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Madden NFL 23 - title

I have a confession to make ... a confession that I don't make lightly...

I'm actually kind of enjoying Madden 23.

No, I'm not ready to say that Madden 23 is better than NFL 2k5 or All Pro Football 2k8, or Madden 2006. Nor am I going to say that it currently represents a "good" football simulation. I wrote a scathing review back in September, and I stand by that review. Especially as a time capsule of the messy state of the game at release. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a Madden apologist or fanboy, and my criticisms of the series (such as my video series "How Madden Fails At Simulating Football") will continue into the foreseeable future.

Madden 23's biggest issue at launch was the broken "Interception" A.I. sliders that caused both CPU and user DBs to make frequent impossible interceptions. This one bug completely defeated the entire purpose of the new passing mechanics. It doesn't matter where I place the ball, or how hard I charge the accuracy meter, if a DB can, in a single frame of animation, overcome 5 yards of separation to make a blind swat or interception. It took until October before that was fixed, and the game was made reasonably playable -- which is, frankly, inexcusable.

And beyond the broken Interception sliders, there's still a litany of complaints which have not been fixed, and which I do not expect to see get fixed anytime soon.

But I'm not here to complain about all of these problems -- many of which have been in the game for years now. And I don't blame you if any one of these, or the combination of them, makes Madden 23 dead on arrival for you. I'm not going to try to convince you to give Madden 23 another shot, and I still recommend that if you do buy the game, that you please buy it pre-owned so as to continue to put financial pressure on EA to show consistent improvement. Believe me, there are plenty of people eager to get rid of the game on eBay.

Instead, I want to express my surprise that I'm still playing the game. I want to share some of my observations about the gameplay. And I want to highlight some of the subtle indications that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from past failures and criticisms of the game -- including criticisms that I, myself have levied against them.

I've posted this as a video on YouTube already, and I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here. I will instead just summarize my thoughts on the game (as of the time of this writing), and will encourage you to watch the full video for a more detailed explanation of how I feel about the present state of Madden NFL 23.

The full video is available on YouTube.

An enjoyable slider set

One of the first things I explain in the video is the slider set that I've been using, which has been giving me decent results in my simulation, All-Pro Franchise. I use 15-minute quarters, with the accelerated clock at 13 or 14 seconds, which leads to a decent pace for the game, and believable amounts of plays run for both teams. I also set the Speed Threshold relatively low so that fast players are actually dangerous, but not too overpowered. A setting between 15 and 25 should be good.

Injury and fatigue sliders are a bit more complicated, due to the broken nature of the Progressive Fatigue mechanic. CPU teams cannot manage Progressive Fatigue with any competency, and it leads to CPU starters being nerfed by fatigue late in the season and in the playoffs, to the point that most starting running backs will be too fatigued to ever step on the field, and the CPU teams will use a fullback (or backup fullback) as the starting halfback for the entire playoffs. How you deal with this is up to you, but I do offer 2 suggestions in the full video (one of which is to simply turn Progressive Fatigue off entirely).

The other big slider change for me is CPU QB Accuracy. I read somewhere (I forget where now) that lowering CPU QB Accuracy below 50 might be a major contributor to CPU QBs standing or scrambling in the pocket and taking frequent sacks. Raising CPU Accuracy above 50 doesn't eliminate this problem, but it does cause CPU QBs to make more checkdowns, especially against pressure. To alleviate the problem of CPU Robo QBs, I also set CPU WR Catching to between 36 and 40 so that more passes are dropped, and CPU completion percentages remain reasonable.

I also lower both the human and user defensive reaction time and interception sliders to reduce the frequency of defenders instantly converging on the ball when it's thrown and making blind swats and interceptions. To balance this out, I dramatically increased both human and CPU Pass Coverage so that receivers aren't as open and more contested throws are dropped.

What EA has learned

Next, I get into the meat of the issue: some of the positive signs that I'm seeing from Madden 23 that indicate (to me) that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from criticisms of recent iterations of the game, and they are actually iterating on some ideas that didn't work, instead of just throwing poorly-received ideas in the garbage and coming up with new poorly-conceived ideas to replace them.

In Madden 21, Tiburon redesigned the "throw out of sack" mechanic that had originally been introduced in Madden 17. The old system caused QBs to lob the ball straight up into the air if they were hit during their throwing motion, which lead to an excess of defensive linemen intercepting lame duck throws in the backfield and running them back, uncontested, for touchdowns. It was a bad system that unfairly punished players for the relatively minor sin of being slightly too late throwing the ball.

Madden 21 revised the feature so that most throws out of sack are harmlessly driven into the ground (usually in front of the line of scrimmage) for incompletions. It's a much more realistic and fair mechanic.

Aiming passes is now much more intuitive and user-friendly compared to Madden 18.

Madden 23 also revisited the "Targeted Passing" mechanic that was introduced in Madden 18. It is now much easier to use thanks to optional accessibility features. These include the ability to slow down time while aiming the pass, options for changing the sensitivity of the aiming cursor, and options for changing how far the aiming cursor can be moved. As far as I recall, none of these options were in Madden 18.

Madden 23 also updated the Tackle Battle mechanic that was introduced in Madden 17. Instead of a random button-press QuickTime event, the new "Hit Anything" system allows a runner to mash the X button (PlayStation) to break free of a wrap tackle, or (inversely) for the defender to mash the same button to hold on and bring the runner down. This is much more intuitive, since the X button is the "stiff arm" button on offense and the "wrap tackle" button on defense, so it makes sense to use those buttons for shoving a tackler off the runner or dragging a runner down (respectively). In the meantime, the runner is stood up, and other defenders are able to hit him as well, and potentially strip the ball. This adds an element of risk / reward to the mechanic, as well as some strategy to using it.

These mechanics aren't just simply re-packaging and re-selling old features to a gullible audience. They represent genuine improvement, as if Tiburon actually went back, looked at criticism of those old mechanics, and revised them from the ground up to be more realistic, more robust, and more fair.

The revised Tackle Battle provides more risk / reward.

A shred of humanity

Lastly, Tiburon added a tiny shred of humanity to the NFL players represented in the game, as each now has a set of 3 "motivations" that influence their willingness to sign a contract with a given team. They won't holdout or demand a trade or otherwise become a locker room distraction if these motivations aren't met. All it does is increase the cost required to sign them. Once signed, the motivations become mostly moot. Even though it's limited, it represents a small step towards Madden treating the athletes in the game as actual people instead of just commodities.

There's also a special "mentor" tag which for some veteran players. If a mentor is on your roster, he'll grant bonus experience to other players at the same position in weekly training. This creates a lot more value and strategy behind signing an experienced veteran, even if he's lower-rated than other players on your depth chart, and even if he's going to end up as a deep reserve. Mentors can help to quickly develop young, developmental talent.

There is a little more humanity and strategy in managing rosters.

A matter of circumstance?

Disclaimer: my enjoyment of Madden 23 might also have a lot to do with the fact that the Bears are in a full-blown "rebuilding" year. They have a new coach, lots of young players (such as 2nd-year QB Justin Fields), and a lot of cap space to play around with. This made me feel more free to create my own custom coach, with my own preferred scheme and custom playbook, and to run this team more like how I would like to see them run; rather than feeling constrained by trying to replicate what the real-life coach and GM are trying to do.

It's hard for me to say whether my enjoyment of the game is more a matter of the rebuilding nature of the real Chicago Bears, or more due to the various gameplay improvements that I mentioned. But either way, I firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due, and EA and Tiburon deserve credit for actually fixing problematic features in the game, instead of just abandoning them.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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