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While it didn't get much attention at EA's press conference, this is a big year for Madden 18. Not only are they introducing an ambitious (and possibly crazy) new story mode, they are moving from the three-year-old Ignite Engine to Frostbite.
As we learned with Mass Effect Andromeda, such a move can be perilous. FIFA 17, which made the move last year, ultimately didn't suffer too badly, but it still had some significant input delay issues. It's hard to change engines, and harder still to move to an engine like Frostbite.
With Madden 18 making its Frostbite debut this year, fans are justified in wondering if Tiburon can pull off the move, especially given Madden's prior history. Here are some of my thoughts after playing.
1. Passing feels totally different: The first thing you'll notice when you start playing is that the players look different. They're lankier and a bit more realistically proportioned. The referees face is different. You can definitely tell it's a new engine.
The second thing you'll notice is how ridiculously different it feels. The animations are definitely more fluid and less robotic than before--Madden NFL has always felt a bit stiff--and that has a big impact on how receivers get open and catch the ball. They feel heavier now, and big receivers are more likely to body defenders and get open.
Acceleration also feels dramatically different. On 3rd and 10 I dropped back and was immediately disoriented by how different the timing felt. One of my receivers was criminally slow to get off the line, which prevented him from getting open in time.
Having gotten extremely comfortable with Madden 17's gameplay, it appears that I'm going to have to relearn how to play Madden once again. That's not a bad thing, by the way. It's just going to be an adjustment period.
2. I didn't have much success running: First, a caveat on this one: I was playing with the Vikings because I wanted to try out rookie running back Dalvin Cook (main takeaway: he's fast but is apt to get annihilated by a big hit). The Vikings offensive line is famously terrible. I played with the Skins as well, and their o-line is a bit better, but I didn't get a chance to try out the Cowboys.
Anyway, I've seen lots of questions about how Madden 18's running game feels this year. My own feeling is that it mostly feels slower, more deliberate. The blocking AI is roughly the same as they were in Madden 17, as are the skill moves like the jukes and moves. I ran a lot out of Inside Zone out of the shotgun, but with limited success. As always, it's a matter of time to figure out what running formation is the most powerful. But as far as how different it feels, my opinion is that the passing game has changed more than the running game.
3. I don't know how I feel about the new passing mechanics: Madden 18 brings with it an interesting new passing mechanic reminiscent of the days of NFL Fever. So far I've been unable to complete a pass with it.
So here's how it works: You hold L2/LT and a little indicator pops up near your primary receiver. You move the indicator around and your QB will throw to that target, allowing you to lead them anywhere you want on the field. But here's the catch (heh): your QB can't move while this is happening, so activating it is a massive risk.
The results when I activated it: Sack, sack, sack, interception, interception, interception.
As best I can tell, the mechanic is best used to lead your receiver on a streak when they're one-on-one with a corner with no safety over the top. Recognizing this, I tried to integrate that into my strategy, but the extra moment I needed to push the indicator always resulted in me getting sacked.
It should be mentioned that mapping this mechanic to L2/LT has other consequences as well. The high-low pass mechanics are different now, and you can't really lead receivers in the same as we before. It's very different, and it's honestly taking some getting used to.
The goal, it seems, is to add a greater skill component to the passing game, which is fair. Passing in Madden has long been far too easy, and skilled players can easily rack up extremely high completion percentages. This levels the playing field a bit.
Taken together, Madden 18 feels very different from last year. Thankfully, many of my original concerns about the transition to Frostbite have yet to materialize--input lag doesn't seem to be a factor, player interactions are solid--but the actual balance of the gameplay is throwing me off. I will need more time with it to decide whether I actually like it or not.
But as for those who are always complaining that Madden is just a "roster update" every year: this is the most different Madden has felt since the big transition to Madden 15. Whether that's for good or for ill, we'll just have to see.