Madden 21 is just a month away.
It will be the last Madden game that is unchallenged, as 2K Sports has rights to make a "non-sim NFL game". They are expected to release their first one next year.
But as the only "sim" game developer, should EA take their status a bit more seriously?
Is it really sim football?
Madden may be the only "sim" football game on the market, but it's not really a sim any more.
Franchise Mode has been so neglected for so long that it barely represents the real NFL anymore.
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From the inability to front- or back-load contracts to limited trade options and poor training, Madden's Franchise Mode hardly reflects the NFL in off-field.
And thanks to superstar and X-Factor abilities, it's starting to turn into bizzaro-football on the field.
Madden's gameplay struggles
This year's Madden Bowl winner played a punter at QB and didn't throw a pass. Playing off the fact that Madden's gameplay greatly favored
Compare that to the recent pass-happy trend of the NFL and the fact that QB is easily the most crucial position in the game. Calling Madden a "sim" seems nearly impossible.
That sim nature goes even more out of the window with the introduction last year of superstar & X-Factor abilities.
The problem with abilities
While the superstar abilities seem reasonable (Julian Edelman does perform better from the slot than out wide, so give him a boost there), X-Factor abilities are an issue.
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They have a superhero-esque impact on the game. From quicker juke moves and greater throw power to guaranteed catches (hello Moss'd) and now never fumbling (Truzz).
These abilities are intended to reflect the moments a player is locked in. The epic comeback drives of a Tom Brady or sensational runs of Saquon Barkley. But what they do create a game-breaking meta to use and abuse.
The true home for X-Factor abilities
Which is where one part of Madden comes into its own - Ultimate Team.
MUT is all about finding the edge to beat your opponent, score big rewards, and build an even stronger team.
With the capability to choose which X-Factor to give which player within your team (limited to three on offense & three on defense) you could set a squad that played to your own style.
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Love passing to a TE? Give him matchup nightmare and watch him dominate linebackers. Like to run inside zone all day? Load your RB with abilities that improve blocking and make his cuts lightning fast.
The NFL 100 players even started with their X-Factors, meaning the first play you could max protect and throw long for Randy Moss and get a guaranteed chunk play.
That sort of thing is ridiculous for Franchise Mode, but when you have Joe Montana throwing to Randy Moss and handing off to Bo Jackson, it doesn't really matter that from time to time players turn into gods.
Here to stay?
Madden 21 is just the second year of X-Factor and superstar abilities. Their longevity is not yet a guarantee.
Superstar abilities allow gamers to put their players in the right situations to succeed, which is key to real-life NFL coaching. They are a good way of making players think more deeply about the game and how to get the best out of their roster.
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X-Factors are well intentioned, but they turn players into game-breaking monsters. Lamar Jackson already has defense-beating speed, he doesn't need the ability to try and truck a linebacker without risk of fumbling.
EA needs to find the balance between situational football and over-the-top, arcade-style gameplay, which is what X-Factors are tipping Madden toward.