Madden 20 makes the big gains where it appears to matter most—on the field.
So goes the big theme from the early reviews of the game, which generally praise the ratings tweaks and gameplay, though don't cast as positive an eye on other modes and features.
As such, the game sitting on a 75 on Metacritic isn't too much of a surprise.
As we noted in our review, the lowering of ratings across the board and the Superstar X-Factor feature really helps the on-field feel of the game. For the first time in a long time, superstar players can really separate themselves from the rest of the pack in any given game.
The nice part about these superstar traits unique to only 50 players is that they have to be earned and can be easily lost, as explained by Eddie Makuch of Gamespot, who assigned the game an eight out of 10:
"For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability—which only Aaron Rodgers has—makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Similarly powerful X-Factor abilities are available for defenders as well, and that helps balance things out. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be lost quickly; a QB who takes a sack is immediately out of the zone, while dropped passes and fumbles also cancel out these abilities."
Besides ratings and traits, the usual gameplay tweaks—just like the annual upgrades to graphics—are in Madden 20 as well and have a noteworthy feel on both sides of trench play. Pass-rushing feels more effective than last year without seeming unfair and controlling a running back is smoother than ever, in large part because offensive linemen are better at picking up blocks.
Where Madden 20 seems to stumble, and which could in part explain the fan reaction of a 4.1 user grade on Metacritic, is in the features department.
Franchise mode, for example, didn't get much in the way of new additions, which has been something of a recurring theme for the game lately. A new scenario generator adds a fun wrinkle but is simply limited to reading text, and things like improved contract negotiations aren't surface-level items that will get attention right upon the game's release.
The new Face of the Franchise, QB1 mode, has been making waves in its own right. Players get to create a potential pro quarterback, take part in a few college games and then the combine itself before the mode essentially shifts to a create-a-player franchise mode. Some, such as Mark Delaney of GamesRadar, who gave the game a four out of five, really enjoyed it for what it was:
"One last bit of scripted story comes at the end of your first season, and no matter how you end the year, it's told succinctly. This brevity is what keeps it compelling. There's enough to give you context to who your athlete is and where he's come from, but it doesn't give you all the poorly written details like Longshot. It lets you fill in the blanks with your own season schedule and career beyond."
Understandably, though, there is going to be a portion of the fanbase who became accustomed to the Longshot game modes of the last few years, which featured massive production values and cutscenes for the duration of the mode. QB1 does the same thing until the player's character enters the NFL, then it seems to mostly morph into something plenty of players have experienced in the past.
Speaking of polarizing, Ultimate Team is once again an interesting point of discussion for a Madden release.
This year's edition seems to weigh heavy on the side of accessibility and simply making the reward experience simpler, which was a big part of IGN's Robert Kollars' enjoyment of the game while giving it an 8.1 out of 10: "Gone are Solo Challenges; they've been replaced with Ultimate Challenges which come with the ability to play at a one, two, or three-star difficulty, and you guessed it, the higher the star number, the more difficult the challenge and the greater the reward(s)."
Difficulty modifiers, the ability to string many challenges together in a row and a strong roadmap that tells players how to get the loot they want instead of wading through loot they'll never use are simply some of the steps in the right direction for the collection-themed mode.
Overall, Madden 20 never hides what it is about: player agency in the form of accessibility and rewards, as well as better matching the real-life product on the field thanks to ratings tweaks and a new superstar system. Those areas shine in the review and fan-reaction process, while the areas that were left in a holding pattern understandably do not.