Madden NFL 23, the latest in the long-running American football franchise, is going back to fundamentals. Where recent years have focused on flashy updates, like a new scouting system for Franchise mode, and the introduction of Home Field Advantage in the form of teamwide buffs and debuffs, Madden 23 is primarily focusing on nuts and bolts. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the Fieldsense system.
An ambitious agenda of changes and refinements, Fieldsense seems to be equal parts system and philosophy, intended to take Madden a large step forward on the journey to authentic 11-on-11 football, with key components focused on passing, running, and defense. I had a chance to go hands-on and try these new mechanics for myself when I visited EA Orlando.
NFL quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of just hitting their wide receivers in the numbers on every play. Defensive backs are too fast, and the windows to throw into are too small. That’s where Skill-Based Passing comes into play. Pressing a button to aim your throw brings up a blue circle, representing where a wideout can potentially catch a ball. A reticle, controlled by the left stick, allows you to select a target within this zone, and a meter fills, determining the speed and trajectory of the ball.
That sounds like a lot, but in practice it’s actually very smooth and intuitive. I was quickly able to start hitting guys in stride, passing deep in locations where my wide receivers had only a slim chance of making a catch, and even hitting back shoulder throws – breaking a fundamental rule by purposefully passing behind a wide receiver in order to confuse defenders, a staple of the NFL that hasn’t previously been possible in Madden. Experienced players will already be familiar with leading targets, and button press duration has long made the difference between lob and bullet passes, but a new throw power meter gave me broader control over the exact trajectory of my throws, and I found myself throwing more by feel than simply hurling fastballs every time.
Hits the spot
Defense also has a key new weapon in the form of Hit Anywhere. In previous iterations, tackling largely consisted of canned animations, taking control out of the hands of players once contact had started. The overhauled hit system now accounts for additional defenders coming in to add hits, or attempting to punch out a ball from a carrier to force a fumble. The action I saw looks much closer to a live NFL game, where swarming to the ball is key, especially when larger defenders arrive and bowl over a scrum of smaller players. It also means that leaping wide receivers are now fair game for a ball-jarring hit while in the air. As a Seahawks fan, I had flashbacks to the bone-crushing Legion of Boom as I blew up receivers left exposed by a quarterback’s carelessly lobbed passes.
Running backs are the other pillar of Fieldsense. In motion, a new 360 Cut mechanic allows them to plant their foot in the dirt and pivot hard by pressing the left trigger while changing direction. As a person who often prefers Zone runs, where I don’t know what hole I’m running into until I see something open up in the offensive line, the quick-change-and-go nature took a few tries to get used to. But when I had the feel for it, I was consistently getting past the defensive line with my running back.
The cuts also led to a series of one-on-one, carrier vs tackler Stand Up tackles. When this happens, you and your opponent need to quickly mash a button to gain an advantage, leading to one player being driven back or breaking free entirely. It’s not strictly a quick time event, in that player attributes and the exact location and angle of the collision matter. What’s more, Stand Up tackles can be interrupted by additional defenders getting involved, invoking the Hit Anywhere system to blow up an outmanned back.
I’m personally a big Connected Franchise player, and that mode is seeing significant refinement, the largest involving player personalities. Players now have traits that influence who they are as a teammate. One example given was Bobby Wagner, and the Mentor tag. As a player willing to share the lessons he’s learned in his storied career, he confers bonus training XP to the players around him.
Player Motivations are another new feature that will impact how teams are built. Whereas free agents used to be purely at the mercy of the highest bidders, players now have specific criteria that can make them more or less interested in a club. Some players want to stay close to home, and play for the team they grew up cheering for. Others are interested in chasing a Super Bowl ring, or will find a team that needs someone of their position, guaranteeing them playing time. These are real considerations that real players make, and their inclusion has the potential to add a human element to Madden that has long been lacking.
A year isn’t a long time in the land of game development, but EA Orlando has implemented a litany of tweaks and adaptations on top of these new features. Scouting is being adjusted to allow for more scouts, and more targeted player evaluations. Excess cap space will now rollover year to year, and the variety of generated draft class-players is improved. New body archetypes, improved ‘strand-based’ hair elements - move over, Kojima - and enhanced bandanas have players looking more lifelike than ever. Madden Ultimate Team progression is being streamlined, while playbooks are being honed to better reflect the real-world teams they are based on.
It remains to be seen whether these fixes will address some of our key critiques from our Madden NFL 22 review. Bugs were a frequent annoyance, and shallow modes took away from an otherwise solid gameplay experience. But the team behind Madden NFL 23 at EA Orlando aren’t shy about their ambitions to create the most believable 11-on-11 football game yet. With Fieldsense at its core, and hundreds of fixes, tweaks, and improvements under the hood, Madden 23 may yet be the step forward the series needs. Long live the legion.
Madden NFL 23 launches August 19 worldwide on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5 and PC.