NHL 19 Beta Impressions

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It’s almost hockey season and EA is allowing everyone to test NHL 19 before the game releases next month. Find out if it’s an upgrade over NHL 18 here!

Gameplay

I’ve played every game in the NHL series on release day for the last 15 years and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as excited for the actual gameplay as I am for NHL 19. The new skating physics make this game feel like a brand-new experience. The players skate around the ice in a very fluid motion and perform quick stops and starts with ease. There’s a weight to it that I’ve never quite felt before, it feels like every motion flows together as skating does in real life. I think that’s just it, it feels real now. When I come back to get a puck behind my net, my player glides into the puck and picks it up without incident which didn’t always happen in previous games. The natural movement helps your players perform more like an actual hockey player would and you don’t have the nuisances that have plagued past games like missed pucks, clunky starts, inability to stop. You’re in control and that control allows you to make some fantastic plays.

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Things look a little different on the pond in ONES.

The only issue that I had with the skating was that I never seemed to get a clear breakaway even when I had a few steps on a defender. This is due to the new stamina system that is in place which is an incredible addition that really allows teams to grab momentum if they’re playing well and making the other team hustle around. If you use too much of your hustle button, your player will be slower and easier to catch. Your player will also get up more slowly after getting hit. This is identified by a bar on the bottom of the screen that is full and green when you have enough stamina and depletes into a red colour when you don’t. It makes NHL 19 much more strategic than it’s predecessors. There was a bit of a stamina system in the previous games, but it was nowhere near as pronounced as it is in this one.

The defensive side of the game has once again undergone a pretty complete overhaul with a great new hitting engine that utilizes weight and momentum better than ever before. Yes, you still can bounce off players here and there, but it’s no longer because the hitting engine is broken. If you bounce off someone in NHL 19, it’s because you only clipped them, are too small, or they’re way bigger. There’s little that is more satisfying than lining someone up for an open ice hit and watching them pick themselves up for the next 5 seconds. Hits along the boards are equally as satisfying and sound thunderous.

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The goalie mask/toque combo is in.

It’s a good thing that the hitting system has been improved this year because the poke checking has become much more limited in a good way. Gone are the days of spamming the poke check button until you get the puck. If you poke check from a bad position, it will be an instant tripping call. This ensures players have to play a smarter game and utilize better bod position instead of just using a cheap poke check from behind to grab the puck. I will say that the tripping penalties do need to be toned down a little bit, it can be a bit excessive and I have received some tripping calls from good positions.

Goaltending seems to have received vast improvements with human goalies feeling much more fluid and CPU goalies tracking the puck much better than ever before. There have still been instances of some glitch goals with one guy I was playing against scoring the same weird shot 3 times on penalty shots in the same game. I personally have had a much harder time scoring on CPU goalies this year unless I have a clear shot at an open part of the net which is great to see. It should be difficult to score and you should have to put every effort in to do so. The games I’ve played in online versus have been much lower scoring with games like 4-1 and 5-1 being the biggest blowouts I’ve had thus far. It’s a big difference from the 10-9 games I was having last year.

World of CHEL

World of CHEL is the consolidation of EASHL, NHL Threes, and the new mode in NHL 19, ONES. This new hub is what most people are going to be spending the bulk of their time with in NHL 19 and EA Canada have done a great job to make it a fun environment with something for everyone. The first big thing to note is how many customization options are available. You can still customize your EASHL team and arena the way you want, but now there are tons of customization options available for both your Pro and Casual player. There are things like parkas, hoodies, toques, masks with toques, and many others. Each person can have their character tailor-made for their personality. These items are awarded to players through hockey bags that are won by progressing through the level system or winning them in the different modes.

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Loot boxes have made their way into NHL in the form of hockey bags. Luckily, these are only cosmetic items.

EASHL has received a few improvements that make it as good as it has ever been. The player builds have been overhauled and you can now pick different weight and heights for each character. You can’t choose any weight or height in keeping with the build type, but you do have a range you can play with which is helpful. Players can also choose different traits that make their players attributes a little bit higher like Laser Passing or Face Off King. A specialty can also be chosen that gives you something like a quick stick in the defensive zone or better breakaway skills. The options are endless and you can really create a player that best matches your playstyle. The other thing I really liked this year was that you earn club customization hockey bags instead of having to grind to get the items you want for your team. It’s a nice touch.

ONES is a fantastic new mode that I really enjoyed. It’s a 1 vs. 1 vs. 1 game where you’re trying to score the most goals in just a few minutes. It’s fast, frantic action and it really forces you to play a smart game. There are no rules so you can trip, slash, and check anyone at any time and landing a big hit on someone that keeps them down for 5 seconds could be the deciding factor in a close game. I was a bit annoyed that the goalies were toned down a bit in this mode and that allowed for some really easy goals, but I can’t be too mad about it since this is one of the more casual game modes. The name of the game is to keep winning to get to the diamond tier and win the trophy. Lose and you go back down a tier. It an addictive mode and one I’ll probably play quite a bit of when the game releases. I believe there was a game mode like this around NHL 06 or 07 and I’m really glad they brought it back and made something more out of it. As far as NHL Threes are concerned, it was pretty much the same as last year with little difference and I didn’t spend much time with it.

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An example from one of the hockey bags.

Presentation

The presentation in the NHL 19 Beta is pretty much the same as the past few years with a few tweaks being added here and there. The menu is completely different and features big and bold titles and tiles with a distinctive black colour scheme which is a stark contrast to the largely white scheme the game has always had. There are some new goal celebration animations that I thought looked a lot better than the ones we’ve had recently. You’ll see all 5 of your players tap helmets and congregate near the boards after a goal. It’s nice to see all the players instead of just a few and it looks a lot closer to how it does in the NHL. You’ll also notice that skaters sway their legs if they miss an icing or things like that after the whistle. It’s little stuff here and there but it helps with realism. I did notice that the lighting was a bit shadowy, but apparently EA is having trouble with the lighting engine and will have that fixed by launch for what it’s worth.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited for an NHL game. I think the last time was NHL 14 and we all know how good that game was. It took a few years, but the NHL series is finally on the right track on just about every level. The new hitting and skating engine really put the game into a whole new world. This is as close as I’ve felt to a faithful NHL simulation in all the years that I’ve played these games. I’m excited to see what NHL 19 looks like when it releases in September.

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