The 2021 NFL season is upon us, which also means it is that time of the year when a new Madden game drops and we hope for some significant changes.
The first change is in the cover: Lamar Jackson gives way to Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes — who was already the cover star for Madden NFL 20 — and 7-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady — who was last featured in the cover for Madden NFL 18 when he only had five rings.
But if you are reading this review you could not care less for cover art changes, right? Well, unfortunately that might be — once again — the biggest change for this year’s iteration.
Same old same old
Every year Electronic Arts drops countless buzzwords to describe all the “significant changes” they are bringing to the new Madden game. For Madden NFL 22 it was no different: we have the likes of Player Movement 2.0, Star-Driven AI and Gameday Momentum — but are those truly meaningful changes or yet another batch of meaningless words?
Deep in your heart you know the answer. The Xbox Series X|S version of Madden NFL 21 was released on December 4, 2020, and did not bring significant improvements over the Xbox One version. Madden NFL 22, on the other hand, came out on August 20, 2021 — only 259 days after last year’s version. No publisher in the world can convince its fanbase that it was enough time to deliver a true new-gen experience.
But let’s talk about what is new nonetheless. Franchise mode has finally received some love with the inclusion of detailed staff management and new skill tree progression systems, as well as a new weekly strategy screen that lets you plan your game accordingly to counter your opponent’s strengths. And that is it.
To be fair the studio behind the game says that Franchise mode is part of a Live Service and will continue to see improvements throughout the year, which includes the addition of Scouting — but in my eyes this looks more like a workaround for not being able to ship the game with all the planned features due to a ridiculously small development cycle, especially in a world in which COVID-19 is still a thing.
Similar to the future inclusion of Scouting to the Franchise mode, EA Tiburon also promises some more “big content” coming to the Superstar KO mode later on. This season’s version of SSKO has introduced NFL teams and playbooks, but once again the rush to put out a new iteration every year leaves the players with the impression of an unfinished product.
The same can be said about Face of the Franchise, Ultimate Team, and The Yard modes. There are some additions, sure, but not enough to justify buying the game once again at full price. And to make things worse, EA has dropped its Dual Entitlement program, which granted players both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S versions of Madden NFL 21 if the game was bought before the launch of the next game. This also means that if you want to buy the Series X|S version of this year’s iteration, you will have to spend 70 US dollars or the equivalent in your region.
On a slightly brighter note, the matches’ presentation looks as good as ever, and there were some welcoming improvements to the game’s atmosphere. There are some new crowd animations and the remastered audio brings the stadiums to life. The new Home Field Advantage is also pretty cool — although it may feel a bit exaggerated at times.
We have talked about how the game feels incomplete. Starting your Franchise mode early in the season knowing that you are not getting the full experience is already bad enough, but things get worse when we notice that what we actually got is still filled with bugs.
If you browse the EA’s official forums you will see pages and pages of players reporting bugs they encountered in the game, but there is one specific bug that can really kill the experience for some: the now-known-as Loss Glitch. There have been countless reports of players saying that even after winning some matches in their offline Franchise mode, the game registered a loss.
And this is not the only bug. During my playtime with the online Franchise mode, I was constantly booted back to the main menu, which was really frustrating. Server disconnects and visual glitches were also frequent, and if you are an achievement hunter like me, beware: it is currently impossible to get the game’s full completion because of two specific achievements not unlocking when they should — Momentum Stealer and Under Control.
Madden NFL 22 definitely tries to get things right, but the lack of competition turns it into its own worst enemy. The rush to release a new game every year during a period in which game development takes more time than ever results in an incomplete and bug-filled launch. EA Vancouver skipped a next-gen version of NHL 20 to try to knock things out of the park with NHL 21 — maybe EA Tiburon should have done the same with Madden. If they do not learn from their mistakes, they might stumble into the same fate they have with their own NBA Live series.
Paying full price for what is fundamentally the same game as last year’s version over and over again has always left a bitter taste in the fanbase’s mouth, but for Madden NFL 22 the taste is even more bitter since the game is also fundamentally the same as the last generation’s version while costing 10 US dollars more.
Do not get me wrong: Madden NFL 22 is a good game for football fans, but it is also as good as it was three years ago. If you spend hundreds of hours playing the series every year, you should be happy with the (few) new additions and still get your money’s worth. But if you only play a few matches here and there, you are better off downloading a roster update on Madden NFL 21 and waiting for Madden NFL 22 to join the EA Play catalog or go into a deep sale.
Madden NFL 2269.99 USD | 69.99 GBP | 79.99 EUR
- Presentation is as good as ever
- Visuals look great
- The only option if you want a football game
- Still not a significant leap over last-gen's version
- Many features are only coming after launch
- No Dual Entitlement this year
- Too many bugs
- The only option if you want a football game