NHL is out to change the game with a little of the same and, hopefully, enough new.
EA Sports invited me online last week to see some of the design pillars and early details for NHL 22, and I’ve got to say that so far, there’s enough here to keep me interested… you know, aside from the fact that The Kraken is now a part of the series!
RPM Crawled So Frostbite Can Run
The biggest news is that NHL is finally using the Frostbite engine. For all intents and purposes, this should mean that this year’s installment will have crisper lighting, better reflection and draw dynamics and perhaps most importantly, dynamic action.
Frostbite has arguably made FIFA and Madden more dynamic games by allowing for a greater level of photorealism as well as in terms of fluid physics. Frostbite has given FIFA players more control over the ball with unique skills. While in Madden, It’s meant that tackles look… well, they look a little something like this.
For NHL 22, EA Sports hopes you’ll find that the new engine helps elevate hockey’s greatest player both in appearance and puck performance.
EA Sports is even going so far as to call this the biggest leap forward in graphics and gameplay in series history. Players and arenas bear a greater likeness to real life. Detailing in jerseys follows skating directions and an arena’s surroundings are captured crisply in the cold reflections of the ice.
Now, I’ve only seen less than a minute of actual in-game footage so far. I was given a short viewing of Auston Matthews pulling off a dirty dangle with an X-Factor. It wasn’t much to go off of, but it played out pretty clearly and with a full range of motion.
Now, motion is something that EA Sports has spent the past few years trying to put top-corner with its motion capture RPM Tech system first used in UFC 3 in 2017 and expanded to the NHL series. I was sure it had become a major pillar of the IP, and I was fine with that. You may remember that in my NHL review from a few years back, I quite enjoyed RPM Tech in its introduction to the franchise.
So I am sad to see it go, but according to one team member, Frostbite will pick up the pass. “Developing NHL 22 with the Frostbite engine is letting us truly bring the series into the next generation,” says Clement Kwong, Producer at EA Vancouver. “The visual upgrade is impressive on its own, but the Frostbite engine is also giving us the power to create a lot of realism that you’ll really notice once you play.”
NHL 22 — Matthews Scores the Cover Again
Speaking of Matthews, Toronto’s greatest goal-scorer and most famous muff-barer scores his second opportunity as the cover athlete, which is fitting because he joins last year’s athlete, Alexander Ovechkin (NHL 07 marked his first appearance), as only the third player to grace two NHL covers. Canadian hockey prodigy and Chicago captain Jonathan Towes was the first to earn that honour on NHL 11 and NHL 16, respectively.
Now, Matthews is a great personality on and off the ice, so this is an easy choice — just don’t ask him to get you out of the first round!
I have a feeling this is going to be a controversial choice with so many players stepping up and Matthews taking a little bit more of a sidelined approach to his assistant captain duties in this strange COVID-capped season. I honestly think there would be a better narrative in putting Andrei Vasilevskiy or Carey Price on the cover. But I won’t complain that putting a man who just keeps one-upping himself is worthy as well.
X-Factors aims to put the excitement back in the game
One of the best things to come out of Madden’s most recent additions to sports gaming is X-Factors — skill buffs based on real athletic advances players have been able to use to elevate their game. It’s honestly one of the few reasons I stuck with Madden 21 as long as I did. There was something enjoyable about feeling like I was being rewarded using Deshaun Watson outside of the pocket, which, let’s be honest, it’s the only place he works in real life.
NHL 22 will feature 150 players with Superstar X-Factor abilities that are uniquely hockey skills. It will also supercharge the top 50 NHL players with Zone abilities that are touted as being absolutely clutch if you can learn how to use them. These abilities will also extend to created pros that you make with the choice being afforded to you in the name of ultimate personalization.
Here’s a quote on how EA expects the two new forms of X-Factor to change the game: “Superstar X-Factors brings two key elements to help elevate hockey’s elite and break them away from the pack: Zone Abilities and Superstar Abilities. Zone Abilities bring game-breaking enhancements to the best players, while Superstar Abilities represent upper echelon skills reserved for athletes playing at the next level. Players like Edmonton Oilers Forward Leon Draisaitl, whose “Tape to Tape” ability reflects his elite core passing; or Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s “Contortionist” X-factor that boosts his ability to make wild, body-twisting saves with ease will make a profound impact on NHL 22 gameplay.”
We haven’t been told much about X-Factors in NHL 22 aside from this introduction yet, but I think I’m excited to learn more!
Early to the draw
I don’t really feel comfortable talking about World of Chel for NHL 22 yet because I was told that news for that — along with changes made to solo player modes and Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) — will come to me in the coming weeks. It’s already safe to say that X-Factors (it’s getting a whole edition based on X-Factors) and the benefits of the Frostbite engine will extend to the growing popularity that is EA’s esports and multiplayer mode. Those who are looking forward to jumping back into that would actually want to pre-order because some pretty decent bonuses were announced. Fans that pre-order NHL 22 will get a variety of bonus in-game content.
The NHL 22 X-Factor Edition includes the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 or Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S versions of the game, three days of early access, up to 10 HUT Diamond Player Choice Packs, one HUT X-Factor Player Choice Pack, HUT X-Factor Power-Up Starter Pack, up to four HUT X-Factor Power-Up Packs, five World of Chel X-Factor Zone Ability Unlocks, five Unlocked Hockey Bags, two Be A Pro X-Factor Slot Unlocks, XP Boost, and Bonus Trait Points. Basically, that’s a lot of buffs!
Leaving you right now is hard because there’s so much here I feel like I still need to see. World of Chel and HUT are obviously going to be big again this year, and I haven’t seen anything on them yet. From what I heard about changes to the Franchise and Be A Pro modes, this isn’t the year for big changes, with most of the focus there being on changing up how the broadcast presentation plays out, which I’m apprehensive about, but I reserve judgement for now. Inversely, I’m excited for X-Factors and Frostbite because both have been shown to serve as changes to the formula.
I’ll leave you by saying I’m going to be chasing the puck.