Madden NFL 23 Review: Not a Fumble, but Still Lost Yardage

EA’s Madden NFL series has been experiencing a decline in quality for quite some time now. Each entry in this popular sports game series was plagued with removed features, unrealistic animations, and game-breaking bugs. It was like watching Justin Fields in that Browns game back in 2021. Madden NFL 23, EA’s latest installment, promised to address these issues and honor the legacy of John Madden. However, while there are some helpful additions, the game still falls short due to significant problems.

Fielding Minor Improvements

Madden NFL 23 may not come with a major overhaul of gameplay, but it does introduce several smaller improvements that elevate the overall experience compared to Madden NFL 22. The game feels weightier, more precise, and less rigid, thanks to enhanced animations for pass rush, tackles, blocks, and turnovers. Linemen and linebackers now play a more prominent and threatening role as they are no longer bound by predetermined animations.

Other improvements, dubbed FieldSENSE mechanics, include 360-degree cuts for ball carriers and new moves for cornerbacks and wide receivers to counter each other. However, the real star of the show is Skill-Based Passing. In Madden NFL 23, players have more control over the quarterback’s throws, allowing for precise aiming and timing. While the in-game tutorial could be better, this new system gives players a greater sense of involvement and turns the passing game into more than just a quick-time event.

Overall, these minor gameplay improvements shine in Madden NFL 23. It’s about time that EA addressed some of the long-standing issues in the series. It is worth noting, though, that I played the game on Xbox Series X. If you’re using an older system like Xbox One or PS4, you won’t experience these gameplay improvements, despite EA’s FieldSENSE advertising for the last-gen version of the game.

It’s hard to overlook the fact that these are just gameplay tweaks with fancy names. While solid gameplay is crucial for any sports game, it’s only one aspect of a comprehensive package. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 23 heavily relies on FieldSENSE, and it’s disappointing that this is all EA could muster between releases.

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Mode Mayhem

Madden NFL 23 introduces some minor additions to its core modes. Play Now matches, online Head-to-Head multiplayer, the managerial Franchise mode, the player-driven Face of the Franchise narrative mode, and the beloved Madden Ultimate Team are all present.

The most notable improvements are in the Franchise mode, with enhancements to free agency, including player motivations and acceptance criteria for offers. However, this system falters a few seasons in when talented players start leaving their teams without reason. Scouting also received some depth with position-specific attributes, but casual players can largely ignore these aspects with minimal impact on the field. While it’s good to see EA giving some attention to the franchise mode, there should have been more substantial improvements following the overhaul in Madden NFL 22.

Face of the Franchise scales back on its narrative elements and introduces the cornerback position and weekly side activities for slight gameplay enhancements. Considering how lackluster the narrative was in Madden NFL 22, it’s a step in the right direction for Madden NFL 23 to focus more on gameplay as players strive to reach the coveted Madden 99 club. However, playing an entire season as a cornerback may not be the most exciting proposition, and frequent glitches hinder the mode’s smooth flow.

A Bears player prepares to tackle a Lions player.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Meanwhile, Ultimate Team received a few tweaks, particularly in MUT Champions. Unfortunately, a menu glitch made this mode nearly unplayable during the review period, so I couldn’t fully explore those elements. There is also a special game in honor of John Madden that players will experience upon starting Madden NFL 23 for the first time. It’s a lovely tribute to the series’ namesake, featuring restored audio clips of Madden and a distinct presentation. However, I would have liked a deeper narrative experience, such as reliving Madden’s coaching moments, especially given the lack of story in Face of the Franchise. Nevertheless, I understand that EA had limited development time following Madden’s passing.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback

Madden NFL 23 feels like a game developed with the primary goal of making minor gameplay improvements to appease fans and stabilize gameplay before the release of the NCAA spin-off. While this approach works to some extent, the game is still hindered by glitches and a lack of substantial improvements. EA’s vision for the annual sports series is constraining its potential.

The more time I spent with Madden NFL 23, the more its issues became apparent. The FieldSENSE improvements are enjoyable during quick matches, but they fail to address the game’s deficiencies as a realistic NFL simulation. Animations cancel out after touchdowns, and essential elements like offensive and defensive coordinators, pre-game coin tosses, and on-field referees are missing. While Madden NFL 23 may be the best-playing Madden game in years, it falls short in terms of realism. Additionally, players will have to contend with numerous bugs. Although Executive Producer Aaron McHardy detailed how EA systematically addressed bugs from previous games, many issues persist.

Certain long-standing glitches, such as distorted player and coach models or players continuing to run after the play is over, have been eradicated. However, new bugs have taken their place. Stadium lighting flickers, and the menus, in particular, are prone to glitches. Ultimate Team’s menu problems aside, there was a time when my Face of the Franchise menu became completely invisible after changing difficulty settings. This made the mode nearly unplayable until it randomly resolved itself weeks later. I also encountered loading screen issues, and a quick online search revealed many other problems. Releasing a game with this level of bugs is unacceptable, even if Madden NFL 23 has marginally fewer bugs than its predecessor.

If anything, this buggy release symbolizes the deep hole the Madden series finds itself in, a hole that will take more than a year to climb out of. While Madden NFL 23 may have halted the series’ decline in quality, it hasn’t initiated a true resurgence. I hesitate to use clich├ęs like “a step in the right direction,” but EA can salvage this series by iterating faster, providing more substantial improvements, and delivering a more polished product with fewer bugs. It’s clear that EA has no plans to take a year off from this series, but Madden NFL 23 serves as a reminder that a break might be what the franchise needs to reclaim its former glory and exceed expectations.

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Our Take

Madden NFL 23 introduces several gameplay improvements that cater to hardcore players. Unfortunately, this approach exacerbates some of the series’ lingering problems. If you absolutely must have a next-gen Madden game, this is the best option available. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good game. Casual players might enjoy the slight improvements during a few online matches, but in the long run, the glitches, lackluster mode enhancements, and other issues make Madden NFL 23 more frustrating than fun for hardcore players.

Is There a Better Alternative?

Currently, EA holds exclusive rights to simulation NFL games, leaving no alternatives. If you’re looking for a Madden game with fewer issues, you may have to go back to the Xbox 360 era. However, I am genuinely curious to see what 2K has in store for their non-simulation football game.

How Long Will It Last?

Madden NFL 23 has no fixed endpoint, so playtime will vary from player to player. I spent over 20 hours playing the game for this review.

Should You Buy It?

No. Madden NFL 23 is still not a great football simulation game. If you absolutely must purchase a Madden game for your next-gen system, this is the best option, but honestly, it’s best to avoid the series until EA builds upon the foundation they started here.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • MLB The Show 23 returns to Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch this March
  • FIFA 23 career mode: the best teams to manage
  • Madden 23 Face of the Franchise: Tips, tricks, and best positions
  • How to read and beat coverages in Madden 23
  • The best teams in Madden 23

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