It’s that time of year again! The time where we get to see the additions that the NHL series is making and complain about the ones that they haven’t made. At least that’s what it seems like. You’re never going to please everyone, no matter how hard you try. So with that said, let’s go through what’s new in the NHL 18 Beta.
The NHL 18 Beta comes in at a whopping 17 GB of HDD space when you go to download it on PS4. I don’t think that was far off from the full game for NHL 17. While the game does take up a lot of space, it doesn’t include every mode in the game. You’re relegated to playing either Online Versus, EASHL, or the brand-new NHL Threes.
The first thing I tried was the Online Versus mode to see how the game plays this time around. I noticed that the matchmaking seems to be improved when trying to find a game online. It found players really quickly in the few games I played. I’ve never really had much of a problem with that, but this was definitely noticeably better.
When I stepped into the game, I noticed that graphically, it’s pretty similar to NHL 17. They haven’t made many strides in that department at all. The game already looked pretty good, but something extra would have been nice. You’ll be annoyed to know that the NHL 18 Beta still has the same annoying little aesthetic inconsistencies that have plagued previous games. These aren’t huge issues, but they are things that take you out of that NHL experience.
I’ll just go through a few things I noticed about the Leafs. The Air Canada Centre still had all the old graphics and slogans on the walls and LED ring. I feel like that stuff should be pretty simple fix. I also noticed that Matt Martin still has long hair (the Leafs have a strict short hair policy). I’m sure there are plenty of players with similar issues or generic faces (Zach Hyman) on most of the other teams. They did manage to update Toronto’s goal song, though, so there is hope for some of the finer details.
Beyond aesthetics, the NHL 18 Beta has a distinctly different feel to it than NHL 17. This game feels a lot more like a simulation than it did last year. The pacing is a touch slower than before and it seems to be easier to start a play, but harder to finish it off. It feels better overall to me, but some might not like this more realistic approach. The skating, fatigue, and momentum feel a lot better than they did in 17. If you get caught, up ice, it’s a lot harder to get back in position. I think this will keep some of the cherry-picking we see to a minimum this year. Even if you do happen to allow a breakaway, the goalies seem more than competent enough to actually give you a save unlike last year.
On the defensive side of the game, I was pleasantly surprised at how much was accomplished by so little. There is a new defensive skill stick which basically allows you to swipe your stick back and forth along the ice beside and in front of you. It gives you a lot more control over what an attacking player can do. The revamped poke checking also helps. It’s a lot harder to spam the poke check button to continuously knock away the puck. Now, players have to time it and aim it properly to knock it away.
If you’re not much of a poke checking type of person and prefer to lay the body, NHL 18 has you covered there too. Body checking seems to be a lot more structured in this game. I personally had a lot of problems checking in NHL 17 with bouncing off of people I should easily knock down. I haven’t had that problem in this game. If you line someone up, they fall down. If you shove someone against the boards, they bounce off them slightly. It feels like what you would see in a real hockey game.
Now that we’ve covered how the defensive side of the game has tightened up, how about the offense? The offensive skill stick is better than ever and allows you to do some interesting dekes and trick shots (including shooting between your legs). Some of these dekes are harder than others, but they can be chained together so as you get better with it, you can create some really cool offense. The cycle game is equally as polished, I was able to really hem my opponents in their own zone for long periods of time with quick passing. I felt like I had a lot more control over my passes and I was able to pull off some really fun plays.
EASHL returns with a similar setup to last year. I was happy to see it unchanged because I feel like there isn’t much more you can do to it right now. I just played drop-in games so I’m not quite sure if there are any new additions to your custom teams, but there is one big addition to this mode as a whole. Players now have the option to play 6 on 6 or 3 on 3. For those with smaller teams or even those that hate playing with CPU players, this is a huge deal. It’s like playing 3 on 3 overtime for the whole game It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, and most of all, it’s fun. The only other difference I noticed was the ability to add a mouthguard to your created player. The rest of the creation suite seems exactly the same as NHL 17.
The big change to NHL 18 is the new NHL Threes Mode. If you played the 2009 game 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, this mode will be instantly familiar to you. It features a completely different UI and presentation style to the normal game complete with an over-the-top announcer. It reminds me of a light version of NHL Hitz. The pacing is a little bit faster in this mode, the rink is smaller, penalties result in penalty shots, hits are harder, and goalie contact is allowed. There are even times when goals will be worth two or goals will take away goals from the other team. It’s basically an anything goes mode that can be played against another person online or against the CPU.
I liked NHL Threes a lot because it’s something that provides a different type of gameplay from the normal game. I can see it being really competitive online and it looks like there’s going to be some kind of progression to it from what I’ve read on the loading screens. According to those, you’re going to be able to get legends to put on your team and things of that nature. It’s all really interesting especially considering NHL hasn’t implemented many new modes lately.
I was really impressed during my time with the NHL 18 Beta. EA really seems to have the mechanics of this game down at this point and they’re starting to work on the some of the smaller stuff that has been nagging the game for years. The one frustration I had was that the toe drag glitch is still in the game as it has been for over a decade. I for the life of me can’t understand how it’s still there, but more than a couple opponents scored like that. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for what I’ve played of NHL 18. I can’t wait to see how the full game stacks up in September.