I should probably start with the good news about Madden 19's updated franchise mode. After five long years, XP allocation has finally been fixed. No more min-maxed 70 OVR players who are superstars in the "right" stats.
Instead of forcing you to painstakingly allocate masses of XP to each individual stat, Madden 19 awards you skill points that you can put toward certain player archetypes. Doing so gives you ratings boosts in multiple stats, dramatically cutting down on the irritating busywork of progression. It's also far more intuitive than trying to discern the difference between Play Recognition and Awareness.
These updates comprise the main improvements to Madden 19's franchise mode. Some fans may be disappointed to hear that there will be no improvements to Owner Mode, which has been broken since beginning of time. Now will there be expansion, custom divisions, or the ability to import legendary players, which are features available in both NBA 2K and NHL. But that's pretty typical for Madden. Since introducing franchise relocation in Madden 25, the series has largely eschewed the fantasy side of career mode, focusing instead on nitty gritty mechanical updates and quality of life improvements. The addition of Play the Moments a couple years ago is indicative of Madden's philosophy, prioritizing the speed at which games are completed over customization.
The positive side of this approach is that, sterile as it can be, functionality often trumps charm. Just ask FIFA, which hasn't had a usable youth acdemy system since 2012. Madden hasn't always been pretty, but it's mostly worked.
Unfortunately, for a series that puts a premium on realism, Madden 19 still struggles to simulate many aspects of the game. Even new "specialist" positions like slot corner and receiver don't quite capture the intricate schemes that comprise some of the NFL's best defenses. There's no specialist position, for instance, that is able to simulate the impact of Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who lines up all over the field and is the heart and soul of Minnesota's blitz attack.
Madden 19 instead doubles down on scheme fits, which is an interesting but ultimately limited expansion of mechanics from previous games. Coaches will have overall offensive and defensive schemes—West Coast, Zone Coverage, and so forth—and those schemes will in turn favor position-based archetypes like Deep Threat or Possession receiver. The practical effect is an OVR stat boost, better prospects in free agency, and stronger XP gains.
It's a reasonable approach in theory; but in practice, it doesn't always do justice to the teams that it represents. The Vikings, for instance, have virtually no scheme fits out of the gate for their defense. That's a bit of a bummer given that the Vikings had the league's number one defense in points per game, third down defense, and yards per play in 2017. This may be a niggling complaint in the long run, but it's something that jumped out at me immediately when playing through franchise mode, and may well damage Madden's balance over the long term. If EA truly wants to hang its hat on functionality, then these elements need to be perfected.
Having said all that, Madden 19's franchise mode is definitely less sterile than in previous years. The pregame intro and halftime show are both miles better than in previous years, conveying a sense of polish that has been lacking at times. Madden 19 still doesn't technically have a trophy case, but if you win a Super Bowl, the Lombardi Trophy will be visible in the background as your coach paces around the office. Additionally, when it comes time for the draft, the player you choose will be visible on a screen over the stage.
The addition that has me especially interested, though, is custom draft classes. This new feature will allow fans to build their own versions of players like Randy Moss and make them available as rookies. Want to add in the legendary quarterback class of 1983? You will almost certainly be able to do so once it becomes available online. It won't be quite the same as being able to, say, drop Babe Ruth right into the Minnesota Twins, not the least because the rosters will be using generic character models. But it's a step in the right direction for the otherwise staid series.
Hopefully the future will see Madden emphasize the fantasy component over raw functionality, giving players the tools to customize their experience to their liking. Longer term, I'd like to see Madden put more of a premium on longevity. Not every sim can be as in-depth as Football Manager, but it would be nice if EA took a few lessons from the famous series in conveying a sense of progression and emergent storytelling.
My misgivings about scheme fits aside, though, it's hard to hate Madden 19's additions. Experience gain was badly in need of an overhaul, and EA has made some pretty solid fixes in that regard. But concrete as this progress may be, a major leap remains elusive as Madden heads into another new season.