Punishing and not in the “what a hit!” way. That would describe what NHL 17 brings to the table. It seems like the last two renditions of EA Sports hockey have focused incredibly heavy on simulation rather than fun. However, even that comes into conflict with what this year’s NHL tries to do and I would know. I played ice hockey all throughout my childhood and if I do say so myself I was a damn good goalie. Five championships in seven years and an MVP award to boot. In addition I’ve played hockey games since the golden child, NHL 94. Even the 2K hockey titles way back in the mid-2000s. That’s why I’m moderately disappointed with NHL 17.
Where this game stands strong though is the amount of content to participate in. Main modes being franchise, career, EASHL, draft champions, hockey ultimate team, online head to head, and World Cup of Hockey. Smaller modes consist of online/offline shootout, practice, quick play, and season/playoff mode. Honestly there is enough substance here that EA could lay off the yearly titles because there’s so much to do.
Franchise mode has been revamped. So much so that it kind of loses the fun of past NHL titles. There’s a lot of typical things to do like sign free agents, trade players, edit lines, set prices and different objectives like meet with players, upgrade arena amenities, repair existing amenities, listen to and act on fan feedback, succeed in meeting the team owner’s goals, and send off agents to prospective draft picks. If you enjoy simulation then this experience will be right up your alley. There’s a lot to do behind the scenes before going into each hockey match. Unfortunately, for me it was a little too overwhelming and I felt like I couldn’t properly play any games.
There was simply too much to do off the ice. Instead of it being a worthwhile adventure into creating the best team possible for twenty years, franchise mode felt more like work training for prospective general managers. An ideal franchise mode should feature fun more than realism. In my opinion anyway. But if you like turning figurative knobs and dials to achieve the best possible outcome, while occasionally playing the sport of hockey, then give this all-encompassing mode a shot. Just expect to be interrupted every other game with a handful of things that need attention (even if simulating.)
Career mode was more my style. Create a character from provided models, select your characteristics and history, and just worry about what happens to you. The customization was nice but you can only select from the plethora of pre-determined models. Not necessarily a bad thing but you can’t sculpt your face if you wanted to. There are a ton of options though to choose from. Face shapes, hair styles, and equipment combinations alone must have numbered in the thousands.
Depending on your play in the playoffs of whatever minor league in the world you choose determines where you go in the NHL Draft. I was lucky enough to be the number one pick but on the other hand it was the Maple Leafs that drafted me. From here you play your games to the utmost of your ability to be the best and win the Stanley Cup. Unless of course you get demoted to the minor leagues. Besides that you can set where your experience points will be allocated into attributes, minimally interact with staff, and other typical things in Be a Pro modes’ past.
My position was that of goalie and it was both simplistic and in-depth. The controls were as simple as moving to take away as much of the net as possible to more complicated things like hugging posts and stacking your pads. Playing as the goaltender was great when done correctly but you felt like an absolute piece of crap when you failed. There is a steep learning curve to utilizing the goaltender position right but again if you like simulation more than arcade (and fun) then this should be enjoyable for you.
EASHL is back and basically is Be a Pro mixed with hockey ultimate team. You create a player who can only play one position per game online. Based on your performance and outcome of the match will net you experience so you can level up and unlock different cosmetics. If you don’t like going online against other gamers alone there is the option to create or join a club. Basically acts as a team people can join and matchmake with. EA Sports Hockey League will most likely be the most popular option in regards to multiplayer. There is enough customization to make you feel unique but simple and easy enough to drop right in.
Draft Champions is a new addition and has you selecting players through twelve rounds of choices. With each row of real life hockey players you need try to create the most well balance team possible. I may have failed in this because my goalie overall is in the seventies. There is no excuse besides I got excited over the possibilities this mode presented to you. There will be some great players to choose from including legends of the game both active and retired. I mean I acquired Brendan Shanahan with an overall of 94 for crying out loud! Also, I am aware I insulted the team with which Mr. Shanahan is the president of but I digress. After you’ve had your fill of choices you get to bring a potential, legendary and unheard of team to battle in online multiplayer.
World Cup of Hockey is the last, new, major addition and is simply playing through the World Cup of Hockey tournament. Choose your country and battle it out with other nations of the world to be crowned the best place on Earth in hockey. Hockey Ultimate Team is also basically the same with nothing major changed. Earn/buy new players to be apart of your team and take them online to win and level up.
What all the mentioned and unmentioned modes have in common is of course the gameplay. The sport of hockey can only be played so many ways. Unfortunately, the developers went the true simulation route like last year and the gameplay suffers for it in my opinion. Momentum seems off for both avoiding hits and dealing them out even if you have the correct class selected or built up. What appears to be a small check could easily make you end up on your face when it had no business too. The worst offender though was what I dub “magnetized stick defense.” If you so much as get near an opposing player, expect to lose the puck. Even if they haven’t reached for it or they’re on the complete wrong side of you.
In essence you simply lose the puck too easily. It’s like each player has a ghost around them that knocks pucks off sticks. Again it boils down to simulation being put over fun. Except somewhere in the coding realism got screwed up. Of course if a hockey player gets to close to an opponent they’re going to lose possession but that shouldn’t happen in a video game if the A.I. or other player doesn’t even make an attempt at the puck. It’s like the defensive prowess in this game was cranked up to compensate.
Another design issue is the passing. Not only will passes be easily interceptable but may be sent off incredibly weak. This is because to get a normal pass to go faster, you have to hold down R2 for a few seconds. As you’d expect it doesn’t bode well when you’re being pressured but you see a teammate open. In real life the pass might not be complete because of being rushed. Not because the pass was too weak. It literally only takes a few milliseconds in real life to register how hard you have to hit a puck to get it to your teammate and perform said action. In NHL 17 your pass won’t be complete because the pass is incredibly slow. So in trying to simulate the game of hockey, a pass not being completed because of an opponent rushing you is put into the passing mechanic. You’re probably wondering if you can just use a saucer pass in this situation but that will probably end up in icing or lost possession all the same.
Those major problems aside the gameplay can be fun. The controls are mapped as they’ve always been with the skill stick and a ticker above your head gives you pointers on what to do. When things are executed correctly NHL 17 will get really fun whether you win or lose regardless of what mode you’re in. For what it’s worth I found myself wanting to play a hockey game when I hadn’t played in a while. It’s just that I couldn’t play for extended periods of time without the issues popping their little heads out.
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