If you read my article earlier this week, I really struggled with the purchasing of Madden 2017. The franchise has done me wrong for the majority of this century, but the collective reviews for the game were strong and seemed to be speaking to the areas of my greatest frustration. So I bought it. Last night I waited impatiently for a large update to be downloaded and then dove into Madden. I will preface to say that I have not played a Madden game at length in several years. I would test them out or watch someone play and typically walk away. So I can’t speak with real authority on how this compares to the last few years of games but it played pretty well. The graphics are certainly good, and the action I played was largely devoid of clipping and other errors. The new and improved run system is a lot more fun and not as random as previous versions where you might button mash your way to glory, or get frustrated that your enormous back was tackled too easily. I still sort of suck at passing, but unlike some previous versions where it seemed that the ball was defying physics or defenders were impossibly swatting passes I felt like it was simply user error and a skill I need to re-acquire. I was also playing a mode where my receivers were garbage which was not helping the situation. I really enjoyed the post-play statistic screen pops and some other touches that made it feel much closer to a traditional TV watching experience. The kicking system was revamped, and I think it better conveys the difficulty of certain kicks and while I am still getting used to it I think it will be a worthy upgrade. Suffice to say I am enjoying the gameplay thus far, but I need to experiment more with the different modes to see which one will rob me of the most time.
I checked out the Madden Ultimate Team mode (MUT) which involves you getting a team of almost exclusively scrubs and trying to unlock better players to battle against challenges and other players. You get an initial pack from your favorite team (or strategically picked from another team) where you get two stars from the team one for each side of the ball. I chose the Texans duo of JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins but was sad to see it is watered down versions of them. JJ Watt in the base game is a 99 value character. My version is not that guy. Maybe it is “After a long bender JJ Watt” or “JJ Watt with the Flu”, but I didn’t get the consensus number 1 player in the NFL I thought I was getting. That aside this version of the game is really cool, but they micro-transactioned it to death. You ideally would need to spend some real money ($) to get some elite players. Once you get those elite players you have to spend contracts to use them in games ($) and there are also cool items you can collect and trade ($) like trading cards. The contracts is where they lost me. I am a collector, and I love football and I follow the league as a whole so I am interested in many of the players, and the historical players you can unlock (John Elway, Emmitt Smith, etc). This mode is speaking my language, but having to pay to keep using the players I paid to unlock is too far. And while you can do things to earn contracts and coins etc, that is always a sad excuse to subvert the question as to why they are bilking us for extra money. I love the concept, not loving the execution. And I can only imagine playing this online and getting paired up with the trust fund kid who is sporting an All-Star team and I have to get CJ Spiller to stop getting hit in the backfield.
Another mode I explored was Draft Champions, and while I see people complaining about the rewards for this mode I think it was the most fun section I played so far. Like the Ultimate team mode you have a team of scrubs but you get to “Draft” for 15 rounds some better players. You are presented with 3 players at a time and you have to choose one. They generally start with elite players but you might see one sneak in during later rounds, and this can include historical players. For instance, my team has Legendary Packer Ray Nitschke holding down the middle Linebacker position. The rub of this mode is that if you pass on a position you might not see it for awhile and you will not be strong at every position. I passed on a great Wide Receiver to get a solid Defensive Tackle (Aaron Donald) and I didn’t see another WR until near the end of my draft where I had to settle for Kenny Stills as my best catcher. My team ended up being strong defensively but my offense has its stars primarily along the offensive line so I had to grind my way down the field to win. My opponent conversely didn’t go hard on Offensive line and my duo of Aaron Donald and Malik Jackson spent the majority of the game eating their lunch. I felt that unlike the MUT mode, this was fairly balanced in that each team had notable strengths and weaknesses, you had to be wise when drafting, but you also had to contend with some luck. While they did micro-transaction this mode (you need Tickets to join events) it seems much easier to stay engaged in this mode especially if you don’t mind playing against sims.
I will spend some time on Franchise mode and report back but my initial dabbling was promising. However, I had a gripe with the Fantasy draft mode where every player goes into a pool and each team drafts their entire roster. Your draft picks aren’t reset. So if your team traded a bunch of picks for next year to get a player (Example the Philadelphia Eagles who traded up for Carson Wentz) you still don’t have those picks but also might not have the player they were traded for, so I recommend picking a team that doesn’t trade picks unless you have a clear favorite team (Green Bay for example wouldn’t trade a future draft pick with a gun to their head). In my case I made a trade to get Wentz that involved the infamous Richie Incognito which made me laugh. But it seems like that should have been something that would be reset when you choose to play the “Fantasy” version. Or there might be a setting for it that I missed. I’ll investigate this mode further and report back.
As for recommending it to others I will say that it hasn’t burned me yet. It still might, but I am cautiously optimistic. However, don’t buy the Deluxe Edition unless you are all about the MUT mode as the only difference is extra packs to unlock players for your team. If you are into the MUT mode, it seems you get your money’s worth in extra packs but they slow play it for you as you will only get 1 per week for 7 weeks. I assume the delay is to not instantly bury the people who aren’t dropping extra money on packs like me and poor old CJ Spiller at Running Back trying to revitalize his digital career where Madden branded him a “Slow” learner.