After my last go-around with the franchise (writing for We Got This Covered), my interest in EA Tiburon’s juggernaut had dwindled. I considered myself a pretty big fan, but the past two entries just didn’t really grab me. Perhaps it was due to my boy Patrick Mahomes getting the cover star treatment, but I still felt compelled to seek out this year’s iteration. It turns out, Madden NFL 20 is a solid, if not overly ambitious, entry to the cannon.
The big additions to this year’s edition, and the ones you’ll instantly be smacked in the face with, are the X-Factor and Superstar abilities. Designed for the stars of the league, these abilities amplify their best traits when activated. By fulfilling a set goal, you will enter the zone until you are knocked out of it. For example, if Packers gunslinger Aaron Rodgers completes three consecutive passes of five-plus yards through the air, the Gambler ability will be triggered. This will prevent AI defenders from being able to intercept him until he either throws two incomplete passes in a row, gets sacked, or turns the ball over.
There was the chance that this could have been poorly implemented, but EA Tiburon mitigated that. While it’s easy to get in the zone, it’s just as easy to fall right out of it. This prevents it from completely throwing the balance of Madden NFL 20 out of wack. I’m a fan of these additions because it is important to differentiate the elite players from the merely good ones. They even help differentiate the best from the best and emphasize their respective skill sets. Steelers speedster JuJu Smith-Schuster and Texans ace DeAndre Hopkins are two of the best receivers in the NFL, but they’re great in different ways. It’s an important facet of the game and one that needed to be expanded upon.
X-Factor skills help juice up the franchise’s already strong core gameplay. EA Tiburon has been doing an excellent job of tweaking the engine year after year, and Madden NFL 20 might just be the best playing entry of this console generation. Both sides of the ball feel great to control, and the addition of RPO and more trick plays give the playbook added depth. There wasn’t a lot that needed to be done to build off last year’s engine, so it will feel intimately familiar to anyone who spent an extended amount of time with that one. That’s far from a bad thing, but if you were hoping for substantial changes, you’d better adjust your expectations.
Heavily advertised for the past two years, I pretty much ignored Madden’s story-based Longshot mode. It seemed like it was decently well received, but it never really caught on the same way other sports titles’ story modes have. Apparently, EA Sports came to the same conclusion, as it has been dumped in favor of the new Face of the Franchise: QB1 for NFL 20. In this single-player experience, you’ll take a career college back-up to darling of the league, or flame out and prove that you belonged on the bench the whole time. Along the way, you’ll be accosted by opposing players, deal with diva-like teammate behavior, and forge a bond with a sick fan. It may not be a full-fledged cinematic experience, but it’s still an interesting diversion.
Face of the Franchise starts strong but peters out by the end of your rookie season. Although limited in choices, getting to play in the college football playoffs is a thrilling experience, and makes the lack of a yearly NCAA game even more painful. Taking part in the whole draft process, from the combine to interviewing, shines a light on the silliness of the entire ordeal. As you get into the actual season, though, it struggles to stand out. The weeks begin to blend together, and the trash talk texts you get begin to feel repetitive. How many different ways can a QB message you to stay that he’s that much better than you before you just roll your eyes and move on? Once you finish the season, you just keep moving forward. It’s an abrupt conclusion to an already lackluster story.
Besides Face of the Franchise, the other two big modes of Madden NFL 20 are returning favorites Ultimate Team and Franchise. Both feel relatively unchanged from years past, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Franchise is there for wanna-be moguls to take their team into the next major dynasty. I’m a fan of the new scenario engine, which throws additional challenges at you to overcome, such as finicky contract negotiations. These unique scenarios are popping up more and more in real-life, and it’s great that EA Tiburon found a way to get them into the game. How you handle these situations will go a long way to determining what the make-up of your team ends up looking like.
Madden Ultimate Team will remain the focal point for most fans, though. 20 helps streamline the process for novices, however. The Mission system is designed to put you on the right path to acquiring certain items for your deck. Considering how convoluted the unlocking system can feel at times, it’s nice to have the guidance to get where you need to go. The fact that you can quickly move from one challenge to another upon completion also helps pick up the pace. That being said, abusive microtransactions and a grind-heavy approach will still limit the number of players that stick around for the long run.
As has been the case with the past several entries, though, Madden NFL 20 is hampered by glitches and goofs. The occasionally wonky animations return once again, as does the stale commentary. Repetitive and more off-base than you would like, Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis were done dirty this year. And the less said about the bored and boring Jonathan Coachman, the better. The worst issue I came across, though, was that my console would occasionally lock up after finishing a Face of the Franchise game. Picking up a hard-fought win, only to have it get stuck post-game is infuriating. The fact that it happened more than once is unacceptable.
Simply put, Madden NFL 20 is more or less what you expect out of a new entry. There are some excellent additions, such as X-Factor and superstar abilities, and some bad ones, specifically the subpar career mode. Those come in addition to the typically solid gameplay and frustrating amount of bugs and hiccups. As always, the series will continue to appeal to the fan base, while maybe bringing in a handful of new fans. With next-gen consoles on the horizon, I’m hopeful that the series can find ways to innovate once again.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Electronic Arts.
Madden NFL 20 remains solid from a fundamental perspective, and the addition of X-Factor abilities is a welcome change. However, the usual litany of bugs and a lackluster single-player story mode prevent this entry from taking home the Lombardi.