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Madden 22 preview: EA goes big on franchise mode at last

Madden NFL 22
(Image credit: EA)

Since the mid-2010s rise of Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), Franchise mode devotees have seen their favorite time sink become an afterthought – with EA moving to maximize its bottom line with in-game transactions, the lifeblood of MUT. The approach has made the company billions, but at the unquantifiable expense of losing biggest fans' undying support as Madden 22 approaches. Franchise needed to be revitalized, and so after last year's game launched with minimal improvements, the team at Tiburon sought to course-correct with three major post-launch updates. 

Madden NFL 22

(Image credit: EA)

It worked. Things were improving. Tiburon gave players greater control of their leagues, with features like broader X-Factor customization, legacy menus that track past award winners and champions, and more. But it was just the start. In Madden 22, the team has put Franchise front and center in its plan of attack for this new live-service era of Madden. Sitting in on a roundtable discussion with the series' braintrust, I was pleasantly surprised to hear so much about the once-forgotten mode. More than the lip service of years past, Madden feels like it will bring the most substantial improvements to Franchise in a decade.

Twist and scout

Anyone playing Franchise, be it in a solo Franchise or in a league with others, is there because they want the lifelike experience of dynasty-building. They want to build up their rosters using smart scouting from the college level, adept salary cap management, and maximize their players' potential by building around scheme and strength. Madden 22 looks to service those players with smart new features like staff management.

Players are able to hire and upgrade their coaching staffs across four positions: Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, and Player Personnel. Each position has its own RPG-like skill tree which enables you to improve coaches similar to how they improve individual players. By meeting gameday- and longer-term goals, you unlock Staff Points, which can be spent on gradually turning any Matt Nagy into the next Bill Belichick.

This sort of control is not just much-requested, it's one of the most nitty-gritty details I've seen in Madden in several years. More than 60 coach skills arrive at launch, with more coming in later updates. Skill trees result in meaningful rewards like increasing player XP gains, which gives the whole system a rewarding cyclical nature: improve coaches to improve players, and with improved players, you’ll achieve more goals to in turn improve coaches again. This could be one of the best new features of Madden 22 when it's all said and done – but it's not alone in bringing some excitement to Franchise.

Madden NFL 22

(Image credit: EA)

Next Gen Stats have been touted often on NFL broadcasts for the last few years, and after they made their debut in Madden 21 on Series X|S and PS5 last December, they're coming back in a bigger way to influence the preparation of Franchise players between games and on bye weeks. In past years, the game would offer up some quick-hitting stats on the next opponent, things like their offensive and defensive rankings and their turnover rankings. In Madden 22, this scouting report all goes much deeper. Now players are able to see their opponent's passer rating on different kinds of throws, their likelihood to scramble with the QB, and more.

As someone who has spent a ton of time scouting my opponents in a competitive Madden league where most games are streamed, and gaining the upper hand is a matter of who did the most homework, Madden 22 provides much-improved sparknotes for the competitive but time-strapped player like me. I'd spend hours watching tape of my future opponents to spot tendencies – on third downs, in the red zone, and so on. Now Madden puts a lot of that in plain language in-game. Plus, if a team's kickoff gameplan doesn't work out, players are able to make halftime adjustments based on new wrinkles with which the opposition might've caught them by surprise.

Any given Monday

New Franchise practice sessions offer control over the intensity of a team's off-days. Now instead of playing out basic practice drills, you can choose to let players rest, practice in full pads, or something in between, allowing players to recover from a grueling season and reducing injury risk. It's all built to mirror the real season. It's longer than ever starting this fall, with the NFL adding a Week 18 match-up to every team's schedule. Madden seeks to replicate the war of attrition with new fatigue management systems that should reward the coaches who know when to ease off the gas.

A new "Season Engine" paints each Franchise season with multiple storylines during its course, from preseason all the way to the Super Bowl. More than 35 scenarios bring light narrative elements to the game, similar to how it already does in Face of the Franchise story mode.

Sports have always been a vehicle for storytelling, so it's good to see Madden trying to capture more of this element with new dynamic storylines that react to a team's ups and downs year after year, week after week. Cinematics are even coming to Franchise mode, and the team humorously admitted this year's Super Bowl win animation will be different, alluding to a YouTube video which took jabs at the game for keeping the same cinematic since Madden 17.

Madden NFL 22

(Image credit: EA)

Arguably the most exciting of all Franchise updates is the new scouting system, which Tiburon expects to launch for free in September, a few weeks after the game arrives. It enables you to assign national and regional scouts to find the best college prospects and bring back more reliable information for draft day. The development team seems very excited about this feature in particular, and it's no wonder why.

Better scouting was "by far" the most requested feature, according to Tiburon's Sean Graddy, executive producer and de facto face of the Madden team. We should learn more about that one as we get closer to launch in August, but the hints of it I was able to see honestly looked like the major facelift Franchise has gone something close to a decade without. It could be massive.

Across the board, these features will be supported by further enhancements and more options as the year goes on, insists Graddy. This is Madden in the live-service era, and we saw last year that a bumpy start can be smoothed by strong post-launch support. With Madden 22, we seem poised to see a strength get even stronger. There was still a lot of work to be done in Madden Franchise mode after last year's updates, but Madden 22's starting point is certainly the series’ biggest leap forward in many years.

Freelance Journalist

Mark Delaney is a prolific copywriter and journalist. Having contributed to publications like GamesRadar+ and Official Xbox Magazine, writing news, features, reviews, and guides, he has since turned his eye to other adventures in the industry. In 2019, Mark became OpenCritic's first in-house staff writer, and in 2021 he became the guides editor over at GameSpot.