Madden NFL 18 was a fairly game-changing and productive entry for the series when it released last year. It made the jump to the Frostbite engine, which helped make things look and feel better, and also added a captivating story mode called Longshot. Madden NFL 19 had some big shoes to fill, as a result, and it tries to follow things up with improved animations, some interesting tweaks to Franchise and Ultimate Team, a sequel story mode in Longshot: Homecoming, and being available on PC, a first for the series in many years.
While most of this year’s changes and improvements are appreciated and helpful, Madden NFL 19 feels very much like an iterative year. Building upon last year’s foundation, the game looks and plays much better than before, but Longshot Homecoming disappoints. Unless you are playing on PC, Madden NFL 19 doesn’t feel super improved, but should still satisfy the hardcore fans that pick it up yearly more than anyone else.
The most appreciated changes in Madden NFL 19 come with the animations. One of the series’ worst flaws for years has been the lackluster graphics and animations, and both have seen a jump in quality this year. The developers finally seem to be finding out how to best take advantage of the Frostbite engine and resulting in more realistic looking animations, especially if you examine what happens during runs more closely. There is still the occasional janky-looking character model or animation glitch, but Madden NFL 19 manages to look significantly better than previous entires.
The game also looks and runs really well on PC. While the keyboard and mouse controls aren’t great and take a lot of getting used to, you can also just opt to use a gamepad. Unfortunately, adding this platform and improving animations really seem like the biggest steps this year’s Madden was willing to take; they are definitely appreciated ones, and being on PC helps expose this type of game to a whole new audience. But in comparison, any other changes outside of these features feel much smaller in comparison and will likely cater best to hardcore fans.
Some of these changes are tweaks to core gameplay in the run game. A new One Cut system gives players a speed boost if they time their sprint right once a lane opens, and should prove very beneficial for offenses that like to stay on the ground. Meanwhile, smaller visual things like signature QB styles being able to celebrate after a good tackle or touchdown should embellish the experience for those who seek them out. None of these systems are huge game changers, but are interesting additions that can be expanded upon in future entires.
Madden Ultimate Team is also fairly familiar, though things have been somewhat streamlined as you can now upgrade specific cards you like. MUT Squads, my favorite part of Ultimate Team, also has a new PvE vs. CPU mode, which should help this mode stay relevant even as the player base dwindles down over the next year. Deepened player development is also in Franchise mode, which hardcore fans should be happy about.
Franchise mode now lets players customize things like Draft Classes, and has introduced scheme-based team building mechanics that will let dedicated players mold their team to be as successful as possible. Menus are also more visual now, showcasing the specific player, coach, or owner in their office, though this part of the game was let down by somewhat consistent glitches. While these could be worked out after launch, these special scenes would sometimes not load properly, and the game would occasionally freeze or disconnect from being online if I moved too fast or let a player go.
The in-game UI for Madden NFL 19 can also be a bit odd, with text not fitting inside its allotted boxes. These things clash with the game’s otherwise vastly-improved presentation, and could turn off those not dedicated to the game. When it comes to the other gameplay changes, nothing is as impressive as the addition of Longshot or the change of engine last year.
Madden NFL 19 doesn’t do a great job at showcasing why newer players should come in, even though toying around with the new mechanics should still be really fun for those who pick up Madden every year, and will likely impact the competitive scene.
Testing out these new mechanics will appease the most dedicated players, but more casual fans will likely turn to Longshot: Homecoming, the game’s story mode. Madden NFL 18‘s Longshot was one of my favorite parts of that game, so I was really looking forward to this follow up that shows the main character, Devin, struggling as an NFL fringe player and his best friend, Colt Cruise, coming to terms with what he wants to do with his life. While this mode features decent writing and can be heartwarming at times, it let me down on quite a few other levels.
The overall story feels fairly cliched, which is unfortunate because I saw some potential for both stories to go down more interesting routes than they end up doing. Longshot: Homecoming also features several more gameplay sections than last year, but this ends up being a double-edged sword. This mode does a great job at introducing new players to some of Madden NFL 19‘s deeper new mechanics, but it’s at the cost of the sense of player choice that the original Longshot mode had.
This year’s story feels very by-the-numbers and linear, and a few odd technical hiccups and lackluster performances from Antonio Brown and Tom Brady that sound like they were recorded on Skype don’t help either. I appreciate its inclusion and hope that story modes like this are something EA considers doing in future Madden entries, even if this is the last time we see Colt and Devin. It’s fairly short as well, so Longshot: Homecoming ended up being a minor disappointment.
2018 is a fairly solid year for Madden, especially for the hardcore players. The improved animations and a few new gameplay mechanics help make the game feel more realistic. Franchise and Ultimate Team’s additions also make these modes feel more customizable than before. That being said, not a lot of what Madden NFL 19 has will grab new players, especially due to the introductory mode of Longshot: Homecoming being somewhat boring and disappointing.
Outside of the visuals boost, Madden NFL 19 feels more iterative than last year’s entry of Madden did. The series’ dedicated and interested fans that buy the game yearly and sink hundreds of hours into its game modes shouldn’t have any major issues outside of some glitchy menus, but not enough has changed to make Madden NFL 19 a worthy entry for newcomers or casual players who picked it up last year.