Everything I learned about EA Sports’ College Football 25 after two hours of gameplay

ORLANDO, Fla. — Broadly, there are two kinds of college football video game players: those who drifted away from gaming when the NCAA Football franchise went away and those that have continued to play Madden for their up-to-date football video game fix. I played every NCAA Football and Madden from 2002 to 2014, then got out of gaming after college.

Last week at EA Sports’ office in Orlando, I was back at the controls as part of a small group of reporters and YouTube creators invited to tour the studio, meet the developers, test the game and get a rundown of what to expect in all the other game modes for both Madden and College Football 25. After 11 years away, the college football game is coming back this July, and the people who make the game emphasized that this game is for all of FBS college football. Playing the game makes that very clear.

In the years since the game’s production was halted by fears of further litigation over the NCAA’s name, image and likeness restrictions, I did not play College Football Revamped, the online modern update of NCAA 14, but EA did hire people from that team to work on this game. I have periodically played the recent Madden games and consulted with my gaming friends on their feelings and concerns about modern gameplay coming into this.

To cut to the chase and get to what they and everyone else really want to know: Playing College Football 25 was very fun. We weren’t allowed to take photos or video of gameplay because the game is not yet finished. We couldn’t test Dynasty mode or other modes. A few bugs popped up during games, which we flagged for developers. That’s normal. Although teams and players had ratings, we were told the ratings process hadn’t been completed, and because the numbers I saw may not match the ratings when the game is released in July, I won’t share them here.

The College Football 25 event included a three-hour period for gameplay and interviews, so I played about two hours of game action on the PS5. The refrain I heard several times from people in the building last week was, “Every team is someone’s favorite team.” I didn’t play more than a quarter with any one team because I wanted to experience as many different environments and playbooks as possible. The event offered so much information about College Football 25 that we’ve split this up into multiple stories and will have more to come after today. You can read about Dynasty mode and EA’s approach to NIL here.

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As for playing the game mode, here’s what I learned over two hours.

The in-game playing experience is incredibly smooth and realistic

The first team I pulled up was Virginia Tech because I wanted to experience the Hokies’ “Enter Sandman” entrance. Unfortunately, “Enter Sandman” is not in the game — licensing Metallica songs is really expensive. It has been replaced by a generic rock theme that sounds somewhat familiar. So that was a disappointment. (“Jump Around” is also not played in games at Camp Randall Stadium, for similar reasons.) But the feeling quickly dissipated when I began playing the actual game.

If you take one thing away from reading this, it’s that running the ball is actually fun. The blocking AI is really well done, and players are rewarded for hitting the hole. The game has new physics-based tackling, based on where and how hard a hit is made, that looks much more realistic than Madden 24. Breaking tackles or falling forward through them becomes more likely if you follow blockers correctly.

The flip side is that playing defense is tougher. If you’re one of those people like me who used to just use the Hit Stick when your defender was close to a ball carrier, that won’t cut it anymore. For advanced players, the right joystick helps you switch between defensive players more quickly, which helps in the secondary and in some situations where close control of two players is necessary.

This is where the new Wear and Tear system comes into play. Not all hits are equal, but if a player is taking big hits, certain body parts on a model will turn orange and then red on the play screen to indicate his increased chance of injury. A player’s Strength attribute corresponds with how much impact he can take, and bigger players have more Strength. If you put a small wide receiver at QB and run the option, he’ll be more likely to get injured. The longer the game, the more the injury chances rise.



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The passing game is revamped, as is kicking

As the quarterback, the ability to layer the football is the key. When you throw the ball, a meter appears above the receiver, similar to an option in Madden 24. Obviously, tapping or holding a button creates the difference between a floater and a rocket, but holding the button as long as you can to the end of the meter can impact the throw’s accuracy.

The same goes for kicking. The new meter has a ball rock left and right; you click and hold to get the accuracy, and then the power meter goes up the arrow. If you hold it to the very top into the red, the accuracy can take a hit. While I was playing as Penn State, Ohio State doinked a kick, so there is real downside. (I couldn’t tell whether there was a “doink” sound because of the noise in the room).

The playbooks have always differentiated college football games from Madden, and that’s the case again. College Football 25 has 134 different playbooks, part of 10 different offensive styles. I committed many delay of game penalties just looking through the playbooks. There are different menus for plays, ranging from coach suggestions to formations to concepts and more. The play menu design is essentially the same as Madden 24.

I spent a good 20 minutes with Wake Forest to test the Demon Deacons’ RPO slow-mesh offense. The RPO options include four different kinds of plays: read, peek, alert and glance. You can choose to throw a quick pass instead of hand off, but you have to do it quickly, or else you’ll be hit with an illegal man downfield penalty. That happened to me several times. I didn’t find any actual slow mesh plays, but a developer said they should be in the final game.

I also spent some time with Air Force to test the triple-option. One change in the option and RPO plays is that you tap a button to pull the ball as the quarterback, rather than pressing a button to hand it off like in the past. That was an adjustment. There are also two options on pitches: Similar to throwing the ball downfield, you can tap LB for a quick pitch or hold it for a stronger pitch.

The pre-snap options are deep

The capabilities players enjoy before the snap have also grown. You can adjust pass protection to go in a certain direction, an improved process from Madden 24. When calling a hot route, custom stems allow you to adjust how far downfield you want an out route to go. Senior quarterbacks can see more than freshmen, like the possibility of a blitz or a certain kind of defense.

And yes, there are custom playbooks and custom audibles. There’s also a two-minute warning, which will be new to college football this fall. Stadium Pulse is also back, and you can feel the loudest stadiums in the vibrating controller. As in the past, the play art on the field could be difficult to read, and audibles and hot routes may not work, depending on the crowd.

The experiences of playing as the game’s best players and as its worst players are very different. For those gamers coming back from the old NCAA games, linebackers can’t jump sky-high for interceptions and easily run with slot receivers anymore. (The defensive AI still drops easy interceptions from time to time as in the old games.)

To answer the question everyone asks me, is the gameplay just like Madden? Yes and no. I’m not allowed yet to speak on Madden 25, which is built on the same engine (as is normal). But the gameplay in College Football 25 is extremely smooth, and there are differences between the games, such as the playbooks, the kicking meter, player attributes, Stadium Pulse and more.



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The sounds and visuals are what really stand out

The pageantry and the environments are what really separate college football from every other sport, and the video game reflects that.

EA Sports said it went through more than 1,000 photos per school to create 150 different stadiums. There are 16,000 different head combinations for players, including 240 shapes. The game took so long to make because it had to be created from scratch.

The average team has four helmets, three jerseys and three pants. Some have 20-plus options (hello, Oregon). You can see all the individual stitching in the jerseys because EA Sports employs a Creaform 3D handheld scanner that’s normally used for aerospace parts. Here, it’s used to scan cleats, gloves, helmets, jerseys and more, down to the tiniest detail. While NFL players have mostly the same equipment, college football has different apparel companies with unique designs. Those differences are noticeable in this game.

I’ve been asked whether helmets can be knocked off from a big hit. They cannot. Along those lines, the game does not have targeting penalties — controlling head placement is difficult to develop, and EA figured fans would just be annoyed about the rule like they are in real life.

The crowds are also unique. Michigan fans have the maize pom-poms. Missouri fans have the tiger tails. There are unique hand signs and Surrender Cobras. The student sections are positioned correctly, and we were told those fans will be seen standing during the game. Opposing fans and bands are also positioned in the correct spots in stadiums. As for in-progress renovated stadiums, Vanderbilt is shown post-renovation, but Northwestern still plays at Ryan Field. Kansas’ stadium will be pre-renovation at game launch.

Penn State has the White Out. Tennessee has the checkerboard. Boise State has the Stripe Out. Even the Texas A&M red, white and blue crowd after 9/11 is in the game — I’m not sure how that one activates, but special crowd colors will happen for the biggest games in Dynasty mode. We were told some teams have called EA Sports to let them know of crowd blackout plans later this season to be included in the game.

We saw the turnover chainsaw at Oregon State and the waterfalls at Arkansas State. EA Sports showed how it motion-captured players with the trophies, which included making wooden versions of trophies for virtual mo-cap players to hold. To simulate ripping through a sign, mo-cap players pushed through pool noodles. For Bevo, Ralphie and the dog mascots, an EA staff member pretended to be the animal positioned around mo-capped virtual players.

What makes this game feel as real as anything is the sound. You really notice it when music kicks in after the opening kickoff. While “Enter Sandman” is not in the game, “Zombie Nation,” “Sandstorm,” “Tsunami” and “Mo Bamba” are. We see the Army Corps of Cadets jump up and down for “Tsunami” before kickoff, something the TV broadcast rarely shows. Beaver Stadium plays “Zombie Nation” after Penn State touchdowns. Every school has unique fan chants, as EA acquired thousands of assets from schools and in many cases had staff members replicate the cheers for recording. The studio also recorded 41 real game crowds over the last two years, from big to small programs. And yes, I saw sheet music for an instrumental version of “Neck.”

Chris Fowler was on hand in Orlando to talk about his commentating for the game, and it was clear he’s still quite upset that ESPN blocked him from being in the game in the past. ESPN itself is not in this game as a brand, but its commentators are. There is no ESPN logo on the score bug, which has been relocated to the bottom of the screen. There is no “College GameDay”. Because I was focused on so many other parts of the game, the lack of ESPN was not something I even noticed; it still sounds like college football with Fowler/Kirk Herbstreit and Rece Davis/Jesse Palmer/David Pollack on the call.

Several camera options can be flipped through quickly with the arrow pad. Most sit at different height levels behind the quarterback, but a broadcast-ish option from the side of the field is available.

Schools were invited to submit unique details of their stadium experience to EA.

What’s not in the gameplay

Mascot mode is not in the game, to answer a question I got a lot. Players do not have X-Factors like in past Madden games. Online Dynasty mode cannot be played across consoles, but that and Mascot mode could come in future games.

You will not be able to edit the attributes of real-life players in the rosters. You can edit created players, but there supposedly will be blocks to keep you from making a player like Arch Manning, who did not opt into the game. In recent days, a handful of starting players have tweeted that they’d like to be in the game and don’t know how to opt in. I don’t know if or when they will get updated.

We did not get any more details on Ultimate Team and college football legends who could be in it, nor was there more information about Team Builder, which allows gamers to create schools. But both features will be in the game.

Did you get all of that? I took 10 pages of notes over two days, hoping to answer as many of your questions as possible. People crave every morsel of news about this game.

There will be player updates throughout the real season as EA sends out patches. If a freshman breaks out, EA will be able to update the rosters to reflect that. The dream for future games is that if a new trick play happens on a Saturday, EA may be able to push it out a few days later.

While most sports video games are just updates from the year before, College Football 25 is a completely new game. Pretty much nothing from NCAA 14 could carry over, and the final edition of NCAA is now two console generations behind (College Football 25 will only be available on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S). The entire process of building this game will have taken more than four years, but it creates the foundation moving forward.

It was a surreal experience to play a new college football video game again. It’s really coming back. Do not consider this an official review. That will come closer to launch. This is my attempt to give you as much information as possible based on my limited time. I still want to actually play Dynasty mode and Road to Glory. There may be parts of the new game you and I don’t like. There are just so many things with this game I need to jump back into, and my two-ish hours of gameplay were just a small window.

It’s been a long 11 years, but the wait is almost over.

(Screenshots courtesy of EA Sports)


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