With the many positive changes NHL 17 made over its previous year’s version, there was anticipation that would take another giant step forward in the right direction. Unfortunately, EA hits the post and misses the mark with NHL 18.
While gameplay was much improved last year, it seems this year’s version feels like a holding pattern, minus a couple of in-game elements, such as the defensive skill stick, which allows players to freely control their stick on the ice while also moving into position, and the offensive deke system, which adds some flashy, yet difficult to execute maneuvers in attempts to get past opponents when trying to create those must see highlight plays, such as one handed dekes, toe drags dekes and flip shots, and between the legs passes and shots. The AI however does play smarter, including banking passes off the boards and positioning themselves better defensively to take away scoring opportunities.
The game does start off strong with Training Camp, an interactive video tutorial taking users through a Team Canada learning session on user controls and in game rules, how to use them along with when and why to execute them. With the improvements to the featured Skill Stick, this is a good way for users to get familiar with the basics as well as some of the flashier moves used to create offensive chances and score goals.
NHL Threes mode is introduced as a new game mode this year, and a big focal point of NHL 18.
EA takes the excitement from the NHL All-Star is on 3 game format, and jam packs it into an arcade version of a normal hockey game. Gamers will experience bigger hits, shots, and scoring modifiers, adding bonus goals for you or taking them away from your opponent, as well as scoring formats based on normal period length or a first to a set number of goals target. This mode is available in single player and online versus, and includes custom arenas, playable mascots, as well as an over the top announcer a la NBA Jam, although it would have been nice to have him doing commentary as opposed to yelling catch phrases over the arena’s PA system, as he becomes difficult to hear during the game while the crowd is constantly cheering the on-ice action. NHL Threes mode provides plenty of playable hours for casual players and it’s obvious that EA put a lot of their focus this year into this game mode.
EA Sports Hockey League remains mostly unchanged from last year, despite being the game’s most popular mode. Although everything about it is basically the same as before, including player classes, arena and player customization options, including equipment and preset facial options, adding 3 on 3 mode as a separate option to the 6 on 6 mode drastically changes the strategy on how to be successful. 3 on 3 mode is fast paced, end to end action, with every defensive mistake or overly aggressive forecheck leading to a breakaway or odd man rush, and every penalty resulting in a penalty shot, allowing players more opportunities to show off their flashiest dekes to embarrass a goalie and impress the audience.
Hockey Ultimate Team is back and largely unchanged, other than adding team challenges, which give players another option to adding in game currency. Although there isn’t much opportunity to expand upon this mode, adding a 3 on 3 mode in HUT would have been a great way to add to one of the game’s more popular mode. EA however, does provide the option of doing a co-op mode, allowing players to team up with their friends to complete challenges or take on other users.
Draft Champions sticks with the same themes as last year’s model, offering a fantasy draft based on player criteria (young stars, vets, east and west coast players), but returning users won’t find much incentive to play this mode too often.
Be A Pro career mode doesn’t really offer much from last year other than the ability to request a trade and set criteria on where you would like your created player to be traded to. With FiFA and Madden both showcasing the journey in making the pros, NHL Be A Pro is sorely lacking a story mode.
Franchise Mode provides the ability to manage one of the 31 teams last year, or complete the expansion draft and control the new Las Vegas Golden Knights franchise, including the drafting of the new expansion roster. Not much has really changed from last year other than that.
The NHL on NBC commentary, the in-game presentation, the celebrations, among other details in game play, all feel stale and are in dire need of an upgrade. Standard team goal celebrations still don’t involve more than 2 players, while the solo celebrations have been the same for multiple seasons now. Milestones are still celebrated the same way, while commentary remains mostly unchanged since it debuted in NHL 15.
It would have been nice to see EA introduce the Frostbite engine in NHL that is currently being used in Madden and FIFA. NHL seems like it would benefit by making the switch, however their focus seemed to be more towards on-ice gameplay and features instead of the use of the engine and its potential benefits the road (Be A Pro story mode perhaps?) While they say they are working closely with developers, it doesn’t appear that it will be in the cards for maybe another year or two.
When NHL 14 launched, EA was one of the first to implement their own app that extended a user’s access to their Hockey Ultimate Team’s Auction House directly from their mobile device.
Madden and FIFA have been providing a compatible mobile app with their franchise and ultimate team modes. NBA 2K even provides ways to earn in game currency through the different game modes in their mobile app, and even take it a step further by integrating facial scans, allowing users to create their own face for their created character. With a lot of the NHL series either being tweaked, or remaining unchanged, this appears to be an area where EA is missing out on its potential to make the game even more marketable.
All in all, NHL 18 is still a solid game, and very appealing to new users. Returning players may need to temper their expectations a little bit on this year’s version however, as other than adding NHL Threes and few tweaks in some game modes, the game feels very similar to NHL 17.
Words By. Marlon Meggoe