Madden NFL 15 Review: Welcome Back, Defense
Madden NFL 15 is officially available to the public, which means fans can finally play EA’s latest football video game for much longer than the six hours many have been utilizing over the weekend. That also means it’s time for our official full review.
We’ve already put together a fairly lengthy collection of notes during our hands-on time with the game during the EA Access trial, but we were also able to get our hands on the game in full prior to its release just a few days ago, giving us just enough time to squeeze out a review for launch day.
Before you read on, first understand a bit where I am coming from. I consider myself a hardcore, gameplay-oriented fan. That means the most important thing to me every season is how the game plays, particularly online. There are a lot of great reviews online right now if you want to check out how people feel about the more general aspects of this year’s title, however if you also consider yourself a gameplay guru, then this is the review for you.
So, how did we feel about Madden 15? It’s time you find out below, but in short: We’re much much more excited about this offering than Madden 25, and our Xbox One finally has a must-have game.
What’s New This Year?
Here’s a quick list of some of the more important changes this year that you might want to read more about, before continuing on with our review. If you are an MUT fan, I would recommend you head on over to a site like MUTHead.com to see how fans feel, as it’s not particularly my brand of joe and as such not something I cover in this review.
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, it’s go time!
Madden NFL 15 Review
Defense is Making a Comeback
Welcome back, defense. If you spent any amount of time playing last year’s Madden 25, then you know defense was more than just weak, it was downright frustrating and for me personally, it killed the enjoyment of the game. I can honestly say Madden 25 is the first time in a very long time that I’ve felt the actual gameplay of Madden had taken a step back, because the negatives of defense nearly outweighed many of the positive changes to the offensive side of the ball.
Defense was the focal point in Madden 15 this year, spurred on no doubt by numerous complaints from fans and one particularly fun article we put together in the offseason about d-line controls (which EA would go on to mimic in spirit in this year’s game). The changes to defense, however, go well-beyond just making the defensive line more fun to play, and is a complete overhaul from top to bottom.
We outlined many of the changes being made on “D” this year way back at E3 2014, so you can check that for further details on what is new this year in that regard, however to put it quickly: Man and Zone Coverage gets much, much better depending on ratings, players have more tackling controls and elite players on the d-line will really make themselves known.
Now, those are are sort of the underpinning reasons why defense is better. To put some of these new changes into context, here’s a list of a few things that are much more challenging to accomplish this year on offense, and what that means in the grand scheme of defense.
1. Streak routes in one-on-one coverage are no longer the instant-win of the past. Any savvy Madden veteran will tell you that for the last few years, the deep ball has been insanely effective. If you had a receiver in on-on-one coverage with no safety over the top, you were pretty much guaranteed to beat them deep for a touchdown every time, unless there was an absolutely ludicrous speed mismatch in favor of the defender. This year, that is simply not the case. You can leave a receiver out on an island with a defender with much more confidence this time around, as CBs are actually able to keep up with the deep shot this year. Unless you have a really strong speed advantage in the WR/DB matchup, or an elite receiver capable of making a jump ball catch in a hotly contested pass down the field, then you can pretty much say goodbye to the instant-win nature of passing deep.
Throw in the fact that many QBs have seen their QB deep accuracy ratings nerfed this year, as well as a general increase in disparity among good and bad QBs, and you have yourself a massive change in how the game is played.
With the streak now less dangerous, players can take more risks on defense with safety blitzes, or bring more players in the box to stop the run. I can’t tell you how many times in Madden 25 I played an opponent that found one good run play out of shotgun, and completely forced me out of man coverage because the only solution was to bring a safety into the box, and in doing so a streak for a touchdown would be the next logical step for the offense. The fact that streaks are much more matchup based this year means the field is much shorter, and thus easier to cover.
2. The curl route is not a guaranteed play. The curl has been a staple in the NFL for years, but it’s been particularly effective in Madden. Players could use incredibly poor route-running receivers and beat even the best defensive backs in the game on curl routes, provided the DB was in backed-off man coverage, or if they simply got a bit lucky on their pass. Now, good CBs will break on curls much more often, which means it’s incredibly important that your receiver runs a crisp route to ensure he has an opportunity to battle for the ball when it’s in the air as quickly as possible. It’s not so much that the curl doesn’t work — because it certainly does — but rather that you need to consider the matchup and the skillset of your receiver much more this time around. It’s also as important as ever to pass lead away from the DB to help give you that extra inch or two to be successful.
With the curl route no longer being the easy-mode safety net that it has been in the past, players are going to have much more trouble converting those third-and-somes, and teams with elite man coverage CBs will really feel the benefit of the stars on their roster.
3. Poor route-running means much slower routes. Or, perhaps more accurately, you really feel the difference between low route-running and high route-running. This is best noticed among running backs. Other than select specialty players, most backs tend to have a comparatively poor ability to run routes, and as a result you really feel the difference between having a Reggie Bush out on an angle route, and, say, Adrian Peterson. The time it takes for routes to develop with poor route runners can be crucial, both in generating separation and in getting a pass out in time, and you will really appreciate the value of a good route running receiving back this year.
With poor route running much more apparent this time around, you’re going to have to understand personnel a bit more, and put players in better positions to succeed based on their skillsets. For defense, this means things are a little more predictable, as you don’t have to worry so much about that poor receiving back absolutely torching you on a quick cut, or that low-rated route runner at receiver smashing your top CB on corner routes so consistently.
Don’t think, however, that “man beating” players are all gone. There are still some routes that favor defeating man coverage, however a lot of the old favorites are much more reliable with better route running, or against poorer coverage defenders. And, really, this is the way it should be. Some things are simply good against man in concept, and others are good as a matter of matchups, and that’s how it feels in Madden this year. Which route you take to defeat man coverage this year will depend a lot on your personnel, as you will often find the best options are those that cater to the ratings advantages created by your star players.
4. Outside runs are easier to contain. This is thanks largely in part to the increased effectiveness of “Wide-9” sets, which change the positioning of the defensive line to be a bit more stretched out, but it also seems to change the focus of edge defenders, who will try to set the edge, which means they will do more than just sit there and wait for a back to scurry past. This kind of change really makes you change up your play call based on the personnel of your opponent, and speaking defensively, it really makes things fun again.
5. New QB containment helps keep mobile passers in check. Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to really test this as I couldn’t find anyone online that loved to scramble (who knew?), however it’s said that QB containment options this year will do a better job of containing QBs, while without sacrificing all your pressure in the pass rush. Based on how well a lot of the previous changes have been implemented, I have little doubt this works as intended. If it does, then this will be yet another powerful edition to the “D” as QB spies alone have often proven to be almost useless against skilled players that understand how to swerve the A.I.
And those are just some of the impacts from defensive changes.
Then, of course, there is the matter of the new QB accuracy changes, which adds a whole lot to where passes land and puts more emphasis on who is throwing the ball, and how accurate they are. You can say so long to the days of using a mediocre QB and passing like Aaron Rodgers. Sorry, but it’s just not going to happen with any real consistency this year. That isn’t to say it isn’t possible, but the pass accuracy changes are going to get you into trouble if you try to air it out too much with a QB that hasn’t fully demonstrated that skillset yet.
In short: You’ll need to run your offense around your playmakers, with respect for who you have at QB. With teams that have poor deep accuracy at QB, you’re going to have to be more selective with your deep passes. With players that have poor mid accuracy, you are going to have to be a bit more careful with when you decide to pass lead and what windows you throw into. In general, it’s good to learn on the running game when your QB is a weakness.
While it’s still early in the season, I can say with confidence that defense this year is the real deal. That isn’t to say that there won’t be problems with a few routes or concepts that inevitably always crop up, however many of the issues of the past have been corrected, and in some regards maybe even over-corrected. Players on offense will have to learn to pick their shots down field much more wisely this time around, and will need to dink and dunk against elite defenses much more than in the past.
The great thing about the changes to defense this year, is that the seasoned you are in Madden, the more you will notice the changes. There are a ton of changes that the average player probably wouldn’t notice, but a hardcore strategy-head will very quickly pick-up on. Like, for example: If you want to throw a streak to an outside receiver against a Cover-2, you now have to incorporate a flats concept to flood the zone otherwise the defender will follow your receiver all the way up the sideline until the safety can take over (boy, did I throw a lot of picks learning this one).
Or, to the offense’s benefit, slant routes are much better this year because backed-off man coverage defenders no longer magically jump in front of your pass for an interception. As well, defenders can’t simply put all of their d-line into zones this year and except to stop a HB draw with any sort of effectiveness (although using just two DTs is still more effective than it should be).
These are the types of changes that were clearly made at the behest of the hardcore community, and were probably advised by Ryan “RG” Glick or key members of the Game Changers community. There are enough of these little changes that you have to think the team went in and made deliberate adjustments to tune the gameplay, rather than just seeing the end-result of overarching defensive changes.
And it’s awesome.
But There’s Things That Bog Down Great Gameplay
1. Play call menu has its heart in the right place, but its feet on backward. The first, and most obvious thing you will notice this year that will hamper your enjoyment, is the new play call suite. While the new menu does provide some interesting details, and on its face seems quite useful, the reality is the new layout is simply not as efficient as players are used to, and it almost feels as if plays are buried in menus now.
Players can choose to call plays from all kinds of options, including by concept, however it’s with all these additional options that things have seemed to have lost their way. I believe it was OperationSports that said it best, calling it “sensory overload.” More than that, it actually forces you to do more work to get the same result in terms of the number of clicks to get to your desired play (assuming you use the classic formations approach). This is the same sort of inefficient change that initially had us call for changes made to the Strategy Pad (which to EA’s credit, they delivered on in a quick patch adding shortcuts).
Now, I know sometimes people are quick to harp on changes, and I don’t want to go so far as to say the new play call menu makes what I consider a great gameplay experience unplayable, however it is a thorn in your side that will bother you, particularly if you are a seasoned player, or someone that just really appreciates streamlined design in games. Perhaps the biggest frustration with the new menu is that changing packages is now limited to just the set selection screen. Once you click on a set to find a play, you can no longer adjust the package. Since I don’t imagine most people use the package feature, that won’t be a problem, but for big strategy-addicts it’s a bit of a nuisance.
I would love if EA did fans a solid by introducing a “classic” menu option, or, frankly, take it a step further and provide an “enhanced classic” option that allows you to see more than three plays at a time (it’s 2014, we have the technology). I can see why EA wouldn’t want a ton of options in their menus, if just to not overload players who are trying to find ways to adjust more important things (like their camera), but I think the play call menu is important enough to matter.
2. QB development is broken in Franchise when simming games. There seems to be a problem in sims that makes QBs quite dreadful, which means if you have a young QB who is already not expected to be quite good because he isa rookie, then you are in for a world of hurt in trying to develop him. In one simmed season with just one game missed, my rookie QB Blake Bortles passed for 1,407 yards, 1 TD and 7 INTs. At the top end, the best QBs in the league are typically throwing for much fewer TDs and yards than anticipated, and on the bottom end, it’s down-right ugly.
This is actually something you should care about even if you don’t sim games in your Franchise, unless you are playing online with 31 other human players (which we recommend), then the rest of the games in your league will certainly be simmed each week automatically. This is going to cause severe regression and development issues that will pervade into everything from pro bowl nods, to free agency, and adjust your approach in the draft as well. Luckily, EA seems to be looking into the issue.
3. Custom Audibles Are Not Working.
This is something gameplay designer Clint Oldenburg told me they are working on fixing, however as far as release problems go, it’s a pretty big bummer for hardcore fans that love to design and create schemes. I didn’t check to see if this problem is so pervasive as to infect defensive audibles as well, however I’m guessing that’s the case. In either event, this is a big blow that hurts the main benefit provided by custom playbooks, and stops users from using perhaps the best option to bypass the new play calling suite.
Of all the issues, this is probably the one that bothers me the most, and probably one that will irk Prima strategy gurus like Zfarls and Sgibs. It also stings quite a bit because it’s so important this year to put players in positions to succeed based on their skillset, and without a real, working custom audible system, we can’t audible out of plays that put players in bad situations. I hope this is at the top of EA’s priority list, because I’ve always run my offense out of making adjustments at the line, and I’d hate to have to wade through play call menus all year as a result of this.
It’s possible that this issue is isolated to just custom playbooks and not default playbooks, however it’s not something I thought to check until writing up this piece. Custom playbooks are extremely popular among the hardcore crowd, however, and speaking for my “constituency” in that regard, I don’t think it matters so long as custom audibles for custom playbooks are not functional.
Skills Trainer Deeper, Gauntlet Mode Unpolished
Skills trainer got a lot deeper this year, with quite a lot of additions on both offense and defense to help teach players more about the game. This is something EA first introduced into Madden in Madden 25, and it’s clear they are using it as a platform to build upon year-after-year to create the ultimate Madden tutorial resource. And that’s a good thing, too, because I too remember back when I thought Madden was “too complicated” and “didn’t understand” what I was doing. I sit and watch my nephew play sometimes, and watch how quickly he gets bored and moves on to another game that he can understand much easier.
While a football sim game will probably never be wildly accessible to the 9-year-old crowd, he’ll at least have an opportunity to learn and understand much better than I did when I started hitting my teens, assuming Skills Trainer proves to be the sledge hammer to Madden’s knowledge barrier that I think it will be. I’m not overly thrilled with the polish of Skills Trainer still, however I think it’s more important to get as much content in now, and polish more later.
Unless, of course, you’re talking about the new Gauntlet mode, which I expected to be much more polished than it actually is.
Maybe my expectations for “The Gauntlet” were too high based on all the positive word-of-mouth from E3 2014, but I was really excited to try it out. Even knowing that it was essentially a lot of Skills Trainer modes placed into a challenge format, I was expecting the mini-mode to be much more polished than it actually is, and as a result I felt pretty letdown when I jumped in (in fact, it was the first thing I tried when I loaded up the game).
Challenges sort of come and go in Gauntlet with no real meaning, and while challenging, the boss levels I ran into early on felt a bit underwhelming. Admittedly, I didn’t get very far before I stopped, and there are likely much more interesting boss levels to be had, however the general lack of polish in the mode and the feeling of no real progression being stopped my interest much shorter than expected.
No doubt I’ll jump into the mode from time to time to try and reach the deeper content that I haven’t yet seen, however it’s nowhere near the fun of the Madden mini-games of old. I can definitely see this being more interesting to a younger crowd, so there is some value here in that regard, however for me personally it just wasn’t quite the well-refined experience I was hoping for.
Franchise Mode Has More Depth With Game Prep
The biggest takeaway from my time with Franchise mode, other than the development issues that cropped up, was that Game Prep adds a lot more to the experience than I initially expected.
No, Game Prep isn’t a particularly deep and engrossing feature (nor was it designed to be as such), but it is something that adds a very nice layer of strategy to the player development side of Franchise mode. I still think the fact that you can focus on just one prospect over and over again repeatedly will trivialize the draft process in some respects, however with some balance changes I can see it as being a solid addition to Franchise for years to come.
If there’s something I’m on the fence about with Game Prep, it’s the confidence portion of the system. In my experience, managing confidence quickly became more of a chore than a strategy decision, and it simply made for more issues for players to manage than the QB sim problems already caused.
In fairness, the QB sim issues were so pervasive that I really don’t think I’ve been able to give the confidence portion of Game Prep a fair shake. I think the jury is still out on Franchise mode this year until the sim issues are resolved. It could prove to be the case that confidence adds a great strategical element next to XP as it was intended, or it could continue to give off the impression of a tiresome chore. I’ll withhold judgement until a Franchise patch is released.
Presentation & Animations are The Best Madden Has Ever Seen. Period.
Plain and simple, I’m a gameplay guy through and through. I’m not one that ever really cares too much about details like what shoes a player is wearing, whether or not there is a half-time show, or what is or isn’t right about any given stadium.
But that might all be changing this year, because Madden NFL 15 has opened my eyes to the potential of good presentation.
I’ve never cared much for presentation, but this year some of the additions have really made me appreciate how much that can add to the game experience. Plays just get a little more exciting when players act appropriately after them, or if the commentator rattles off specific details, or if a package talking about my player is played. While I’ll always believe that gameplay matters much more than presentation, I was really impressed with the effort this year from EA to make small, quality of life changes to improve the experience for players.
And then there is the player animation side of presentation, which is far and away the best job EA has ever done. More than any year I can remember, Madden gameplay feels fluid during the action thanks to a lot of quality animations, and reactions. Yes, there are still legacy issues like seeing the same animation after a play from multiple defenders, however those are few and far between this year.
It’s easy to fall into hyperbole and say “this is the best ever” to every little thing, and even if it’s true, it may not always be as significant enough to warrant such praise. With player animations and presentation, however, I really do think even the most vocal of Madden critics will be able to appreciate the direction the game has taken this year, because the steps it has taken on new consoles are very clearly seen. Throw in the fact that this year’s game was made on a shortened development cycle, and you have to be absolutely ecstatic about the prospects of Madden NFL 16.
The Bottom Line: Madden NFL 15 in a Nutshell
I love it. I absolutely, unequivocally love Madden NFL 15. Part of this might be due to how dejected I felt after dealing with the porous defense of Madden 25, however much of it for sure is simply due to the fact that the game is significantly better this year. And not just better, but better in a way that you can really see a bright future for the Franchise on the new generation of consoles.
Personnel matters more than ever this year, and while that means bad players will feel bad in certain areas, that also means elite players will feel elite. This appears to be a part of a greater philosophical shift from EA to better distinguish players from one another in the ratings, and I think it really works well. I’ve found myself shuffling around my depth chart on offense much more this year as a result of the plays I want to run, and that’s a good thing.
Overall, despite some pretty limiting bugs in Franchise at the moment as well as custom audibles that will hopefully be fixed soon, the gameplay is so good this year that it’s hard to do anything other than call this a must-have game for sports gamers on the Xbox One and PS4. If you’re a hardcore player in particular, you are going have to do quite a lot of adapting to both the large and nuanced changes on defense, however you will very quickly learn to love the way the game plays this year.
This is the best Madden has ever played on the field. Period.
• Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay
• Defense feels legitimate again
• Players feel more defined by their ratings
• QB (in)accuracy feels great and makes sense
• Personnel matters more than ever
• Presentation enriches the experience
• Game animations, especially receiver, feel fluid
• XP portion of Game Prep adds a nice layer of strategy
• On-the-fly camera control is a nice touch
• D-Line controls, while not deep, make line play more fun
• Matchup/Coach stick is a feature I can’t believe I lived without
• Tackle cone and other “helpful” features can be toggled on/off
• Random draft classes in Franchise a big boon for online leagues
• Play selection menu needs a re-work
• New “Confidence” feels like a chore in Franchise
• Gauntlet mode very unpolished
• D-Pad camera controls don’t work with Strategy Pad
• Franchise scouting didn’t get a next-gen re-think
• Custom Playbooks still can’t be used for sims (unless super-sim)
• Sim issues with QB break Franchise mode
• Custom audibles don’t load correctly