With NHL 17 officially hitting store shelves this morning, that means a brand new year of hockey is right around the corner. Thanks largely in part to EA Sports, I was able to get my hands on the game early this year and got to check out some of the newest additions to NHL 17.
If you were a frequent player during last year’s iteration, you will notice a fairly similar feel once the puck drops for the first time in NHL 17. The general mechanics behind the gameplay engine are largely similar compared to the NHL 16, but you will quickly notice several, albeit simple, improvements that only add onto the overall user experience.
One of EA’s biggest additions in that area was the inclusion of Net Battles, which creates more realistic “battles” in front of the net for both defensemen and forwards alike. With the simple press of the Y/Triangle button, players can engage this feature to either tie up the body, push players from various shooting lanes, lift sticks, or set up for the deflection in front. While you won’t see net battles being used during every single shift or play, they appear often enough to resemble real-world situations.
In addition to Net Battles, goalies were completely overhauled through a brand new Reactionary Save Intelligence engine. This new engine gives goaltenders the ability to read the oncoming play and decide whether to make a quick reactionary save, or use their body to block the puck. Goaltenders will also replicate the movements and reactionary saves compared to their real-world counterparts with the inclusion of authentic stances for a majority of the starting netminers in the NHL.
After playing a handful of offline and online games, it will quickly become evident just how much better goaltenders are at covering their angles and reacting to wide open shooting lanes. While the good certainly outweighs the bad, fluky goals continue to be an issue much like in previous iterations. No player is perfect, but the regularity of some bad decision making from the AI could lead to the user becoming frustrated at times.
If you are an offline kind of player, you will absolutely love what EA has done with their revamped gameplay sliders. Users now have the ability to fully craft the gameplay and tailor it to their play style. You can customize everything from the incidental contact between players all the way down to how often each type of penalty is called. Along with the sliders comes a brand new full-sim gamplay style which allows you to fully immerse yourself in a real-world simulation environment.
While much of the gameplay mechanics have remained the same, this year’s subtle refinements have resulted in a much more exciting and realistic experience. The questionable play from the AI’s can become relatively stale on occasion, but a majority of the time their decision making and creativity will leave you satisfied enough to come back for more.
New Ways to Play
After spending the last two year’s catching up and re-releasing some of their most prominent game modes, NHL 17 finally offers a much needed breath of fresh air in many aspects. Starting with their brand new Franchise mode, which is a newly redesigned version of their previous Be a GM mode. Instead of just controlling the team you put on the ice like in year’s past, you will now take full control of a team and build them from the ground up.
This year, you are given the ability to control everything about your team which includes managing ticket prices, arena upgrades, concession costs and even tossing in an occasional Mats Zuccarello bobblehead night to excite and entice your hometown fans. You will also have much more to play for this year by catering to your owner’s expectations and completing a series of challenging goals, all while managing the team budget. While it may seem like a lot to wrap your head around, the ability to defer or make your own decisions helps make it an enjoyable experience for both casual and hardcore players.
Relocation is also a brand new feature that was implemented into Franchise mode, which as the title suggests, gives you the ability to move your team to a different location. If your owner accepts your relocation proposal, you will be given a list of potential locations to negotiate a deal with. Once you have made your decision, you will have the opportunity to fully re-brand your new team through the use of extensive team and arena customization (I’ll get more in-depth with that below). All new broadcast and presentation packages also help track player and team milestones better than ever before. Things such as a first NHL game, goal/point milestones and retirement will be recognized by the broadcast team, which adds a nice little touch to the game mode.
The World Cup of Hockey also makes it first debut in the NHL Series, and gives you the opportunity to control one of the eight teams involved in the tournament. Much like other offline modes, all new broadcast and commentary elements have helped shape the unique mode and it puts you right in the moment. Other than that though, the World Cup of Hockey mode just serves as a casual mode that you can pick up and play without hassle.
In terms of online modes, the EA Sports Hockey League and Hockey Ultimate Team are back in full force once again and each contains much anticipated tweaks. With customization being a major focal point this year, EASHL offers a wide variety of team and player customization options that we have never seen before. A brand new progression system provides the user with XP-based goals which will unlock various equipment upgrades and goal celebrations. Following NHL 16’s transition to class-based EASHL, four new exciting player classes have been introduced (Hitting Sniper, Jumbo Playmaker, Two-Way Dangler, and Puck Moving Defenseman) to help diversify playstyles.
Hockey Ultimate Team has also undergone some significant changes, with the most notable one being their team chemistry system. Gone are the days of matching players based on their team and league, and in comes an all-new team building system in HUT Synergy. Synergy lets you pair players based on their unique strengths and once activated, will provide a boost to all players with the same Synergy style. Positions also no longer play a factor in Synergy, so you can finally make Erik Karlsson into an illustrious forward without hurting your team rating.
Synergy aims to provide the user with fewer restrictions when creating their dream lineup, and gives them unlimited options in terms of creativity. EA has also taken a page or two out of Madden’s playbook this year with the inclusion of Dynamic Sets and Draft Champions. Dynamic sets are a long awaited feature for this series and provide a whole new layer of entertainment when it comes to collecting cards. HUT Heroes is one of the more rewarding sets in that you can trade in your extra team-specific cards to earn a 94 overall hometown hero. For example, if you trade in the entire Rangers collection you will be rewarded with an Adam Graves card, which will give you a premiere offensive threat up front.
The new Draft Champions mode is also heavily embedded into Hockey Ultimate Team, and gives you the ability to power through a mini fantasy draft. After drafting your team you can take them online or stay offline and go on a four game grind to earn rewards. Once you generate enough rewards, you can trade them in using Dynamic Sets and earn higher level rewards to upgrade your HUT team.
Player & Team Customization
By this point you can probably tell that player and team customization plays a massive part in this year’s game and spans across several different game modes. A majority of the player elements are similar compared to last year, but as previously mentioned, they are now all locked when you first start your EASHL journey. As you progress through the ranks, you will begin to unlock equipment such as sticks, skates, helmets, and even mix in a unique goal celebration.
While the player customization isn’t all that far off from last year, the biggest additions come in the form of creating custom jerseys and arenas. You finally have the ability to create your own custom jerseys once again, and EA also included a handful of custom logos to help make your team stand out. One downside here is that you aren’t allowed to import your own images or logos, hence limiting the ability to let your imagination run wild. That would truly up the uniqueness meter, and I’m sure it would make for some pretty cool creations.
On the other end of the team spectrum, you have one of the more exciting features in the arena creator tool. You can alter almost everything about the arena including the jumbotron size, seat colors, intro props, goal horns and goal songs. You can even add in special effects on the scoreboard by having smoke or fire come pouring out after a goal is scored. Even though you are limited in some aspects, the customization tools that are included this year are second to none. I’ve spent several hours already just tinkering around with color schemes and trying to create the best jersey and arena possible.
The subtle gameplay improvements made to NHL 17, along with the added depth in the game mode department presents players with a much more complete package. Between the endless customization options, a brand new Franchise mode, and countless goals to work towards in EASHL/HUT, the game has plenty to offer its users over the next dozen months. Even though some areas need tweaking, NHL 17 is a must-have if you are looking for an authentic and entertaining hockey experience.
Final Grade: 8.5 out of 10