Annual sports games are often assumed to be the same thing every year. That's rarely actually the case, as most sports gaming fans would tell you, but it applies to Madden NFL 19. This year's game is mostly no worse than last year's decent entry, but because it's no better either, it's hard to recommend. It's built on three pillars where two of them are marginally improved and one is so bad that it maybe shouldn't even return next season. This year's Madden was especially quiet about its major tentpole changes leading up to release, and depending on where you start in the game, it may be quickly obvious why that is. Let's start with the good parts. Across online play, Franchise, and Ultimate Team, a new Specialist position has been implemented that allows you to set substitutions more easily than ever before. When you want certain packages or formations to recognize your desired subs, you no longer have to get through several screens of slow substitutions. Just like the series has for years designated a third down running back, you can now also assign positions like slot corner, power half back, and slot receiver. This is a long-absent feature that feels really good for the diehard players who take the game seriously and want to better mimic how its played on the real gridiron. Also new to Franchise and Ultimate Team are new ways to upgrade your players. In Franchise, this means the process has been streamlined to a semi-randomized system that is actually for the better. Rather than spend hundreds or thousands of experience points across the full list of skills for each player, you now earn a single (or more if you save them) experience point that you insert into a trait, which allows the game to randomly assign related attribute boosts. It's a system much more akin to other games outside of the sports world where you simply level up, put your skill point into a trait, and move along. It's faster and the randomization may seem odd, but there are still enough traits to satisfy players who want more control.In Ultimate Team, player upgrades have been improved in a brand new way using Training cards. With these, you can take your lower-tier cards and upgrade them several times over, eventually turning them into the best versions of that player. This adds a welcome layer for players who like to grow their team more organically rather than chase down high-priced players in auctions and trades. Other new MUT tweaks come in the form of MUT Squads being playable against the CPU and Solo Battles, which play similarly to head-to-head seasons, only it's all single-player content. The changes to MUT make it the deepest and most rewarding yet, and although the allure of cutting ahead with microtransactions is always present, EA's sports games have generally been one of the fairest in letting you earn it all on the field without ever opening your coin purse, should you be okay with the slow climb. Upgrading players is streamlined and simpler than ever.Within these two modes, these changes are definite improvements over last year's game, but they feel quite marginal. The best new stuff comes to MUT, but even as that mode is so popular, there remains a contingent of gamers who commit only to Franchise, and for them this year's game feels especially sparse on big changes. Madden 19 also sports a new locomotion system, or so it's said, at least. Those changes weren't easily felt, and in general, locomotion is one of those recurring talking points EA seems to hit every single season, even when things aren't all that different.While the changes to two of Madden 19's pillars are incremental but welcome, its second year of story mode is so poorly written, it may justify the mode disappearing altogether. Full of ridiculous tropes, tired intentional humor retreaded from last year's debut, and frequent unintentional comedy, year two of Longshot and Devin Wade's story is a unique disaster. Story in sports games is trending up right now, and it can be done well, but for one-third of the game to be this unenjoyable by anyone without the lowest of expectations is a bad look. EA and Tiburon need to decide to either take it more seriously next season or do away with the mode completely and commit all that time and money to improve other parts of the game. It feels as though it's been scripted by developers whose expertise is not at all scriptwriting. That makes sense given how fiction is only a very recent focus for the studio, but if this two-year run is the best this mode can get, all involved parties should let the story in the Madden experiment die.Year two of Longshot is three to four hours of your life you can never get back.Like most years, the Madden achievement list is largely a copy and paste of the year before. Story mode ties in a lot of what's new, and they're easier this time thanks to the total absence of goofy mini-games. Outside of those, it's the usual legacy score achievements, a few in MUT, and a few situational achievements that feel like they've been in Madden since achievements existed. For seasoned players, it's another easy completion without surprises.Check out our Best Xbox One Sports Games Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.SummaryIt's usually unfair to say an annual sports game is the same as last year's, but for the first time in a while, it feels more appropriate with Madden NFL 19. Small changes across Franchise, online play, and MUT will be welcome by yearly diehards of the sport and the game series, but they ultimately don't feel important enough to make the game an easy recommendation. On top of that, the third pillar of the game, its story mode, is so bad that it feels quite disappointing to think of how much better that time and money could've been spent. On the field it's still a fun game as always, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like little more than a roster update. 3 / 5 Positives Small touches to Franchise mode will be appreciated by diehard football fans New systems in Ultimate Team make it the deepest iteration yet Negatives Story mode is a comedy of errors, tropes, and plot holes Lacks major additions or changes Ethics Statement The reviewer spent 15 hours across all three major modes in Madden 19, collecting 35 of 38 achievements for 810 gamerscore. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the publisher. Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.