It’s September, another year, and EA Sport’s has released the next installment in their long-running NHL series. The NHL series has had very successful launch year after year, and 2017 doesn’t seem to be any different.
A big criticism you see year after year is just what changes aside from rosters? This year, there is quite a bit, with this year introducing advanced offensive moves, new dekes, and fakes, too! The best part though is how seamless the animations blend into each other, creating smooth, flowing plays that you see in real hockey.
I’ve heard my friends say it, I’ve watched games being played and a lot of players have turned their focus to speed and skill, it’s not the same game I watched growing up where there were more enforcers on the ice. Now, as I hear friends and colleagues discuss the sport it’s more about finesse, getting the puck and never giving it up.
Hockey Canada Training Camp is exactly what someone like me needs to grasp the basics and at least stand a chance against veteran players. The idea is simple enough by beginning at training camp you learn the basics of scoring, passing, deking, shooting and checking. The new controls for NHL 18 are well implemented and worth visiting the camp as each tutorial is well documented and easy to understand – within minutes you’re ready to play against your first opponent and not feel intimidated by controls. I found myself enjoying wrist shots and aiming where the puck would land behind the goalie, and then moving to deking and finishing by mastering faceoffs – all crucial skills in NHL 18.
An improvement I enjoyed seeing was how well the crowds were animated, coming off playing MLB The Show, a game that has some of the best crowds I’ve ever seen in a game, it’s nice to see EA putting the effort into making what’s happening outside the rink important too, as the crowd is a huge part of any sporting event. The animations EA has provided for fans are some great and capture the spirit of the many dedicated hockey fans around the world.
A big issue I’ve noticed with the NHL series is how lackluster the announcers are, this year compared to the last NHL game I played (NHL 16) feels like it’s the exact same conversations with some minor adjustments. The limited capacity of the announcers wears its welcome out quickly, I’d even like to see EA look at MLB The Show or EA’s FIFA brand for some inspiration.
Which leads me to Threes, a new mode for the series and one where the announcers are belting out words like Tim Kitzrow would in NBA Jam, and plays less like a simulation and more like an arcade title, with lots of unlockable content to be found ranging from mascots to arenas to play in. Threes is just that, three on three hockey that is faster to play, it’s fun and feels much like a pick-up game which allows multiplayer online or co-op with a buddy. The included money puck allows for goals that double your points and things like Fire Pucks add two or three points, Ice Pucks are the opposite and deduct points from your tally up ranging from one to three points.
Music is a big part of any sport as well and it’s nice to see a varied soundtrack that works well against the backdrop, especially within the EA Sports series where many games have menu heavy modes where you’re spending time navigating through menus.
Franchise mode adds a huge new feature this year – new team expansions which allow for the recently created Vegas Golden Knights or a 32nd NHL franchise to begin with the expansion draft, even mimicking real NHL players who were exempt from the draft. By creating your own team through Franchise mode, you can customize the team’s arena, name, logo, mascot, and jersey. I’m still exploring what else is available (there’s a lot to uncover!) but I’ve noticed a few things like differing player levels by their skills, and signing players mid-season.
Ultimate Team returns, and just like it is in FIFA, this is a mode that will see the most traffic once again. Opening packs, fine-tuning the ultimate team, upgrading items to get the most out of your inventory, trading player cards for better iterations – there’s a lot to get through but when you learn how synergy works between teams and players, how their individual players link by their play style, using the auction house to buy, trade, and sell players, too.
NHL 18 is a winner, a rookie player like me returns to the ice and proves himself, the new simplified controls give players like me a fighting chance, and the changes to the yearly formula create a fun experience. Threes is a mode I can see expanding in the future, it’s fun, it’s fast and it’s easy to get into, with unlockable content you want to use. I’m behind on the NHL series, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying this year’s outing as NHL 18 is a fun game with enough content that will keep any gamer busy all year long.