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I've never tried Madden Ultimate Team before — it's by far Madden 24's best mode

 Madden NFL 24 screenshots.
Madden NFL 24 screenshots.

WHAT WE'RE PLAYING

Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check previous entries like this one where we play Red Dead Redemption on the Switch.

For years, I staunchly opposed any sort of microtransactions in games. The idea of paying extra for content that’s already in the game irked me, especially if spending more money gave my opponents an advantage. Because of that reasoning, for the last ten years or so, I haven’t touched Madden Ultimate Team out of sheer principle.

That hasn’t stopped me from actually playing Madden, however. I’ve been there, year in and year out since Madden 2004 on PS2 — but I really only stick to the franchise or build a pro mode. That has meant that, most years, I put the game down after about 12 hours or so — a fine amount of time for a single-player game, but always felt short compared to other multiplayer games I liked, such as Overwatch.

This year, I wanted to try something different, so I reluctantly decided that I’d give Madden Ultimate Team a shot, and I’m really, genuinely happy that I did. It’s the best mode in this year’s game, and it’s easily something I could see myself playing for the next 40 hours.

If you haven’t tried it yet because you too hate the microtransactions aspect, here’s what you can expect and, perhaps, a way to overlook some of the mode’s worst cash-hungry aspects.

Start off by sticking to single-player

Madden NFL 24 screenshots.
Madden NFL 24 screenshots.

Key to liking the mode is to avoid the temptation of jumping into multiplayer right away. Ultimate Team’s matchmaking mode isn’t very precise, so the chances of your brand-new roster of rookies going up against superstar players is high.

Instead, I spent the first 48 hours of my time playing single-player challenges, getting refreshed on the controls and finding the reliable players on my team.

The benefit of doing this besides general experience, is that you’ll get the currency you’ll need to buy player packs and earn players by completing weekly challenges. Admittedly, these packs grow more sparse as you continue completing challenges, but the first 48 hours of packs should give you a decent team with an overall rating of 80, if not a bit better.

Set your expectations for a superstar team accordingly

Madden NFL 24 screenshots.
Madden NFL 24 screenshots.

Speaking of the packs, what helped me overcome my dislike of the gacha mechanic was setting my expectations low — I didn’t expect to pull legendary cards, or even mediocre cards, I just expected to have my roster of middling players grow. Getting a rare player with a 90 overall rating felt that much better when it happens, though it rarely did.

You can always feed EA’s bottomline by buying packs if you feel like spending real-world money — but I don’t recommend it. There’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get a great addition to your team and teams don’t carry over from year to year.

This is also going to sound weird, but I don’t mind having a team of lower-ranked players. Each match makes me feel like an underdog squad going up against a team of battle-hardened veterans. Finally, because it’s only August and the football season goes on for another six months, I’ve got some time to raise my stats. I’m in no rush for a team of all 99-rated players. If I had one, there’s nowhere to go.

Dabble in multiplayer, but don’t play it 24/7

A screenshot from Madden NFL 24.
A screenshot from Madden NFL 24.

After you’ve collected a decent team and won a few of the harder challenges against an All-Pro computer player, it’s time to try your hand at multiplayer. This is the most divisive part of Madden Ultimate Team as EA’s matchmaking is, undoubtedly, complete trash.

Here’s some key advice: Don’t be afraid to forfeit at halftime.

Don’t be afraid to forfeit at halftime.

Look, no one likes a quitter but if you’re down by two touchdowns at half and the match feels skewed against you, there’s absolutely no shame in throwing in the towel. At that point, shrug off the loss and get paired up with another opponent. No harm, no foul.

The last advice I have is to not spend all your time in multiplayer. Get your games in, but once that feeling of frustration sets in — and it will — just head back into the challenges to get some more coins or spend some time in franchise mode.

Madden Ultimate Team can be one of the most frustrating, cash-grabbing modes in any video game, but if you have some patience and can set your expectations accordingly, it can also be one of the best game modes.

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