EA Canada took a conservative approach to NHL 17 last year bringing in a few new improvements to an otherwise familiar formula. With NHL 18, EA added a brand new game mode as well as improvements to the offensive and defensive side of the game. Find out if these improvements were enough for us to recommend this one in our NHL 18 Review.
|Release Date||September 15th, 2017|
|ESRB Rating||Everyone 10+|
The NHL series is one that I’m incredibly familiar with. I’ve played this game for the better part of my life and early September is always an exciting time as I await the newest game. Last year, I really enjoyed NHL 17, but it wasn’t much more than an extension of NHL 16 without many new features to talk about. This year, EA Canada has upped the ante and tried to add a little bit of something for everyone. The question is: did they do enough?
One of my biggest issues with the NHL series has always been that it’s very easy to get goals, but it has been equally as hard to defend them. It wasn’t uncommon to have games end up 7-6 or 8-7 and that’s just not something you see very often in the real NHL. NHL 18 does a lot to fix this issue giving defensive players the new Defensive Skill Stick. This new addition to the game allows your player to sweep his stick in any direction by rolling the analog stick side to side.
In previous versions of the game, a poke check simply went in front of you and you didn’t have much control of it. It made that mechanic pretty much useless in situations where the opponent wasn’t directly in your player’s line of vision. Now, you have full control over how you want to poke check the puck away from your opponent. it sounds like a small addition, but it makes defensive battles a lot more manageable. That coupled with the hits, tie-ups out front and in the corners, shot blocking, and pass blocking really make this game feel complete on the defensive side of things.
On the offensive side of the game, EA Canada decided to add new Creative Attack controls this year. In past games, there have been the same types of dekes for years now. Those dekes were good for one on one rushes, but they didn’t offer much when you got to the goalie. That’s where Creative Attack comes in. These are basically advanced dekes that you can use to put the puck in the net on breakaways, slip by the defenceman, or even pass to your teammate.
The Creative Attack dekes work in addition to the dekes the were already in the game and provide you more options when you’re streaking into the offensive zone. By far the coolest part of this is the ability to do a between-the-legs shot or pass. There’s nothing like going in on a goalie and scoring with one of those shots. There’s also the one-hand tuck that people have been trying to find a way to pull off for years in NHL games. I liked these additions and I feel like EA can probably continue adding new advanced dekes each year with the endless button combinations they can use.
Now that we’ve gone through the gameplay additions, let’s talk about the additions to existing game modes starting with Franchise Mode. As most of you may know, the Vegas Golden Knights start play in the NHL this fall and the Expansion Draft was held earlier this Summer. NHL 18 gives you the ability to start as the Vegas franchise and choose players in the Expansion Draft as you see fit. This was a cool concept as I always wondered how difficult it would be to make up your team from a protected list. The game handles everything perfectly, though, telling you how many forwards, goalies, and defenceman you have chosen and letting you know your running salary cap figure.
Franchise Mode also allows you to play the classic way starting in the pre-season of the 2017-2018 season, but there’s also an option to add your own custom 32nd NHL team. I love this option and it’s really fun to create all aspects of your new team (including the mascot). It’s something EA didn’t have to do, but it made sense considering they already had the framework in place for the Vegas franchise. I like that they went the extra mile to let players create their custom team from the get-go rather than having to use the relocation feature.
Fortunately, Franchise Mode has introduced the possibility for contract extensions during the season which was one of the things that I wanted the most. For some reason, they still haven’t introduced a Long-Term Injury Reserve designation for players like Joffrey Lupul which is annoying. What’s worse is that you can’t really move that salary as no other team will take it even if you offer 4 1st round draft picks (which I did). I see how that would be a difficult mechanic to implement, but that would be the last piece to making Franchise Mode a true season simulator.
Most of the other existing modes in NHL 18 didn’t receive much of a face lift at all. Be A Pro remains largely the same as it has the last few years with the ability to request a trade to another team being the only notable improvement. I’m disappointed that they’ve left this mode alone for so long. I really feel that they could do something special with more of a story aspect added in with the gameplay. It’s not a bad mode, it just needs an update to bring it on par with the other single player career modes from Madden and FIFA.
Hockey Ultimate Team faces similar complacency this year with the only notable addition being HUT Challenges. These are bite-sized tasks that will net you different amounts of rewards for your team. These will be updated throughout the year so it offers a lot of new opportunities for players to gain some rewards for their teams. Some of these challenges can become quite difficult, but there’s a good difficulty curve as you play through them.
EASHL is largely similar to last year as well which is fine with me considering I felt like it includes pretty much everything I’d want out of the mode (except the ability to name captains). The one big addition to EASHL this year is the ability to play 3 on 3 games. I don’t know about most people, but the teams I’ve been on have largely included only 3-4 people max. This means we’d be playing with CPU players who are less than helpful at times. Including the 3 on 3 option allows you to play some wide-open hockey and gives smaller teams a much better way to play.
NHL 18 also includes a brand-new mode called NHL Threes. This mode is a new take on the NHL 3 on 3 Arcade game from a few years ago. The hits are bigger in this mode and the shots are harder. Oh, and did I mention you can play as mascots? Yeah, this mode definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s a nice change of pace from the rest of the game. There’s even an over the top announcer that I definitely enjoyed. This mode includes all kinds of visual effects, cool new arenas, and even a MoneyPuck which gives you multiple goals at once or even takes away goals from the other team!
The good thing about this mode is that it isn’t a one-off. It actually has its own circuit mode which takes you through each division in the NHL. You gain rewards from each team like jerseys, arenas, and even heroes from the corresponding team. There are even tasks that require you to play in co-op mode which I thought was a nice touch. Games can be played up to a certain goal amount or by period depending on what you’d like, however, you flip a coin to see whether you or the CPU choose the rules in circuit mode. This mode is a great new addition to the series, it could have easily been its own game but I’m glad they included it with NHL 18.
I have to say that I really appreciate the emphasis that EA has put on multiplayer options in the title this year. It’s really awesome to be able to take a friend into NHL Threes to help you complete a game in the circuit or to do a co-op challenge in HUT. These are modes that could have been relegated to single player, but EA really made a point to make sure you could play with your friends across virtually every mode this year besides the obvious single player ones like Be A Pro.
I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about NHL 18, but one issue I have is the commentary. Having a 3-man team, you think you’d have some pretty good commentary and yet it’s the same recycled stuff we hear all the time. The announcer in NHL Threes sounds so much more organic than Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro. They don’t feel like a broadcast team as they don’t really play off each other very much at all. I really think some new lines need to be recorded to make the commentary flow better because it’s a real low point right now.
NHL 18 is an amazing hockey simulation. The AI is as good as it has ever been and I’ve really enjoyed the new ways I’ve been able to deke and prevent the opponent from scoring. NHL Threes is a fantastic new mode and while there weren’t many big additions to the other modes, it doesn’t take away from how good this package is. If you’re a hockey fan, this is the hockey game to own.