As I was waiting for Madden NFL 20 to download on my Xbox One, I began to realize that this is probably the last (or the second to last) Madden I download for it. With new consoles on the horizon, we’re hitting the tail end of Xbox One’s Madden run. Historically, this is when we see the deepest, most creative ideas come to sports franchises. So, is that the case with Madden NFL 20, too?
For my personal playstyle, the biggest addition to this year’s game is the new QB1: Face of the Franchise mode which takes the place of the story-based career mode from the previous two years. It’s a lot less cinematic, a little less cheesy, and with almost no story. Without spoiling much, you start the mode by creating your quarterback, choosing a college and working your way into the NFL. For those wishing EA would come back out with a new NCAA Football game, this at least is something. When you reach the NFL, the cutscenes slow down, text-based dialogue takes their place, and a very slick progression model is introduced. The mode works exactly as you’d expect; you work your way through the season, conduct a training before each game, and play each game. Progression moves swiftly, in fact, by halfway through the season, my quarterback had an 88 rating, and over 90 by the end of my first season.
QB1 is a really solid and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s a little thin, the story sort of falls off a cliff after the first hour and it becomes a pretty standard mode after that. But it has the right structure that made it a nice introduction into Madden NFL 20. I could easily see myself putting in a couple more seasons before hanging up my metaphorical QB1 helmet.
My other go-to mode is the Franchise. I’ve been in multiple online Franchises for the last five years and each year goes by hoping that we see a major overhaul of the mode. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and Madden NFL 20 isn’t the revamp I was hoping for. Almost nothing has changed in this year‘s Franchise outside of some minor menu enhancements and optimization. Other than that, we have a very familiar, pretty robust, and a long in the tooth mode that I hope gets new life and ideas breathed to it when we see the new consoles.
Like every year, there are new gameplay enhancements. The big new addition is the “X-Factor Abilities” that the superstars of the league can unleash during a game. They are almost like a power-up but their implementation is done so subtly that it comes off far more organic than it sounds on paper. There are only a couple of superstars per team (some with even less) and X-Factor Abilities aren’t available all the time. When they do become available, though, they can have tremendous impact on the game. I’ll never forget one of my early games in the QB1 mode when I saw that the corner was highlighted orange (noting that he has X-Factor Abilities) and I wrongfully decided to try to throw against him. That ended in a “pic-six” and a good life lesson for this year’s game. What I appreciate so much about X-Factor Abilities is their restraint. This new addition could have made the game NFL Blitz but instead it just highlights in a fun way some of the greats of the sport today.
Other changes on the gridiron include a much improved rushing game that allows for better opportunities to break runs for a few yards or even break a big gain. It feels a lot more natural in Madden NFL 20 than it has in previous games where it felt like your run was almost predetermined before it happened. Now I felt like my decisions to cut and hit a gap in the defense actually had an impact on the game. I also noticed that the more I played, the more balanced my pass/run game became. However, like in most years, there are some weird tendencies in Madden NFL 20 that I’m sure will get patched and balanced. There were a ton of facemask penalties being called, and fumbles seemed like they were happening on every other drive. These sorts of tunings have always been diligently worked on in the past games and I expect the same will be the case this year, too.
There’s no denying that Madden NFL 20 feels like a refresher and one heading towards a new console. It’s a gorgeous game, plays beautifully, and the new QB1 mode is a nice addition, but I couldn’t help but continue to think about what’s next for the franchise rather than fully embrace what we got in this year’s package. There’s nothing inherently wrong but Madden NFL 20 was really missing the “X-Factor” that it needs to really breath some fresh life into the long, historic franchise. I’m sure I will still be playing Madden NFL 20 by the time I sit down to review Madden NFL 21, but in the back of my mind, all I’ll be hoping is that next year is the year they really revamp Franchise mode and take some bigger risks on the field. Until then, I’ll be taking my QB1 to his third straight Super Bowl.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.