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Read This Before You Buy Madden 20

Say what you will about EA's Madden NFL franchise, it's developed a reputation over the past decade or so for not really innovating in terms of the football experience it delivers. Some might point to EA running its competition out of town years ago. Others might attribute Madden's perceived lack of forward progress to EA, which has turned the title into a microtransactions monster, putting a lot of focus on Madden's Ultimate Team mode while letting other areas of the game flounder.

Rather surprisingly, Madden NFL 20 seems like it might break that cycle. And fans of the series could be in for a much better football sim as a result.

In the weeks and months leading up to Madden NFL 20's release, EA hosted a series of Twitch streams dedicated to deep dives on the title. And in those streams, the company put its developers in the hot seat, letting them talk about the steps they were taking to make this year's Madden the best one yet. They hit on the game's new story mode, QB1. They got into the weeds about new plays and playbooks. They covered improvements being introduced in the latest iteration of the game. And yes, they even talked about changes coming to Madden's Ultimate Team mode. Some players do like it, after all.

Below, we've gathered everything we've learned so far about Madden NFL 20. Hopefully you'll get sense of whether this year's title is for you, or if you'll be taking a pass.

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is this year's cover star

Who will be on the cover of this year's Madden? It's a question many football fans start asking as soon as the NFL season is over. Sometimes the team at EA pays homage to the Super Bowl-winning team, selecting someone from that squad to grace the cover of Madden. Other times, an up-and-coming player in the NFL gets the nod. Aside from the whole curse thing, being selected as the Madden cover star is a huge honor, as it puts you in a pretty elite group of players from the past several decades.

Which is why Chiefs fans will be pleased to learn that this year's cover star is none other than that team's quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes stepped into the starting role after the Chiefs traded former QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, and much to the delight of the Chiefs faithful, he played like he'd been a starter for years. With Mahomes at the helm, the Chiefs had themselves a pretty impressive season, and even looked Super Bowl bound before ultimately losing to the New England Patriots in overtime of the AFC Championship game.

Patrick Mahomes is a dynamic player and will undoubtedly be leading the Chiefs for years to come. He's the perfect player to put on the cover, especially considering Madden is really pushing quarterbacks this year.

Longshot is being retired in favor of QB1

Madden's Longshot mode came as quite the shock to fans of the series. A football game with a story mode? It just didn't fit the MO of EA, which gave the impression that it wasn't interested in doing much more than updating rosters and tweaking some already existing features year after year. But Longshot was a game changer, a multi-year narrative tale that kicked off in Madden NFL 18 and picked back up in Madden NFL 19.

After the 2018-19 NFL season wrapped up, Madden players started to wonder if they'd see Longshot make a return in the next iteration of the franchise. We know now that Longshot has seen its last day; however, something entirely new is coming in its place. It's called Face of the Franchise: QB1, and it's ready to tell a whole new story.

QB1 takes you through the journey of a hopeful NFL prospect. You'll start off by selecting the college you want to go to. And then you'll actually play college football games, a first for EA Sports since the company stopped making NCAA football titles in 2013. After that, you'll try to impress coaches and scouts at the NFL Combine. And then you'll cross your fingers and hope you're lucky enough to be selected in the NFL Draft.

After that, it's all about how you play. Will you become an NFL legend or flame out in a season or two? It's up to you.

Superstar X-Factors enable the league's best players to stand out

If you have a favorite NFL team, you're well aware of who the impact players on that team are. It could be a running back you know is getting the ball on the one-yard line. It could be a wide receiver that, more often than not, is getting a ball thrown his way in crunch time. Or it could be a defensive end who comes up with a game-clinching strip-sack in the clutch.

These players can turn an entire team's fortunes around, and in Madden NFL 20, EA is doing more to differentiate them from the rest of the roster with a feature called Superstar X-Factors.

Madden NFL 20 will feature 50 X-Factor players from around the league, each with their own unique skill sets and abilities. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, for instance, has perfect passing accuracy when throwing across his body, and also throws accurately while scrambling and when his team is inside the red zone. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, on the other hand, is a monster in the slot, and will see a boost to his route running and his ability to make catches while covered.

In the real NFL, top-tier players can take over a game. Now Madden NFL 20's X-Factor players can do the same.

Madden 20's Scenario Engine creates narratives around the league

The National Football League is as much about the sport of football as it is the stories surrounding it. After all, who didn't want to see former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning play his old team for the first time? Who couldn't wait to see where former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown ended up? These stories play out in real life on a week-to-week basis, but up to this point, the Madden games didn't really have a mechanism for telling them.

That's where the Scenario Engine comes into play.

In Madden NFL 20, the Scenario Engine will attempt to create storylines based on what's happening in Franchise Mode, drawing inspiration from real narratives that have unfolded in the NFL. So no longer will you simply jump from game to game with nothing tying it all together. No longer will you make changes to your roster without it feeling impactful. If you cut a beloved player, the locker room might have a big issue with the way you're running the team, forcing you to smooth things over. And if you franchise tag a potential free agent, that player might hold out until you give them a deal; or they might demand a trade.

It'll be interesting to see just how deep down the rabbit hole the Scenario Engine goes. But if nothing else, it's a great step toward bringing more of the non-football aspects of the NFL into Madden.

Missions and Ultimate Challenges add more paths toward rewards

EA, it seems, has really struck gold with the Ultimate Team concept. In both the FIFA and Madden franchises, Ultimate Team is part-fantasy sports, part-trading card game, giving you the opportunity to put together a team consisting of legends and current players. From there, you can pit your team against the teams of others online, battling it out to see who has the best squad and who, ultimately, is better at the game.

In Madden NFL 20, players will have two ways to earn Ultimate Team rewards: Missions and Ultimate Challenges.

Missions are about as close as you'll get to a campaign inside Madden NFL 20's Ultimate Team mode. In the words of EA, "Think of it as a roadmap to upgrading your squad with the items you want, with a clearly laid out path of how to earn those items or rewards." It's a new way to approach the management of your squad, and it promises to make Ultimate Team a more engaging endeavor.

As far as Ultimate Challenges go, these are a spin on what used to be Solo Challenges, and feature a scaling difficulty level based on the types of rewards you want to earn. Want to play a more laid back Ultimate Challenge? Set yourself up for one star. Want the game to truly test your mettle and give you the opportunity for a better prize? Start a three-star challenge and fasten your helmet on tight.

Player Archetypes in Ultimate Team further differentiate players and their play styles

No two players in the NFL are alike, yet in past Madden titles, those sharing a position have been sort of lumped together, with their ratings being the only way to institute a bit of individuality. If you know anything about the NFL, though, you know that's not optimal. There are vastly different play styles when you look at quarterbacks, for example, from scrambling quarterbacks to pocket passing quarterbacks to hybrid quarterbacks.

That's where Player Archetypes come in, giving Madden NFL 20's Ultimate Team players a way to assemble their teams with exactly the right piece they need to achieve success.

With Player Archetypes, those quarterbacks we mentioned earlier will be placed into certain categories that more suit their styles. So a player might be designated as a Scrambling QB, for example, and be given abilities that play to those strengths. Conversely, a Field General QB would be given abilities more suited to a pocket passer, but could never have something like the Escape Artist perk, limiting their ability to elude oncoming rushers.

Player Archetypes enable those who enjoy Madden's Ultimate Team to play fantasy general manager in the most effective way possible, and it'll be interesting to see how the community responds when the feature goes live with Madden NFL 20 at launch.

The House Rules feature is making a return

If you're familiar at all with the House Rules feature from Madden NFL 19, then you're aware of just how zany it can be. For those who didn't partake in last year's game, though, you can basically think of House Rules like a set of really bizarre modifiers, taking the NFL you know and love and turning it entirely on its ear. House Rules could force you to start at 1st and 20 every fresh set of downs, for instance. It could also award you 15 points for scoring a defensive touchdown instead of the typical six.

The House Rules feature changes the game in a big way for those playing Ultimate Team. And because the feature was so well received in Madden NFL 19, House Rules is once again making an appearance in Madden NFL 20.

"In Madden NFL 20, House Rules will be available once again, much closer to launch," EA stated, adding, "We're excited to deliver more flexibility on what we can offer via House Rules, like dropping you into an overtime scenario for a condensed and more efficient play experience, for example."

We can't wait to see what else EA cooks up for House Rules this time around.

New plays are on the way, along with more team-specific playbooks

Football is an ever-evolving sport, as offenses learn how to capitalize on certain defensive schemes in new ways and defenses learn how to identify what an offense appears poised to do. And in the NFL — the highest tier of professional play the sport has to offer — teams are always looking for ways to get a leg up on one another. They might dig deep into the past for a long-forgotten play. Or they might draw inspiration from the college game. Whatever the case may be, the style of play in the NFL rarely stays static for long, which is why it's important that Madden NFL 20 be just as versatile.

And it will. Madden NFL 20 is doing more to offer an authentic NFL experience this year, and you'll definitely see it in Madden's playbooks.

The team behind Madden NFL 20 is putting an emphasis on new plays, adding those that are being used more often by offenses and defenses in the league. On top of that, team playbooks are being altered even more to fit specific teams and their styles of play. So if you take the field as the Philadelphia Eagles in Madden NFL 20, you can expect to see a lot of run-pass options in that team's offensive playbook. And if you dig into the playbook as those same Eagles, you'll even find the Philly Special, a trick play the team used in Super Bowl 52.

Player movement is improved, and animations are more realistic

For all of the effort EA puts into making its Madden NFL games feel authentic, there are still some moments that can take you out of the experience. Have you ever had a player make an interception and trip for seemingly no reason at all? Or have you ever done a spin move away from a defender only to see your player lock like a magnet to that defender, stiff arming them instead? Talk about frustrating.

The animations in Madden NFL have needed some work. The good news is, Madden NFL 20 appears to be coming with a bunch of changes to the way players are animated during a game.

That aforementioned trip that could potentially ruin a pick-six opportunity? It's going bye-bye. That spin-move issue that prevents you from juking toward an open stretch of field? That's getting fixed, too. Ball carrier movement is also getting a look, ensuring that running backs can pivot and hit open holes a lot more effectively than in past iterations of Madden. And EA noticed that defensive players have been abusing the heck out of the "strip ball" command during play, spamming it to try and force fumbles. In Madden NFL 20, strip attempts will come with a much larger penalty if unsuccessful, forcing a 'whiff' animation that slows the defensive player down.

These may seem like small changes, but they'll do a lot to make Madden NFL 20 look and play like real football.

Three versions of the game are coming, including two with early access

It should come as no surprise that Madden NFL 20 will have a bunch of different versions. The game is published by EA, which is the same company that released Anthem in about a dozen different ways, confusing everyone about when that game's actual release date was. And while we wish EA — and other publishers, too — would scale back this practice and let fans of all types experience a new game at the same time, there appears to be money in pushing SKUs that offer early access. So unfortunately, this is something we'll just have to live with.

For Madden NFL 20, you can expect to see three distinct versions of the title: the normal retail version, priced at $59.99; the Superstar Edition, which rings up at $79.99; and the Ultimate Superstar Edition, which costs a whopping $99.99.

Those who pick up either the Superstar Edition or the Ultimate Superstar Edition of Madden NFL 20 get some added perks. You'll get to play a few days earlier, for instance, on July 30 instead of Aug. 2. And you'll also gain access to some Madden Ultimate Team packs you can use to start building out your squad in that mode.

If you opt for the typical $60 Madden NFL 20 experience, you don't get anything extra, and you get your hands on the game later than everyone else. Is three days worth at least $20? That's your call.