The latest iteration of EA Sports’ popular NHL Series released worldwide this past Friday and comes packed with noteworthy additions, along with some much needed improvements. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the game prior to it’s worldwide launch, so here are the takeaways from the early access.
New RPM Skating Technology
The EA Sports team has once again reworked their skating and physics engine, but this time around, it is truly rebuilt from the ground up. What is being dubbed as “Real Player Motion Tech”, the developers are introducing a brand new “explosive-edge skating” engine that improves player acceleration and responsiveness. When comparing it to last year’s game, the skating felt extremely clunky, very basic and made it seem as if you were skating in mud at times.
With the new RPM Technology, the skating in NHL 19 is easily the most authentic it has been throughout the franchises’ existence. One of the biggest takeaways from the new skating engine is that there is much greater emphasis being put on individual statistics. Gone are the days of Connor McDavid being chased down by Dan Girardi on a rush, which ultimately leads to more realistic and deserved scoring opportunities.
The bottom line is, players who have better speed and acceleration attributes will have the ability to leave much slower players in the dust. It is a welcomed improvement and creates a true to life feel with today’s NHL being based largely around speed and skill.
World of Chel
Easily one of the coolest additions to this year’s game is the creation of the “World of Chel” which is an evolution of the EA Sports Hockey League. It provides a single progression system whether you’re playing NHL Threes, NHL Ones (more on that in a minute), Pro-Am and EASHL. Upon entering the World of Chel, you will create a character which will be playable across all of the game modes mentioned above. As you progress through the ranks, you will earn hockey bags which are stuffed with cosmetic rewards to upgrade your player.
These cosmetic rewards range from crazy sweaters, jackets, pants, jerseys, and NHL-branded team merchandise. The massive upgrade in the player customization department ensures that every player will have a unique and interesting look. You’ll very rarely see two players look alike now, which provides more of a “personal” feel when you take the ice.
In NHL Ones, one of the new modes added to World of Chel, you and two other players will race and compete in a 1v1v1 “free-for-all” gauntlet. Filled with plenty of big hits, game changing dekes and big saves, this creates a great atmosphere for competitive and casual players alike. Whether you are playing for the rank or just looking to kill time, NHL Ones is both an addictive and fun way to pick up and play.
Overall, the presentation for NHL 19 carried over from last year’s game, but it is the little stuff which shines the brightest. Post-goal group celebrations are finally a thing, and bridge the gap between the video game world and reality. It definitely makes a goal feel more rewarding when all five players on the ice pile on each other along the glass to celebrate.
The Stanley Cup celebration was also completely overhauled and captures the true meaning of winning the Cup. The full-length presentation spans for several minutes and finishes with the illustrious pass of the Cup from the captain. From there you can watch each individual player take their lap with the Stanley Cup and celebrate with the crowd as they skate around the ice.
In previous year’s, the Stanley Cup celebration became pretty bland and repetitive, but I could watch this new presentation for hours on end. It definitely makes the season long grind all the more entertaining when you can sit back and watch it all unfold right in front of you.
Scouting in Franchise Mode
For those of you who are into Franchise mode and building your own roster, there is a massive surprise in store for you. After years of just sending a single scout around the world, EA Sports has given users the ability to hire a full team of amateur and pro scouts. You can assemble a team of up to 20 scouts, all of which specialize in various different skills as well as regions.
A Central Scouting rank has also been added to each draft eligible player, along with insightful information such as statistics from their junior career, player personality, and NHL comparable strength and weaknesses. Your team of scouts will also have their own personal ranking of a player, which you can match up with the Central Scouting rank and form a plan of attack on draft day.
The pro level of scouting also has an interesting twist added to it with the addition of ‘Fog of War’. When the Fog of War setting is enabled, certain player attributes and overalls will be masked during the season, which requires you to constantly scout at the NHL level. This will create a new tier of difficulty when deciding to acquire different players via trade or through free agency.
What Needs to be Improved:
While the gameplay overall has been dramatically improved, there are still some random annoyances that should be addressed. Once of which being the collision physics, especially when a player has full body position on a defending player and is protecting the puck. A simple nudge in the back almost always knocks the player off of the puck. Height and weight should play a larger role than it does in scenarios like this, where the bigger/stronger player out-muscles a much weaker player build.
There are also instances during EASHL 6v6 games when the game becomes more of a bumper car simulator rather than a hockey game. Almost any player is able to run up at any given moment and throw a hit to knock the puck loose. While hitting is definitely apart of the game, the constant bumping and hitting makes for a very watered down version of the experience. If general bumping and hitting were turned down just a slight bit, the game would be much better off.
Much like last year, I was severely disappointed to see that Be-A-Pro went untouched yet again. While other games like Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2k are all transitioning to story-driven player career modes, NHL has yet to venture into that market. As Be-A-Pro stands right now, there’s very little replayability past the first couple of games, as there is really nothing to look forward to.