It’s been a rocky few years for hockey-inclined gamers. Following the immediate jump to new consoles, EA Sports opted to initially and completely ignore bringing its core NHL series to the upgraded hardware. The year following marked a brand new puck physics system that was accompanied by a stripped down experience that left fans scorned. It’s been two years since the lacklustre NHL 15 debuted, but it’s a relief to report that NHL 17 is the long awaited return to form that the franchise has been building towards.
The longstanding gameplay foundation of the NHL property is still very much intact this time around, with older additions such as the Skill Stick and physics system still firmly in place. While this isn’t a complete gameplay overhaul by any means (although new mechanics such as net battles and better goalies only help add to the experience) these mainstays were never the overlying issue – the lack of modes was.
Still, the gameplay itself is a fickle beast, as it’s an incredibly smooth experience – until it isn’t. The reality of creating a video game based on the sport of hockey is the almost unfathomable number of variables that pop up during every game. As a result, enhanced puck movement and goaltending tweaks aside, not everything goes of without a hitch. Wonky movements from on-ice figures following a goal are still present, with commentary failing to offer a wholly accurate approach to sportscasting. It’s the little things that constantly pop up to remind users that they are playing a game that have been reoccurring issues for the series, but these hiccups don’t deter too much from the game itself.
Outside of the actual gameplay, a number of new modes have been added to the mix. One of these thoroughly enjoyable additions is Draft Champions. Utilizing assets found in this year’s Hockey Ultimate Team mode, users are able to quickly create teams based on several different themes. Only want to be able to select players that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s chalice? Go for it. Rather stick to drafting Canadian players? Do it, eh. These choices are randomly generated and presented to fans each time, adding some nice variety, but they also keep the experience short and sweet by limiting it to four playable games. Additionally, they offer fans the chance to earn some HUT cards for the aforementioned competitive, card-collecting, online, team-building mode.
Meanwhile, Franchise mode is another brand new addition – inspired by the ‘Be A GM’ feature – that allows fans to manage their very own team. While building a squad and creating a Stanley Cup contender are certainly major factors for any club in the NHL, it’s the ability to manage profits through ticket sales and enhance various items around the arena (i.e. parking, bathrooms, seating, concessions, etc.) that gives a little more depth to the latest feature. Indeed, taking on a position of overseeing one’s favorite hockey team is a dream come true, and perfecting the art of juggling a successful lineup, a profitable business, and a happy fan base is exactly what fans have been waiting for.
Not to be outdone, one of the biggest events happening in 2016 is the resurrection of the World Cup of Hockey after a 12 year hiatus. EA Sports has ensured that the tournament hasn’t been forgotten in NHL 17, and has effectively implemented it into this latest iteration under a new mode of the same name. This isn’t a groundbreaking feature by any means, as it simply enables fans to suit up as one of the eight teams participating in the tournament. With that said, it’s certainly needed, but it doesn’t drastically change the experience or enhance the overall package all that much.
Then there’s the various ‘Create-A-Blank’ modes. As followers of the series can attest, there’s always been something lacking in past iterations. While creating an in-game avatar to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Ovechkin is easy enough, it still lacks substantial girth that many may have been hoping for. With that said, attention has instead been put into allowing gamers to build an entire franchise. Players can modify an arena, tweak minute jersey details, and build a team worthy of their legacy. Many of these have been featured in previous NHL games, but they’re back and better than ever in NHL 17.
NHL 17 isn’t leaps and bounds better than last year’s NHL 16, but it’s evident upon even a glance that EA Sports has been listening to its fan base. The end result of this leaves glimmers of unrealized potential, but the realization that this is the best installment that the series has seen thus far. It’s been a rough trek for gamers, but NHL is back and it’s better than ever.
NHL 17 arrives for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 13, 2016.