It’s no surprise that Madden Ultimate Team is back for another year in Madden 15. This mode, which started way back in UEFA Champions League 2006-07 has become a required feature in all of EA’s annualized sports titles.
If you are brand new to Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), it’s essentially a trading card game, fantasy football, and Madden all rolled into one crazy-addicting mess. Open virtual packs, build a team, and ten play. Your results, along with other tasks, earn you coins to buy more packs. It's a continuous cycle that gives you the thrill of having the chance to pull that card. Of course, there’s the option to spend real money on those virtual packs as well.
This year, the process has been streamlined and the single-player offline mode has been given a lot more content. But, as always, the impulse to buy new packs and upgrade your team is at the core of MUT.
Collections and sets
In the past, EA had multiple “places” to put your cards. Choosing where to send them (and more importantly why) could be a tedious and time consuming task. Sure, it’s part of the appeal of a card-based mode, but the endless sorting took away from actually playing the game. This year, everything goes in one binder, so managing your collection is easier. Plus, the UI has made choosing where to send your cards a much easier decision.
There are also sets to collect, which grant coin and card rewards. For those who like playing this mode for the collection aspect, this will be a driving force behind what cards they seek in trades or in an auction.
A new “badge” system feels a little gimmicky and an artificial way to slow down people’s progress. Badges are like wild cards needed to complete lots of sets and come in multiple tiers (bronze, silver, etc.). Bronze badges can be combined to make a silver one, silver to gold, and so on. It seems like a lot of people are selling badges for quick batches of gold.
Tasks and Single Player Challenges
If you’ve never tried MUT before, a helpful set of tasks guide you through the process and offer rewards for trying different things. The in-game help system is both practical and stylish, featuring the same dimmed screen/telestrator approach used throughout Madden 15.
The way I prefer playing MUT is through the single player challenges, and boy, are there a lot this year. Each team has it’s own “training camp” scenario, followed by a mode representing the regular season. There are legendary coaches and players to unlock as well. Basically, there is plenty to keep you busy for a long time, even if you don’t plan on going online.
My only issues with this mode are minor. First, football doesn’t scale well; a game with two-minute quarters doesn’t really feel like football. It’s easy to possess the ball for the majority -- or entirety -- of a half. Short 3-4 minute quarters for some of these challenges is just not enough.
On the other hand, the new presentation aspects feel like they get in the way, and make the games take longer than they should. MUT needs an option similar to MLB The Show’s fast play, stripping out all unnecessary downtime. The appeal of MUT is not only playing, but unlocking your cards and building the team. I feel like a MUT game should be a quick in-and-out experience -- regardless of quarter length -- allowing you to improve your team and quickly get on the field again.
Online play is the other primary way to play MUT. There’s a season/playoff structure to the affair: win five, and get the chance to win more coins in a playoff game. For each season you make the playoffs, more wins will be required the following year to continue postseason play. The more you win, the bigger the coin reward -- but there are consequences for not meeting your goal.
To be honest, online MUT isn’t my thing. The economy and “win at all costs” nature of the mode creates some poor sports. Just google MUT, and you’ll find all kinds of stories on how to “farm” gold, construct a superior team, and how some guy blew $100 in an instant on card packs. Those who appreciate these the high stakes nature of the online mode will thrive here, and that’s OK. This type of experience is common in MMOs too. It’s just not my preference.
Overall, MUT continues to be a solid mode, with plenty to do and at the depth you prefer. I like getting the card packs and working my way through the solo ladders. Others may appreciate the economic nature of the game, working the auction house and trade system to assemble a great team. Many more will focus their efforts online, or spend real money to increase their chances of winning.
The beauty is that you can dip into these areas as much or as little as you’d like. I plan on spending no real cash, but I do dabble in the auctions and trades. Plus, EA has streamlined the interface to make all of these systems work together a little more fluidly. Of course, negative aspects like microtransactions and unscrupulous online behavior remain, but are easy to avoid.
If you’ve never tried Madden Ultimate Team, it’s worth easing into, especially with the refinements EA has made this year.