Before I begin, I’m waiting on a patch for Franchise mode, so I can’t talk too much about that. What I can — and will — talk about is the actual gameplay itself and what I’ve experienced so far.
— Usually when Madden hypes a feature, it’s either poorly implemented or meaningless. I am here to tell you that WR vs. DB battles are as awesome as advertised. You can now order receivers to make possession, RAC, or aggressive catches, which have different benefits and penalties. Aggressive catches used to be overpowered, but thankfully have been toned down significantly in a recent tuning update.
The receivers you expect to win battles do pretty well — your Calvin Johnsons — the ones you do not expect to win battles do badly — your Percy Harvins. The DB matters too. Jumping over a short cornerback is one thing; trying to have Andrew Hawkins leap over Darrelle Revis to snag a pass is a whole other (failed) animal.
— Another important part of the passing game has been updated — you have a lot more control over the kinds of passes you throw. Any QB can throw five different types of passes (how well, of course, depends on the QB): bullet, touch, lob, low, and high. Bulleting every pass is not only not feasible, it can be disastrous. Your guy has to be open and the throw distance reasonable (based on your particular QB), or it’ll go incomplete, get picked, or get knocked down. Touch passes have a little bit of air — good for medium throws where you’re trying to clear a linebacker — lob passes have quite a bit. Low passes are ideal for curls or hooks, where you don’t want the defensive player to pick it. High passes are for those highlight reel heaves to the endzone.
— As I alluded to in the last paragraph, accuracy is king now. Bad QBs no longer complete 80-85% of their passes (and neither do great ones). They also don’t get sacked fifteen times a game. The AI will throw one away, or just make bad throws, and your throw state matters quite a bit (off the back foot, while running, etc.). Scrambling QBs have legitimate advantages when running with the ball, and it no longer always results in a four yard loss or a sack if you do take off with it.
— The new mode that I really love is Draft Champions. You pick a coach with different offensive and defensive play styles, which gives you your base team. Then, in fifteen rounds, you pick from one of three players. Who the players are is random, but they’re always top quality, and include NFL legends. It’s surprisingly addicting because the choices are often difficult — do I pass on Russell Wilson and hope a better QB shows up, or take him even though his style doesn’t fit my team and there’s a tremendous DT who does fit? You then play a short, three game season. First game is Rookie, second Pro, third All-Pro, with four three minute quarters. The better you do, the better your Ultimate Team award. I really like the new mode because you learn lots of different playbooks and play styles.
— Some minor notes: penalties are supposed to be called more frequently, but I can’t prove or disprove that because my games are too short to see many. Gauntlet mode is pretty enjoyable and worth sinking some time into. I highly dislike having to play as the Steelers in the prologue, but it does teach you the game, for better or worse, with an emphasis on the new stuff. Coach stick (which might have been in 15 — this is my first next gen title) is really neat and lets you matchup your receivers on the fly, by telling you how they compare to the guy across from them. Halftime presentation is much nicer now, with a voice over telling you why they chose the highlights instead of just silently showing you videos. Gang tackles are another new feature that work out well — guys will pile on to a player properly now, instead of having four or five players tackle them simultaneously.
I’ll have more about Franchise mode when they release the patch that fixes some of those issues (among the most serious — huge jumps in player skill, defensive players causing offsides when controlled by the AI by just wandering over the line of scrimmage, draft classes sometimes being seriously overpowered).