Thanks to EA’s marvelous “Access” program on the Xbox One, I was able to sample Madden NFL 16 for a precious 10 hours this weekend (before it’s official release tomorrow, August 25th). I spent every last second of that 10 hours with Draft Champions, a new mode that integrates with the already popular Madden Ultimate Team mode.
A quick recap for anyone unfamiliar with Ultimate Team, it’s basically a collectible card game within the sports game frame. You start out with crap players and earn coins by playing games. You can than use those coins to either buy packs of players or trying to outbid other players for specific guys in the Auction House. Eventually, the goal is to build your “ultimate team”, using all your favorite players (not being confined to the realistic rosters in all other online modes). This has been particularly lucrative for EA Sports, as they will also sell you packs for real money. This started with FIFA in 2010 and has now expanded to every EA Sports title (and some version of it is now in just about every sports game imaginable).
Draft Champions expands on that mode by stealing from the popular Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (a completely digital trading card game from the makers of World of Warcraft). Hearthstone has a mode where you don’t use the deck you have been building in game, but instead you select a deck at random, getting your choice between 3 random cards. You then play with this unique deck for as long as you can win with it, getting better and better prizes the longer you last.
Madden’s Draft Champions is basically the same, starting you out with team of below average players that you build upon in 15 rounds. It’s never the same players in any given draft (although at the time of writing, the pool of players seemed to be a little low, given how many star players seem to never appear), and you aren’t guaranteed to see a position twice. If you pass on Phillip Rivers in the 4th round, hoping for someone better, you might not see another QB and will be stuck with Mark Sanchez or Matt Schaub. In the 15th round, you are given your choice of a legend to round out your team. These legends can range from the extremely popular John Elway and Ladainian Tomlinson to the almost disappointing Joe Horn and Steve Hutchinson (an offensive lineman… sexy).
This is going to be my ideal way to play Madden going forward. Getting to tinker with things like “do I build a solid Defensive line or get an incredible receiving core?” to the much riskier (feeding that gambling addict in all of us) “Do I settle for Cam Newton now, or hope Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning show up in a later round?” Plus, getting to play with all these superstars in New York Jets jerseys is much preferable to playing as the proper 2015 New York Jets.
It gives you a taste of what spending hundreds of hours (or dollars) in Ultimate Team can give you, without the investment that not every Madden fan has the time (or pay-grade) to afford.
This mode has already been announced for FIFA 16 (EA Sports’ most popular franchise around the world) and modes like this are popping up in all sorts of games. If this pops up in other sports games (or other genres for that matter), it will really only be for the better. Even if they take the FIFA/Hearthstone approach and have a pay-wall behind each draft (something that Madden does not have), earning those coins to get into another draft will be well worth the time spent.
Combine everything I love about Draft Champions with the fact that Madden NFL 16 probably has the best gameplay the series has seen in quite some time, and I could be spending far too much of my free time with the mode this year.