If you follow sports games long enough, you learn to manage your expectations a little bit. There are usually at least a couple patches, but large scale updates are almost unheard of. That's what makes this week's rather huge Madden NFL 16 update so surprising - it actually brings with it a couple major pieces of new content.
The biggest of them by far is Draft Champions Ranked, which takes Madden NFL 16's Hearthstone-like arena mode and brings it more in line with the version found in FIFA. You have to pay now - the three tickets you require to enter cost 9000 Ultimate Team coins - but the rewards are much larger. They are as follows:6 Wins: 1 Legends Pack, 15-Quicksell pack, 7 DC Badges
5 Wins: 1 All-Pro Pack, 10-Quicksell pack, 5 DC Badges
4 Wins: 1 Pro Pack, 7-Quicksell pack, 4 DC Badges
3 Wins: 1 Pro Pack, 5-Quicksell pack, 3 DC Badges
2 Wins: 1 Pro Pack, 1 Rookie Pack, 2 DC Badges
1 Wins: 1 Pro Pack, 1 Rookie Pack, DC Badge
0 Wins: 1 Pro Pack, 1 Rookie Pack
For non-Ultimate Team players, this won't mean much. But for those of us who are invested in the mode (sigh), it's a big deal. While Draft Champions was pretty fun to start, it grew stale more quickly than it should have, in part because the rewards just weren't worth the two hours or so it took to finish a full run. Many of the best Draft Champions rewards could be purchased straight off the Auction House for a relatively minimal investment. With Draft Champions Ranked, six wins earns you not just seven badges but the potential for a really good pack. Just an average Legends Pack is good for a minimum of 20,000 to 25,000 coins, with the potential for much greater profits if you happen to pull an actual Legends player. And if you're not good enough to max out your win count, there's still a chance you'll pull something really great from a Pro Pack, though it's much more rare.
As I wrote in my original review, Draft Champions is a fun mode in which you get to draft a team over the course of 15 rounds - much like Hearthstone. It can be a little frustrating to end up with an extreme stars and scrubs team where you have Joe Horn on one side of the field and Andre Caldwell on the other, but it's a genuine delight to roll a really strong team. While I've had my issues with the mode, I figured that they would be addressed in next year's game, so I was content to wait. In that light, getting what amounts to an entirely new mode is a really pleasant surprise.
Ultimate Team fans aren't the only ones who benefit, either. One of the biggest complaints Connected Franchise players have had until this point is that the XP progression is dramatically unbalanced, with rewards for completing objectives being almost nil. Such a system might work for people playing a 10 year league, but it's very frustrating on a season to season basis, especially if you have a bad team that refuses to develop. Thankfully, the new sliders offer a neat compromise in allowing leagues to govern progression as they see fit. It's such a game changer, in fact, that my Xbox One league is actually restarting so that we can take advantage of the new sliders.
As I said, these are big changes, and they go a long way toward restoring some of the community's trust in EA and Tiburon. That the new patch also brings with it wholesale balance changes that address the overpowered aggressive catches and various exploits is icing on the cake. It only adds to my continued enjoyment of Madden NFL 16, which has been considerable this year.
Lest I get too fulsome in my praise, though, there are some caveats (there are always caveats). Having playing a bunch of Draft Champions matches over the past couple days, I'm sorry to say that many of the online stability issues remains. I've had at least two matches lock up on me entirely in the fourth quarter, and at one point I incurred a loss because of a network timeout. With Draft Champions now costing actual coins to play, fixing these issues have to be a top priority for Tiburon.
In many ways, though, they have exceeded my expectations just by putting this patch out. That may show how low my expectations are for annual sports franchises, but I recognize how hard these teams work on a yearly basis; and I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if they had simply rolled most of these additions to Madden 17. That they pushed it out for Madden 16 before the holidays is both surprising and refreshing. For once, EA is deserving of praise in how they handle their sports games.