Madden NFL 19 is an excellent football sim. It’s also a disappointment.
Now in its second year running on EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden looks and plays better than ever. Yet the second year of Longshot, the story-driven campaign mode, is so bad it made us replay last year’s to confirm it was as good as we remembered (yes, it’s still wonderful).
Madden’s two major staples fare similarly in this identity crisis. Ultimate Team has received meaningful changes to the progression system and offers more reasons for non-competitive players to jump in. Yet franchise mode, the bread and butter of the Madden experience, is largely the same, save for the (appreciated) addition of custom draft classes.
Despite the problems, EA Sports has come close to perfecting Madden’s video game translation of real-life football, so it’s hard to complain too much. In fact, the excellent core game makes the dismal Longshot mode stick out more than Terrell Owens skipping his own Hall of Fame induction ceremony (though the former wide receiver is on the cover of the Hall of Fame Edition).
Playing like the pros
Year-to-year tweaks rarely feel like they change the Madden experience, but over time, they add up. This year’s iteration takes a more refined approach to using the Frostbite game engine, which was introduced to the franchise in 2018. You’ll notice crisp player animations, realistic player models, and stadium lighting that looks picture-perfect.
Madden 19’s moment-to-moment gameplay is highly polished but you might find the changes hard to notice.
Madden NFL 19’s biggest addition, “Real Player Motion,” makes movement a tad more realistic. Running with the ball benefits the most from the changes. Managing your acceleration has become a more interesting hook. Rather than chugging along at full speed, you can lay off your speed until you get near a defender and then cut quickly to blow by them. EA calls this feature “One Cut,” and it works as advertised. You’re far less likely to fall when weaving in and out of linemen near the line of scrimmage.
The run game is still a challenge, and you’ll still feel like you ran into a brick wall from time-to-time, but you can also push your way through blockers to gain crucial yards. That makes the game less focused on passing, giving players more choice when deciding how to advance the ball.
Madden NFL 19 doesn’t feel much different on defense. Hit stick tackling, and tackling in general, feels less unpredictable. Bottling up the ball carrier in the open field is no longer as subject to chance.
Madden 19’s moment-to-moment gameplay is highly polished, but mostly plays like a dressed up version of Madden NFL 18. It’s a lot of fun to play. That being said, if you only play Madden for a couple weeks after the new version comes out each year, you might find the changes hard to notice.
Ultimate Team, the card collecting online mode, has never been accessible to casual players due to unwieldy menu systems that made understanding how to build your roster a challenge. Madden 19 chisels away at the confusion to create a more streamlined and intuitive process for handling players.
Solo Battles make Ultimate Team a far better experience for people who don’t like playing online.
Now you can upgrade a player directly from his card instead of digging through lengthy set lists searching for proper upgrades. Upgrading players is handled almost exclusively through Training — points you accumulate from selling cards you don’t need.
Managing player chemistry is also simplified, and even better, you won’t find cards with pre-selected chemistries, meaning that you’ll have more options to align new cards within your scheme. If you’re having second thoughts about upgrades, you can remove them and get a portion of your training points back. These changes make Ultimate Team more approachable for newcomers and decreases the amount of time spent in menus.
Complementing the casual feel are Solo Battles, a weekly slate of games that let you take on other Ultimate Team players without going head-to-head. Instead, you play against CPU-controlled user teams to earn Battle Score — which multiplies based on the difficulty level you choose. At the end of each week, Ultimate Team rewards are handed out to top performers. Solo Battles make Ultimate Team a far better experience for people who don’t like playing online.
Fans will love the franchise mode changes
Managing your favorite NFL franchise has always been the highlight of the Madden experience, and the franchise mode will feel familiar to returning players. You still assign training exercises, negotiate contract extensions, fiddle with your depth chart, scout players, and set goals for your head coach.
Serious Madden players will flock to the more sensical progression system and custom draft possibilities.
This year, the game adds new offensive and defensive schemes. When you start a franchise you must choose between eight offensive and six defensive schemes. Schemes are tied into the player archetype system. The archetype system further classifies players beyond positions, and you’ll want to match schemes with player archetypes as much as possible.
Franchise mode finally has a draft class editor, a feature that other sports games have had for years. Dedicated Madden users have been editing the randomized draft classes post-draft for years, but now you can do the legwork during the scouting period. More importantly, draft classes can be downloaded and uploaded using Madden Share. It shouldn’t be long before accurate draft classes start popping up on Madden Share. You still must edit each player one-by-one in-game, though, which is a chore.
For most, the changes to franchise mode won’t be all too consequential; serious Madden players, however, will enjoy the more sensical progression system and custom draft possibilities.
A long shot from sensical
Longshot: Homecoming, the second season of the new cinematic story mode introduced by Madden NFL 18, is dreadful. That’s a surprise because the previous game’s Longshot mode told one of the most gripping, heartfelt stories ever sneaked into a sports game. Homecoming, though, is so nonsensical that it’s hard to believe it was made by the same studio.
Longshot is more of a memorial service than a homecoming.
The story picks up with Devin Wade, who returns from Madden NFL 18, in Cowboys training camp, fighting for a roster spot. Colt Cruise, also returning from the previous game, is out of football entirely, making a living as a musician while he waits for an NFL team to give him another chance.
While Longshot homed in on Wade’s personal life, Homecoming places its emotional weight on Cruise’s backstory and personal struggles. At the start of the story, Colt’s estranged father shows up to drop off a sister Colt never knew he had. It’s so sudden that it’s hard to believe and sets the tone for the rest of the story. Colt’s decisions never seem logical, but instead come across as a cheap attempt to pull at our heartstrings. His story, which fills most of the mode’s four-hour runtime, is filled with unearned revelations.
To make matters worse, Devin, another returning character gamers came to know in Madden NFL 18, has been pushed to the side. In his limited camera time he’s less of a character than a means to provide on-the-field gameplay.
EA has even ditched the branching narrative. Save for one meaningless incident, dialogue trees have been removed. Homecoming has more conventional football gameplay, breaking away from the limited skills-based exercises and quizzes from last year. Most failures result in do-overs and have no lasting consequences. Often, this leads to cinematics that don’t line up with your performance on the field. The lengthy gameplay segments feature almost no dialogue, too, which takes away from Longshot’s cinematic presentation.
This year’s Longshot mode should’ve been a victory lap. Instead, it’s more of a memorial service than a homecoming.
Madden NFL 19 offers an accessible Ultimate Team mode, a welcome player progression change, and minor gameplay tweaks that make the game ever so slightly more realistic. Longshot: Homecoming, however, is an unmitigated disaster.
Is there a better alternative?
No. EA Sports has a monopoly on football sims, and Madden NFL 19 offers the best gameplay experience of the franchise to date.
How long will it last?
Madden 19 can last you until next year’s iteration. It’s easy to sink dozens of hours into franchise and Ultimate Team. Longshot: Homecoming takes about four hours to complete.
Should you buy it?
If you’re in it for the gridiron action, yes, absolutely. If you wanted to check it out to continue the Longshot story, stay far, far away.