The NFL loves its superstars, from team-lifting QBs like Tom Brady to game-changing wide receivers like Antonio Brown, and QB-crunching monsters like Aaron Donald. But Madden hasn’t always been able to highlight these kinds of players in ways that not only make them powerful but like they perform in real life.
This year’s new Superstar X-Factor feature hopes to address this fact and not only make these players feel like the stars they are, but also influence Madden across its many modes.
“The NFL last year felt like a star-driven league,” says creative director Mike Young, “appointment viewing-based TV because you had to see the Rams-Chiefs. You had to see Donald play. You had to see Khalil Mack play.”
Young says there’s another reason for the new feature: How can the game go beyond ratings? “I think ratings are really good at the measurables,” he says, “the combine type stats like speed, but for instance, Tom Brady has never been a great quarterback in Madden. What we’ve done is try to differentiate the quarterbacks and give them very unique things based on their archetype.”
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Here’s how it works: There are around 70 Superstar abilities in the game. Some players have none, some have multiple abilities. These abilities are shaped by real-life players’ skills and in-game player archetypes. Thus, you aren’t going to see a slower, bruising running back get abilities related to more nimble backs.
Here are just a few examples:
The Slot Machine ability gives the receiver better separation at the line and catching ability versus contact for short routes from the slot position. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen has this ability.
Pocket QBs like Tom Brady with the Protected ability get more time in the pocket from their offensive linemen engaged in blocks during dropback passes.
Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald has The Fearmonger ability. This lets him apply pressure to QBs even when Donald is engaged in a block.
Some are dependent on the time and the game and situation. For example, Brady’s Clutch ability not only reduces the requirement for him to get in the zone (more on that below), but also makes it impossible for him to be knocked out of the zone halfway through the fourth quarter in a close game.
Most of these abilities have counter-abilities across the line of scrimmage, so that there are no automatic victories on the field, but you obviously want to pay extra attention to these players. To this end, players with superstar abilities will always be marked so everyone knows.
But Superstar abilities are just the start; there are plenty of great players in the league, but there are also those who are a cut above. These are called X-Factor players. X-Factor players have at least two superstar abilities, but they also a zone ability that lets them get into the zone – that state that athletes talk about where their skills are extra heightened. As of the time of this writing, there are about 28 offensive X-Factor players and 22 defensive ones, with no special teamers or offensive linemen among them.
X-Factor players have to play themselves into the zone for their zone ability to activate. For example, if JuJu Smith-Schuster catches four run-after-the-catch (RAC) passes of 20 yards or more, he’s in the zone. When he’s in the zone he’ll usually win single-coverage RAC passes with an animation that gives him an advantage in that situation.
When in the zone, Cam Newton’s Tackle Breaker ability allows him to frequently break the first tackle attempt against him.
Patrick Mahomes’ Bazooka ability allows him to throw a maximum of 80 yards when he’s in the zone.
Tom Brady has a quick read zone ability that highlights the first open receiver with a bigger on-the-field icon.
These zone abilities are powerful, but they can also be “turned off.” Brady’s quick read zone ability deactivates when either he scores a touchdown or you sack him.
Abilities aren’t just in Franchise mode or Play Now, they’re usable throughout the game, including Ultimate Team and the new Face of the Franchise mode. This should shake up what players use in Ultimate Team as well as help you further define your QB in Face of the Franchise. In regular CFM, abilities for draft prospects are tied to their development trait. So you’ll have to keep an eye on any players with abilities as you are scouting. Then you can draft them and watch them mature and unlock their abilities.
“What we’re finding is it’s made a lot more teams a lot more interesting to play,” says Young. “Right now, people in the office love playing with the Browns… It’s hard to say as a Steelers fan, but they are probably one of the cooler teams because they have superstar guys on both sides of the ball.”
More Information on Superstar Abilities & X-Factors
Additional X-Factor players can be added during the year. The team says it’s still figuring out the “cadence” of when that might be. Young says perhaps five times during the year.
Players may gain or lose X-Factors during the season, but overall EA Tiburon wants to keep around 50 X-Factors total.
Currently, the most superstar abilities a non-X-Factor player can have is two. X-Factor players have at least two plus their single zone ability. In Face of the Franchise mode, you can have as many as seven abilities. These can be swapped around on your player. These still adhere to an overall archetype so you can’t build an overpowered player.
It might be harder for X-Factor players to get into the zone in the Competitive gameplay style versus arcade, for instance.
X-Factors and superstar abilities are included in Madden Ultimate Team player items as designated by an additional tab on the player item. Details around these aren’t fully known at this point, but Young says you will be able to respec abilities and get some points back. This sounds similar to last year’s Power Up items/Training Points.
Not all the abilities will be widely available. Ex. Roethslisberger has a pump fake ability. He might be one of just two QBs in the whole game with this ability.
Some players with superstar abilities also have special animations like Aaron Rodgers’ throwing on the run from his tiptoes.
Abilities are highlighted on the field and in pre-play menus so that both sides of the ball can see them. This includes being able to chart how close a player is from getting into the zone.
Madden NFL 20 ships for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on August 2. To learn more about the game, read about what’s new in Franchise mode, the new Face of the Franchise career mode, and how the developer is addressing last year’s gameplay issues.