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Madden NFL 15: Quick Notes From Hands-On Play

We got our hands on Madden NFL 15, and we've got a lot to talk about.
We got our hands on Madden NFL 15, and we've got a lot to talk about.

Madden NFL 15 finished its first full day of early trial time on EA Access, which for many means the trial is over. With only six hours of time to poke around at the game, we consumed all of our minutes leading into early this morning, and we’ve got a few notes for you.

Truth be told, Madden has always been a game that you need to sit down and play for quite a long time before you can truly appreciate what all the changes are, how they impact online play, and just how engrossing franchise mode becomes. I did, however, do my best to pull as much insight from the game as I could during my six hour period, and I think I came away with a pretty strong understanding of what the game represents this time around.

So, what’s new in Madden NFL 15 this year? What did I like, what did I absolutely hate, and is defense really improved this year? I’ve got some strong opinions in every direction, so check out my “quick” notes from hands-on gameplay time, and feel free to add thoughts of your own below if you also spent time on the early access trial.

Note: If you want full reviews, try our review round-up from yesterday, where we grabbed a few early reviews from around the web and dropped them in one place for you to compare and contrast.

Madden 15: Gameplay Notes

Personnel Matters.
More than ever before, personnel matters. Gone are the days where you “knew” a curl route was going to be open before the snap simply because the opponent was in backed-off man coverage. Now, the quality of the cornerback and the receiver can play a big role in whether or not a seemingly open pass goes for a big gain, or an easy pick. Similarly, if you want to slow down the enhanced pass rush this season, a a few quality offensive linemen will go a long way.

Quarterback is a Big Deal
I would like to welcome the quarterback position to Madden NFL 15. In my opinion, QB has been one of the least valuable positions on the field in Madden for years (save for the mobility of a few key players). I’ve always felt this to be the case because with just “OK” accuracy across the board, you could dominate like Peyton Manning with only the odd errant pass to show for it. Now, that has all changed. Rookie QBs with poor accuracy will feel like rookie QBs at times, while superstars like Aaron Rodgers will throw on the money much more often.

Bad Teams are Worse Than Ever
Because of the aforementioned increase in disparity at the QB position, poor teams have just gone from bad to worse in Madden NFL 15. Poor accuracy will rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times for your team if you’re trying to survive with a yet-to-be-established young QB, or a sub-par veteran. This is doubly compounded if you happen to play with a team that is both lacking in quarterback, and receiver. I believe Madden probably should be this way for realism sake, however there is no doubt it is going to push many low-quality teams even further out of play online. I’ll restate that I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, however it is an almost-radical change and one you should be prepared for.

Defense is Not All Hype
All the talk of vastly improved defense was not hype. Defense really is better this year, and it really does make a big difference. No, you can’t just call random plays and hope for the best online, but you will notice less whiffing of tackles, more plays being made in the secondary without your assistance, and a greater freedom to take safeties off of the top. That, perhaps, is the biggest change — A streak in one-on-one coverage with no safety help is not a guaranteed touchdown anymore. Now, your quarterback needs to hit his mark (which can be tough for some QBs), and the receiver needs to beat the CB deep (the faster he is, the better chance you’ll get past him). This one change shortens the field considerably, and makes it easier to take risks on defense and make plays (just make sure you’re not taking the safety off the top of those burners!).

Pass Leading is Alive and Well Again
Pass leading took a hiatus last season in Madden 25, but it’s back again and arguably better than ever. In Madden 25, it was very common to pass lead a ball only to have it feel like your pass was attached to a pole that was swinging either left or right. Now, it feels like there is much more touch to passes, and for the first time perhaps ever I can honestly say if a WR has outside leverage and a step or two on a CB, you can hit a lob in the corner of the endzone away from the safety. Players have tried many gimmick plays in the past to make this happen, but finally, the touch on passes seems good enough that it can be a real read in your progressions this year. Of course, as mentioned previously, personnel matters. This is a technique best-used by those big-bodied jump-ball receivers, although players with good catching and the ability to drag their feet in the endzone can work in a pinch.

Play Call Menu Is Horrendous
Alright, maybe horrendous is an overstatement, but in the very least it’s wildly inefficient. While everything appears to be packaged neatly on one page, it’s merely the illusion of efficiency. Whereas previously in Madden if I wanted to select a play from a specific set in, say, Singleback, I just had to select Singleback, select the set, and then choose the play (just three moves). Now, you first have to back out of the Coach Suggestions screen that overrides the default play screen, then you have to select formation as the style of play choosing you want, then you have to scroll up and down vertically for the formation, then scroll left and right to choose the set you want from within the formation (which can be several clicks away), and then you can finally choose your play, assuming of course it’s on the first page, and if not, that’s more scrolling for you.

A simple, three click process has now become a headache. While that headache will certainly lessen as you get more and more used to the new system, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re now asking players to do multiple times more work to choose a play than previously. I appreciate all the other neat things they added to play calling, but surely you can find away to include those extra details without forcing players into a wildly inefficient and tedious play call screen.

Can I adapt to it? Sure. Will it stop me from playing? No. But neither of those questions matter. What matters, is that for all its new features, bells and whistles, the updated play call screen is a regression in efficiency, and when you’re talking about a menu that players spend a large portion of their time in, that’s a bad thing. This needs to be cleaned up a bit to make it less tedious.

Pre-Snap Field View Needs Fixing
New this year in Madden NFL 15 is a requirement to wait on the QB to call out an audible before a hot route can take effect, which slows down the changing of routes on offense and gives defenses time to adjust. In concept, I think this is all well and good, however for some reason the pre-snap overview of the field that players often use by holding down the right trigger is subject to the same sort of time delay. That means if you just wanted to look at what routes are being run on your play from a higher perspective by holding right trigger, you have to wait what feels like a full second for it to take effect. How big of a deal is a second, you ask? Well, it makes the game feel incredibly sluggish, even if it’s just an illusion, and it’s quite a big annoyance. Let’s get this fixed.

On-Field Camera Control Conflicts With Strategy Pad
I had wondered for weeks how the strategy pad would work considering the new camera toggle options were bound to the dpad, but was unable to get an answer from anyone I asked about it. Now, having played the game, I can see why. The strategy pad cannot be enabled and used while the camera toggle option is turned on. If you turn on the on-field camera toggle, it will disable the strategy pad. If you turn it off, it will enable the strategy pad. This is not a particularly huge deal, but if you’ve made commitment to change the way you call audibles to the strategy pad in recent years, you will have to disable the new camera control or revert back to the old audible system. Personally, I think the old system is and always has been better, however I made the commitment years ago to get used to the strategy pad in case they ever dropped legacy support, and now it seems I have to re-learn the old ways all over again if I want the camera angles.

Personally, I’ve just turned off the on-field camera toggle because I don’t think it’s worth the hassle of re-learning my controls all over again. Could they not have done something else with the camera options, like, at least allow you to switch between camera control and strategy pad by clicking a joystick? Bah!

Power Backs Rule The Turf
If you thought power backs were good in Madden 25, wait until you play Madden 15. Because everything on defense is a bit tighter, the nature of power backs allows them to thrive at a better rate than other, often more agile backs. If you have a powerful back in Madden (78+ strength) you’re going to do OK. If you have an elite powerful back like Marshawn Lynch, then you are going to plow over defenders and run through arm tackles like you’re racking up bonus points in a pinball machine. I don’t think power backs are overpowered, simply that they do a very good job on interior runs as you might expect, whereas speedier, weaker backs are going to fair better on the outside. To some extent, that has always been the case in Madden, however I feel the difference is more pronounced this year — even more so than last year, because of the enhanced defense which forces players into more defined roles.

Fitting Players into The Right Roles Matters
Defense is very, very solid, enough so that you will quickly realize that putting your offensive playmakers in roles that they are not best suited for will rightfully get you into trouble. Have a super-speedy receiver with poor route running that you just thought you would stick on the outside and throw a few curl routes to? Yeah, good luck with that this year. You’re going to want someone capable of running some crisper routes if you want to consistently hit curl routes, or out routes without getting intercepted. In a similar vein, you don’t want to toss a deep ball to just anyone that happens to be in one-on-one coverage. You’re going to want to know who your player is, what his skills are, and who he is up against to understand whether or not that deep lob is really worth the gamble.

Finding roles for your playmakers on offense matters this year more than ever, and it’s one of the things I really, really dig about this season. Not only does this make online games a bit more realistic, but it adds an additional layer of depth to finding and developing players in franchise mode.

Animations Make The Game Feel Fresh
I don’t know what the exact numbers are in terms of new animations, but the game genuinely feels fresh with all that I’ve seen so far. During my time playing, Madden NFL 15 felt like a much more fluid experience than previous editions of the franchise, primarily because the animations really bring the volatile nature of football to life. Receivers catch passes in all kinds of different manners, passes arrive in a variety of different locations (which themselves bring on new receiving animations), and running through and around defenders feels much more “alive” than I can say the game has felt before. Perhaps the new animations will get stale in time, just as with anything, but for now I consider it one of the highlights of this year’s game.

Madden 15: Franchise Notes

Quarterbacks are Broken in Sims
I didn’t get to spend a ton of time in franchise mode, but sim reports of quarterbacks being a bit broken was validated by my own experience, limited as it was. In simming an entire season, rookie QB Blake Bortles only managed 1,407 yards, 1 TD and 7 INTs while playing in 15 games. Sorry, that’s not just bad, that’s downright broken. When looking at end-of-season stats, it becomes evident that this is a trend to some extent — the best QBs in the league for the season rarely pass more than 25-30 touchdowns, and 4,000 or so passing yards seems to be enough to take the passing title. When the best players at the position like Peyton Manning pass for 13 TDs and 10 TDs, you know something is wrong.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes QBs so ineffective in sims, but it needs to be fixed. I found this to be a particularly annoying problem because Bortles was never able to meet XP requirements in games, and pretty much the only XP to be had was from Game Prep attention. Throw in the fact that your rookie QB is wildly underperforming and losing games, and you get the added bonus of watching his ratings plummet due to confidence penalties. How do you get out of that mess, exactly? You don’t. Raising confidence is just a short-term answer and avoids the fact that you’re spending no time on XP to actually improve him, and any XP gains are negated from the confidence, leaving you with an even more difficult prospect of performing in game sims. It’s a vicious cycle.

I definitely need more time with franchise to see just how much of an outlier my rookie QB situation was, but my first impression was that the system is very, very broken due to how QBs work in sims. Hopefully a few slider changes will solve the problem.

Box Scores Still Buried in Menus
Alright, here I go with yet another sim complaint. I realize the vast majority of players don’t buy Madden to sim games, they buy it to play them. With that said, I sort of have a responsibility to speak on behalf of my constituency (see: myself) and say that I continue to be annoyed every time Madden buries the box scores and game stats within the menus. I really don’t want to have to trudge along to the game schedule every single time I want to see the stats to the game I just simmed. Please, for the love of all that is goody and great, let’s get a one-click-away box score & stats from your previous game. Don’t make me wade through menus to do it.

If, however, you can already do that so easily, then I must have missed it and I’d hope any of you can inform me of a better way. I was in quite a rush while playing to absorb as much information as I could within the trial time limit, so it’s possible it slipped by me.

Player Development is Much More Enjoyable
While I wouldn’t say Game Prep is particularly deep, it’s a very simple and effective addition to player development that really adds to the depth of franchise, and gives you more significant decisions to make week-to-week. I’m also in love with the fact that they finally have made it so you can spend multiple XP points at a time and submit the changes all at once, rather than having to add and confirm every single point you spend. It’s a big quality of life change that will go unnoticed by many, but for those that were consciously aware of this problem in the past, it’s like night and day with the new, streamlined point distribution method.

What do YOU think of Madden 15?

For those that have access to the full game early or have spent some time with the EA Access trial, what do you think of the game this year? Is it good? Is it bad? What do you like, and what needs fixing? We’re still waiting on our review copy, however when we get it you can expect a full review from us. In the meantime, these were just the notes from my limited play time with Madden NFL 15, and I’m curious to read what everyone else’s impressions were.

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  • Brandon Ragland

    I really might run hurry up all year to be honest, it cuts out the bs menu and it doesn’t allow people to see the plays your picking. With a good scheme and team its really easy to go down the field with it this year. I do wish they didn’t change the play selection though, its been the same for years and worked fine. Why change it?

    • http://gomadden.com GoMadden

      I can understand them wanting to change the way it fits on the screen a bit in order to add in all the new details, but I just think the way they’ve done it is very inefficient. It’s a shame because I really like the gameplay so far this year.

  • Jim Savell

    I played about three or four hours of my trial yesterday. I was surprised about the defensive camera. I normally shy away from things like that but it was pretty easy to see what was going on. You are definitely right about the curl routes. Not a guarantee anymore. I thoroughly enjoyed The Gauntlet. Not sure if you checked it out, but its a fun mini-game. I briefly checked out Franchise, Game Prep looks to be determined by your personnel. As the Chiefs I was unable to gain XP for Aaron Murray. Game is very different this year, and provides for a more challenging experience, which I think is a good thing.

    • http://gomadden.com GoMadden

      I only played a little bit of the gauntlet, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. I think it needs a little more polish.

  • XsOsFootball .

    I am feeling the same way about many of your points. Madden 15 actually feels pretty good to me this year, unlike some of the other previous versions.

  • Westphillywilly

    I have an early copy. It’s hard as hell to tackle with all the new button tricks. Hit sticking is not as easy as it used to be. Also getting user picks on one on one crossing routes is hard unless u have an elite cornerback. All and all I’ll have the one up on most people til Tuesday

  • Justus Walker

    Kenny Vaccaro needs to be higher than he is. He has been making plays every game this preseason!