It’s that time of year again, the time when hockey is upon us. That can only mean one thing…it’s time for the release of NHL 17! Will this year’s edition of the only NHL hockey game be a huge step up? Our full review inside will tell you all you need to know.
This is the 15th straight year that I’ve purchased the latest NHL game on release date. I’m a die hard hockey fan and I’ve been playing these games since NHLPA ’93. I’ve seen everything this game has gone through over the years from the letdowns of NHL 15 and NHL 06 to the great games like NHL ’94 and NHL 2004. The one thing that I’ve always admired about the series is how they have continuously strived to make a more realistic product while keeping the fun-factor. This trend continues with NHL 17 even though there are still some minor tweaks to be made.
Let’s dive right into the gameplay. The bread and butter of this series has always been how it plays and NHL 17 improves on a lot of areas that weren’t so great in NHL 16. The AI-controlled players are much more aggressive in this year’s game. These players are on you anytime you have the puck. There is very little time for decision-making. This creates a much more competitive and true-to-life game. There are occasional miscues, but overall, the AI has been vastly improved.
The mechanics of the game have also been improved and tweaked in NHL 17. No longer are stick lifts a magical tool that gets the puck every time. They’re far less effective in this game. Poke checks seem to work better in the sense that you can knock it off of a player’s stick easier, however, they still get the puck back far too easily. Hitting even seems a bit more realistic this year with more effective shoving a small pushes. The crushing hits are still there, but they’re only when you truly line someone up.
The introduction of “Net battles” this year have provided the defenseman with a much-needed tool to stop passes to the slot. A quick button-hold ties up the player out front rendering them useless offensively. The NHL series has this feature years ago and, for whatever reason, took it out for quite a long time. This is a big feature for those who play defense in EASHL especially. It makes it a lot easier to take away easy goals.
If that wasn’t enough, EA tweaked the goalie animations to play more like an actual NHL goaltender. Goalies are smarter and will shrug their shoulders at pucks, cover the net in the butterfly stance, and make the odd spectacular save. The goalies aren’t unbeatable, but they do provide a nice challenge. I still feel that breakaways are a bit too easy, but I can live with that.
Now that we have what’s new under the hood out of the way, we get to the new modes. The first one I want to take a look at is the brand new Franchise Mode. I’ve been jealous of Madden players over Franchise Mode for a while now. I’ve always been one to want to tinker with every aspect of my team and now I can. Franchise Mode replaces Be a GM Mode and makes you the owner, GM, and coach of a franchise of your choosing. You don’t have to turn owner mode on, but I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to.
Franchise Mode takes you in-depth allowing you to change things like ticket prices, concession prices, upgrade facilities, launch promotional nights, and even relocate your franchise to a rather large number of different cities. The amount of control you have over a team is staggering. I literally turned the Arizona Coyotes from a rebuilding team to a championship team in one season and then promptly relocated them to Oklahoma City. Franchise Mode will satisfy the player who wants more out of a season mode while still allowing room to expand in NHL 18. Player Morale returns from NHL 16 as well as all of the other features you’ve come to expect. This is by far my favourite season mode offering out of any of the NHL games.
Draft Champions is the next new mode in NHL 17. This is another mode that has been borrowed from Madden. It’s a quick mode where you build a team of players through a 12-round draft. Each draft has a theme like Young Stars, All-Stars, World Cup, and so on. Once you complete your draft, you can take your team online or play the AI. The rewards that come from winning Draft Champions Mode go directly into Hockey Ultimate Team Mode.
Hockey Ultimate Team hasn’t received much of an upgrade this year because it didn’t really require one. They added synergy so that players of similar skill types get a bonus when they’re on the ice together. You can also trade in your unused cards for complete sets. No more 50 different jersey cards sitting in your collection for no reason. These sets unlock some pretty cool stuff like legends for specific teams. Sometimes all you need is to tinker with a mode to make it even better than last year.
The World Cup of Hockey is included in this year’s game. All the teams are represented with authentic jerseys, rosters, and the Air Canada Centre is even decked out in WCH 2016 signage. This mode probably won’t get much play-time beyond the next few weeks, but it’s nice to have it included and certainly didn’t take much to add.
The last mode we’ll take a look at it EA Sports Hockey League. What an improvement this mode has gone through! I’ve played this mode since it first began and I’ve always wanted more customization. Now we have that with this year’s version of EASHL. Virtually everything is able to be upgraded. Everything from the jumbotron at center ice to the logo on your helmet can be completely altered to your liking. The colours of your home arena, the size of that arena, the stanchions between the glass, there’s no shortage of cool things to unlock for your team and player. As you club level and player levels go up, your team looks more like a legitimate NHL team than a rec team.
There are even some new player classes in EASHL like the jumbo playmaker, hitting sniper, and puck-moving defenseman. All of these new types add some different dynamics to an already meticulous team-building process. EASHL is 1000 times better than last year and offers a lot more reason to keep playing beyond just winning games. Online Team-Play even adds the option to group up before entering a game this year making those quick games a lot easier to join with buddies. The EASHL/OTP games I player in were always very smooth and I never dropped out of any in my 35 games so far.
NHL 17 brings the NHL series forward with some big leaps. This series is definitely heading in the right direction after the debacle that was NHL 15. I’m annoyed that I can’t choose captains in EASHL (seriously, how is that not in this game?) and the stick lifts aren’t quite as effective as I’d like them to be, but this game has been a solid entry in the NHL seires and one that I’ll be spending a lot of time with. I’d definitely recommend this one to everyone.