The Madden franchise returns tomorrow with redesigned gameplay and a chance to lose all of your free time this fall. Having spent the last few days playing the game early on EA Access, this version of Madden has shown something true about consumer response to a product. Madden 16 was easy enough for older fans and served as a chance to bring in new players. But the gameplay was unrealistic and open to multiple exploits from learned players. Most of the active NFL season was spent with tuning data updates and the swift removal of features that H2H (Head 2 Head) and MUT (Madden Ultimate Team) players were finding on a daily basis. What was EA going to do to improve the game for everyone?

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Madden 17 is the answer and it’s pretty odd. Odd in the sense that Madden 15, 16 and 17 feel like a bizarre unintentional trilogy. Let’s start with  Madden 15. The game modes were fun outings for traditional users, but a bit underpowered. Madden 16 adopted many features from far more popular outings. Last year’s entry dared to be something different than an annual football video game. Madden 17 modes are something familiar, yet they offer a certain novel approach. Both have their faults, but there’s so much under the hood to be explored. Fans will learn this during the opening tutorial game, where you have to lead the Los Angeles Rams to victory past the Washington Redskins. For the sharp-eared players, check out that sweet voice acting from Jeff Fisher.

What’s New in Madden 17?

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Trick plays are a big focus this year.

Trick plays are probably going to be the biggest sore spot of Madden 17. Traditional franchise mode and H2H play don’t rely on them, but the MUT Gauntlet and other challenges will require that they are used. This new feature wouldn’t be such a pain if MUT didn’t start you in a deficit. Most early Gauntlet and MUT teams will be at Level 80, while your opening line-up will be lucky to break Level 74 or 75. If you execute a legit trick play, this means that your kicker is going to have to run hard to break past the D-line. Given how opening kickers in MUT are pretty terrible, players are being set up for defeat.

The new rosters are going to take some time to manipulate. Fans will have to adjust to Manning no longer being a clutch part of the Broncos or preparing to use Chandler Jones on the Patriots’ Defense. MUT players don’t typically worry about this, but such problems have taken a different form this year. Team chemistry plays a bigger role other than getting you through the Styles mode of Madden 16. Chemistry can influence random twists of fate while playing. You could be draining the deep pass as Brady or Wilson. However, that Wide Receiver you had to purchase for MUT could be totally wrong for their play chemistry. Then, BAM! Fumble. Dropped pass. Other gridiron calamities that result in a scrub team like Tampa Bay running it back for a touchdown. The randomness of this game’s vicious nature will teach you heartbreak.

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Getting Ahead in MUT

Madden Ultimate Team is the Fantasy aspect of the game and it dominates discussions online. However, player overall stats are much lower this year and you start in a sizeable hole. For those interested in scoring some additional MUT swag during release week, you can pick up unlock codes for Von Miller and Marcus Allen via in-store promotions to help make up some of that difference. While these players will be a big boon to start the season, one can only imagine that they will decrease in value in the auction house.

The same can be said for the somewhat easily attainable Joe Haden card in the game. Flip Haden and the other two bonus guys for profit. Having coins in hand beats building a devalued MUT portfolio. Enjoy these players for a little while, but don’t sit on them too long. There are going to be Legends and Hero Cards that will take your MUT experience much further. Take any early advantage that you can, football fans.