Windows Central Verdict
Madden NFL 23 is a step up from Madden NFL 22, which itself was a step up from its predecessor. This continues to show that EA Sports has found a groove for itself when it comes to updating the yearly sports title, and with some new changes to gameplay, Madden NFL 23 feels even more like a brand-new title than it has in perhaps a long time.
+ Skill-Based Passing is a welcomed improvement on gameplay
+ New "Hit Stick" physics continue to make game feel more real
+ Continued support for Franchise Mode via new updates
Madden Ultimate Team still suffers from microtransaction issues
Face of the Franchise could use a bit of an overhaul
Why you can trust Windows Central Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
The common criticism around the Madden NFL franchise is just how much of "the same" the games tend to feel on a year-to-year basis, even despite the game changing quite a bit. Following a relatively down year in 2020, the Madden NFL franchise underwent a sort of transformation with its new decade iterations. Madden NFL 2021 featured the inclusion of a nearly brand-new physics engine, and last year's entry injected some much-needed changes into the game's Franchise Mode, which had since grown stale.
However, there was still more to be done at the time, and it seems as if EA Sports listened. With Madden NFL 23, the latest in the yearly football title, some of the more commonly found details in the game have been completely overhauled, with entirely new gameplay methods added on top of the yearly changes in animation and graphical settings.
After going hands-on with the game during its early beta testing phases and the past week prior to its launch, I can safely say Madden NFL 23 feels different than past entries. And while it may take some getting used to and some rough patches along the way, once you've eased in, it might be one of the best entries in some time.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Electronic Arts. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Madden NFL 23: What's good
When it comes to the world of sports games, change is often an incredibly slow and, most often, annoying journey. Unlike other games that seem to jump forward in design or gameplay standpoints, a game like Madden — which tries to fully emulate the world of professional football — can only do so much when it comes to introducing new concepts without making the game feel completely different or too arcade-like.
However, Madden NFL 23 aims to buck that trend by incorporating new ways to play the same game, tasking players with learning some new systems that, if mastered, make the game even closer to the real thing than ever before.
Of course, the first (and most obvious) thing you'll notice when first turning on Madden NFL 23 — especially on an Xbox Series X — is just how great the game looks. Every year, EA Tiburon continues to finetune the game to make it look and feel like you're watching a real NFL game.
Everything from broadcast reactions, crowd noise, and any other small detail you can think of when it comes to watching NFL games can be found, including even tiny details like the way referees chase after plays or the actions coaches do on the sidelines during plays.
|Category||Madden NFL 23|
|Players||Single-player, local/online multiplayer|
|Release date||Aug. 19, 2022|
|Platforms||Xbox, PlayStation, PC|
|Xbox Game Pass||No|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
Building off last year's inclusion of "Dynamic Gameday," a series of systems that aimed to overhaul the animations and physics of Madden, Madden NFL 23 features a new gameplay system it calls "FieldSENSE."
Found only on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, FieldSENSE is comprised of a handful of new things, including the new "Hit Everything" animation technology that allows for more realistic collisions when attempting a tackle. Things like mid-air collisions, joining a fellow teammate in making a tackle, or the way defenders attempt to shed blocks have all been tweaked, and all look way better than they have in any other year.
Taking down players has always felt like a bit of a chance affair in past Madden titles, but this year, catching up to players or having a better defender at your disposal does change the way a game can go, and the animations do look extremely lifelike in the way players react to hits or go down to the ground.
However, while animation changes are important and needed, perhaps the biggest change found in Madden NFL 23, and one of the biggest changes to the franchise period, is the new Skill-Based Passing system found within the FieldSENSE gameplay system.
Similar to what it sounds like, Skill-Based Passing is a new way for players to throw the football in Madden, aiming to give players much more control over not only what types of passes are being thrown, but also where the ball is placed. Features like this are not exactly new to the world of Madden, for those old enough to remember things like the passing cone found in Madden NFL 06.
However, unlike those more gimmicky additions, this is a true overhaul and does legitimately impact your play if you give it time to learn.
From the start of your time with Madden NFL 23, you'll be given the chance to run through a quick tutorial on what Skill-Based Passing is all about. To break it down quickly, the new system includes a meter that differentiates what type of pass you're throwing. Filling the meter (by holding the button down for as long as possible) will fire off a bullet pass, while tapping it lightly will have you lob the ball up like normal.
Unlike past years, however, you're able to more accurately place the ball by dragging the analog stick to where you want the ball to land on the field. Hitting the meter in just the right spot will also give a boost to accuracy, similarly to that of a shooting meter in a basketball game. If that sounds difficult to understand or play with when you first hear it, it's because for your first couple of games, it's going to be.
During my first couple of games using the Skill-Based Passing, to say that I was struggling would be an understatement. The opening game that Madden NFL 23 places you in — a "legacy game" between two All-Star teams from each NFL conference — saw me lose in embarrassing fashion, with passes being intercepted left and right as I tried to figure out how to use the new passing mechanics.
Despite the steep learning curve, I soon found my groove with the new passing mode, and one moment in particular finally made things click.
During a play in which I found myself in the red zone (the space inside the opponent's 20-yard-line, for those unaware) and faced with needing a touchdown, I was able to utilize both the high pass functions (LB on the Xbox controllers button) combined with the Skill-Based Passing mechanics to perfectly loft a ball over the heads and outstretched arms of two defenders and right into my receiver's grasp.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a fairly mundane play, and one that, if you saw happen in a real NFL game, you might shrug off as being a typical touchdown.
However, in terms of the game, it finally got me over the hump of struggling with this new moment and saw me fully lean into playing with it, and I haven't looked back since. It might sound a bit cliche, but when you get your hands on it for the first time, it really does feel like you're playing an entirely new football game, which is something I have not experienced with Madden in a long time.
Outside of the core gameplay changes, you'll find your standard list of game modes that any sports game has, including Franchise Mode. For a long time, this mode — which has been a huge fan favorite amongst the Madden community — was often derided for its lack of change and seemingly infrequent updates. That seems to no longer be the case, however, as Madden NFL 23 follows the trend of its predecessor and once again delivers a litany of changes to the simulation mode.
As is the case in any year, Franchise Mode allows you to step into the role of the coach, general manager, or owner of a team and allows you to build said team in your image. Following last year's massive overhaul to things like scouting and progression, Madden NFL 23 picks things up where last year left off, and adds an entirely new free agency system into the mode that includes more cosmetic things like new design screens, all the way to new in-game systems, including player motivations, behavior, and more that help you get a better read on how to progress in negotiations.
It's a surprising change to a mode that had seemingly long been forgotten by the developers at EA Tiburon and shows that there is a continued focus on making sure the mode is handled with the same level of care as the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about every single mode in the game, starting with the Face of the Franchise Mode found in Madden NFL 23.
Madden NFL 23: What could use some work
One of the yearly modes found in the Madden franchise, Face of the Franchise essentially acts as the "create a player" mode for the football giant. Similar to the other Franchise Mode, Face of the Franchise has also been the recipient of various updates over the past couple of years, although not to the success that Franchise Mode has seen.
Unlike Franchise Mode, which has seen its changes affect the mode for the better, Face of the Franchise seems to suffer from the fact that EA Tiburon isn't sure what it wants the mode to be.
While past years have seen players experiencing the story of a player looking to become drafted, this year's Face of the Franchise opts against that, and instead places you in the shoes of a player ready to sign a one-year contract with a team of your choosing, and making the journey becoming a great and joining the "99 club," a term for becoming a 99 overall player in the game.
While the change is generally welcome — last year's mode often felt too hamstrung by the fact that you could only go to a handful of teams — the problem within Face of the Franchise is in its inconsistent nature.
For about the last couple of years, the mode has seen drastic swings in how it's presented, ranging from things like a true narrative experience with its own multi-hour story, to simply a mode where you can focus on leveling up one player on the football field.
New additions to the mode include an improved player-locked camera and more focus on progression over narrative, which are incorporated well, but the game still seems very unsure of what to be.
While narrative stories aren't extremely heavy in the game, there are still various side activities players can do in order to develop their character, including things like participating in charity work, hanging out with teammates, or working out during the week.
Because aspects like this are in the mode, and because there are still a variety of cutscenes and general "story" like aspects, the mode comes off as a bit of an unfinished throw-in than anything else. Hopefully, in the future, the mode will see the big update it deserves, as other sports titles "create a player" modes have all become more or less very fun to check out for sports fans.
Elsewhere in Madden NFL 23, the game's most popular mode, Madden Ultimate Team (also known as MUT), returns and is more or less the same as fans remember it. Fans can continue to build up their own custom team by collecting cards, doing so by either completing challenges, competing in events, or buying packs with real-life money.
While this mode is often heavily scrutinized by fans of the game and general gaming fans alike for its reliance on microtransactions, EA Tiburon has tried to make the game much more accessible for free-to-play folks.
This year, more optimized set management, a new "Field Pass" that acts as a Battle Pass you can level up, and generally, more to do and earn are all available in the game, bringing this year's rendition of Madden Ultimate Team much closer to something like MLB The Show's Diamond Dynasty, which remains the ultimate card collecting mode in any sports game for those looking to spend nothing. Of course, due to the nature of the mode, there are still microtransactions to be found for those looking to spend the money.
Modes like Superstar KO and The Yard have also returned to Madden NFL 23, although unfortunately, continue to remain generally the same as they have in the past couple of years. It's a bit disappointing to see given the general changes made around every other mode in the game, but the more arcade-like and "backyard football" style of the modes still makes for a lot of fun with friends or in online play.
Madden NFL 23: Should you play it?
As is the case with any entry of Madden, whether or not you play the game ultimately depends on whether you like professional football. If you're a fan of the sport and want to experience it in the world of video games, then you'll likely be picking this game up at launch or sometime during the NFL's regular season anyway.
However, if you're new to the series, or most likely, someone who stepped away after a long break with the franchise, then Madden NFL 23 still offers a ton of new ways to play the game, and perhaps most surprisingly, manages to make a game like football feel entirely brand-new at times.
Thanks to its new passing mechanics, updated animations, and continuous tweaks to core modes like Franchise, Madden NFL 23 continues to raise the bar that EA Tiburon has set for itself at the beginning of the decade.
Madden NFL 23
Jump into the world's most realistic (American) football simulator and play as your favorite team, make up your own team filled with your favorite players, or take on a singular role and become the best in the league yourself.
Buy from: Xbox (opens in new tab)
Anthony Nash has been writing about games and the gaming industry for nearly a decade. When he’s not writing about games, he’s usually playing them. You can find him on Twitter talking about games or sports at @_anthonynash.