, a new position for the face of the franchise, The Corner, is a worse experience. I went full drives without any impact on the game, and it was frustrating to miss tackles or goals to stop the drive because of things beyond my control.
The Madden NFL series has long had a solid gameplay foundation, maintained by small improvements year after year. Madden NFL 23 is the first iteration in a long time that rebuilds that foundation, and that’s where this year’s biggest success lies. Some slippery collisions aside, the more physics-based action is a nice change, and the control over ball placement from skill-based passing is a welcome addition. It comes at the cost of only minor updates to the core gameplay mode, but it was ultimately the right call, and Madden is a better game for it.