EA Sports College Football 25 Gameplay Deep Dive

EA has been giving us info all week by allowing those who got to play the game a chance to give their thoughts, but EA itself took center stage today by releasing a deep dive gameplay blog and gameplay trailer.

I’m not going to try and tackle every single thing mentioned in the gameplay blog, but I do want to give some of my general impressions after reading through everything this week and watching the trailer today. It’s mostly good vibes and feelings, but I’ll be mixing in the good and the bad here.

Wear And Tear

It will come down to balance as most gameplay mechanics do in sports games, but it’s long overdue that an EA football game — a sport defined by injuries more than any other — tries to figure out a way implement injuries and the give and take going on throughout a game and season.

If your quarterback has thrown the ball 40+ times in a game and has taken some shots, don’t expect him to be at 100% the following week in Dynasty or Road To Glory. Subtle gameplay components such as getting the ball out early, covering the ball, and just getting out of bounds will be as important as ever.

The big “new” thing noticed here is that “wear and tear” matters throughout the season. A heavy workload one week means you’re coming in the following week not at 100 percent. It’s probably going to be hard to notice how much covering the ball or running out of bounds is saving you — you take vitamin C and don’t get sick, but you can’t really measure how much the vitamin C is helping — but even putting things like that into your mind is a big deal.

A lot of the times there are small mechanics in sports games that just never get used because you don’t think they matter at all. Small tactical things like covering the ball go overlooked, but if something like this injury system can get you thinking about that sort of stuff, it’s a win in that way as well.

Disguising Coverages, Finally

It will be a theme throughout this article, but I want to be clear that this longer development period feels like it was finally a chance for a soft reset. I can chalk that up to new faces getting a look at things, an extended period of development, or just everyone believing college football has to feel different. I’m sure it’s not any one thing, but a lot of the gameplay blog was filled with these sorts of impactful but logical changes a lot of us on OS have been asking about for years.

It’s a focus on legacy issues that more hardcore people talk about rather than the casual fan. And, again, I don’t mean to say that as an elitist, it’s more just to say it’s a focus on smaller football things that don’t always get talked about during a TV broadcast.

Disguising a coverage is one of these things. It’s something you can sort of do at times in Madden with fake press coverages or showing blitz when you’re not going to blitz, and the now-removed base align. But here we’ll actually be able to disguise coverages in the ways you should be able to based on your safety looks and such.

Football problems require football solutions. With the removal of base alignment, we wanted to put our time and effort into improving alignment, along with giving players the ability to disguise your coverages. This is the addition to the chess match that our core fans have been asking for.

I’m not going to get into all the issues with base align through the years in terms of certain coverages being sort of broken when you would use it and so on because my hope here is disguising a coverage will be more granular now. This means we’ll have better control and fewer issues with certain coverages just busting all the time because you faked a coverage.

Pre-Snap Recognition

This is an area where I do have some concerns. My feeling about video game football is that it comes down to pre-snap reads. More than any other sports game, football is a strategy game where, yes, quick twitch and reactions matter, but you do a majority of the work beforehand by calling the right plays and making the right adjustments at the line. However, that’s very hard to do right without a significant amount of knowledge and experience.

Which is my way of saying I get why EA is poking at this concept the way it is with abilities, but I don’t necessarily love the idea overall.

Can you see everything at the line of scrimmage like an experienced senior? What about the freshman playing on the road in front of a hundred thousand screaming fans? We have introduced a new Pre Snap Recognition feature designed to bring a level of clarity to the line of scrimmage that reflects the experience level of the player controlling the game. For instance, a freshman player may not be able to identify who is coming to blitz or what the shell is at the line of scrimmage compared to what a seasoned senior would recognize.

All of this makes sense, and it’s not like EA is playing the game for you if you get the “platinum” version of this ability, but this is your job as the QB. Unless you’re straight up doing coach mode, you’re the quarterback. You should be the one identifying blitzers and the coverages. Now, the defense has a chance still to change the coverage again and trick you even if you have the platinum ability, so it’s not like there won’t still be mind games going on here, but this particular aspect feels more like something that should be based on “difficulty level” rather than abilities.

Sticking with pre-snap adjustments, the change to hot routes is simply a win.

This year, before each snap, you’ll notice several enhancements designed to amplify the strategic gameplay. Hot routes have undergone a revamp, providing all players with access to 12 unique routes. For instance, the new “Bang 8” route has been incorporated into the Outside WR tree. The entire route tree is readily available for all Quarterbacks without the need of an ability.

Lastly, we’re introducing ‘Custom Stems,’ a new feature that allows you to adjust the distance of a receiver’s route. While hot routing, press and hold L1/LB to start adjusting. Move LS to modify the distance by a single yard, or the D-Pad for alterations in 5-yard increments. You can see the route update in real-time. Simply release L1/LB to confirm your settings, and you’re all set.

No notes here. I think Hot Route Master has been overpowered for years in Madden — certain routes are simply better than others, it’s annoying when you don’t have access to them — and it just doesn’t really make sense to stop QBs from having them. Things like arm strength or how good your receivers are at running routes would impact what routes you use, but not having them has always been strange.

Adding to this by also including “custom stems” and finally letting us control the distance of the routes is another quality of life change that should be massive for increasing the variability of our passing schemes.

Wait And See…

A couple items that I’ll need to feel or see in more detail in order to make a call on them are the “switch stick” and the pocket formation during pass plays.

Get ready for control you’ve never had. We’re introducing the Switch Stick. A simple, yet powerful tool to make defense switching more compelling.

I get the idea here, but I have seen some who played the game saying it did not make a huge difference while others liked it a lot. The conceit is about having more control over your defenders and being able to quickly switch to a defender in various situations. The situation that comes to mind the most for me is spying a QB and chasing him down outside the pocket. From there, it’s a backside defender who has to more or less pick between two receivers. You want to quickly be able to pick that defender and then choose which receiver to go to once you’ve pressured the QB enough make him throw.

If this all works as designed, it’s a pretty big game changer. There are other ways EA could have approached it, such as the NBA 2K way of having a button over a defender’s head that you toggle on and off, so this will just be about execution.

When it comes to pass protection, I’m a little more wary.

A new pass protection mechanic has been added which provides 6 pass protection targeting schemes. These schemes allow players to have increased control over matchups. Through user interface matchup lines, players can now see who is targeting who, and indicators will show unblocked defenders. Additionally, the pocket formation on pass plays has been improved to enhance the overall gameplay.

This part about more control is great. Giving us more granular control so we pick who gets a free rush and all that is wonderful, but the brief moments in the gameplay trailer still looked pretty “legacy” to me. I did not see a lot of actual pockets forming, and it still looked mostly chaotic — that’s the part that has been an issue forever.

Lastly, RPOs were mentioned throughout, and EA did say they’re adding new counters on top of adding new tweaks to RPOs overall. Regardless, I want to be clear that RPOs are generally broken in Madden (that is, impossible to stop with any consistency) so I remain concerned about how strong they will be in this game.

Oh My God, They Finally Heard Us

When we talk about every AI team feeling the same in Madden, it’s not just the playbooks, it’s, well, everything. It’s the AI teams not using their full playbooks, doing different tempos, not making in-game adjustments, and on it goes. Again, football is a strategy game in video game terms. If the AI isn’t actually changing its strategy, then it’s only half a game.

AI teams now exhibit distinctive identities in their Tempo usage. Teams like Oklahoma, for instance, adopt an up-tempo strategy for most of the game, possibly calling for a shot play after securing a first down in certain areas of the field at a fast pace. Conversely, teams like Michigan may only resort to this move following a significant play to jump start the offense when losing.

No notes. On top of that, because it also seems like the hurry-up is being tweaked there should be fewer messy defensive audibles and cross-matchups as defenses try to counter the fast-paced offenses.

In relation to Clock Management, AI decision-making regarding Timeout usage has also undergone substantial revision to more accurately mirror the strategic decision making of real-life coaches. Both players and the AI can now initiate a Spike from any alignment, thereby conserving crucial seconds.

We’ve talked about clock management being an issue for years now, so if it’s finally improved then thank the football gods.

Additionally, the AI now has access to the full range of adjustments, just like a human player would make. As a result, you can expect to see teams employ an array of adjustments such as shade techniques, showing blitz, run commits, QB contains, and Spy’s, to name just a few situational adjustments.

This is the biggest one of all. The AI simply did not (because it could not) do certain things. And it’s not just that it seems like EA is finally focusing on this stuff, it’s making smart adjustments as well. Run commit is brought up as being something that was changed so that guessing wrong doesn’t just mean a touchdown. Now, run commit is just going to impact the players in the box, which is a very logical change.

Lastly, I like that this was all called out as something that’s in “year one” because the implication is that there’s maybe finally an overarching system — or at least focus — on AI management.

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Bottom Line

If you were looking for an “all-new” game, then yeah, you’re not getting that. The animations and the way players move looks positively EA football, and so if you don’t like that look then no amount of changes are going to matter.

However, I think it would be wrong to say anything but this is the most hyped most of us have been about a football game from EA in many years. The college aspect of it matters the most, but this gameplay blog was the most refreshing thing I’ve read from EA in years as well. The priorities make sense, and it was just so much talk about legacy problems that are finally at least being mentioned. It’s wrong to think all of these longstanding issues will be fixed this year, but that they’re talking about AI, pre-snap adjustments, disguising coverages, offensive line issues, playbooks, and so on is music to my ears.

We want a football game to be unpredictable and fun. This means not knowing what’s going to happen until the ball is snapped, more explosive plays on both sides of the ball, and a level of chaos that can lead to a wide range of outcomes. The college game is perhaps more suited to that than the pro game, but the improvements being discussed so far should pay dividends in any football game EA releases.