It’s hockey season and that means that EA is back with the latest game in the NHL series. Find out if World of CHEL makes this a must-buy in our NHL 19 Review!
|Release Date||September 14, 2018|
|ESRB Rating||Everyone 10+|
*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by EA for review purposes*
I’ve played EA’s NHL series my entire life and in the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with their offerings. It’s not that the games have been bad, I’ve probably spent more time on them than any other games in my collection over that time. The problem lies in that this series always seems behind the times when it comes to new game modes and improvements on existing ones. From 2015 to 2018, I basically played the same game with some gameplay improvements and the modes from the previous generation added back in. That all changed with NHL 19 and the addition of World of CHEL. Now hockey fans have something with a variety of ways to play that they can keep going back to.
A very welcome part of NHL 19 is how easy it is to get into the game. It doesn’t matter if you just started playing or have been playing since the start of the series, you can tailor the game to exactly your liking. These options are available to you as you start the game and you can choose to use the Skill Stick or NHL 94 controls, choose an arcade or simulation experience, and choose relaxed or realistic rules. The options are completely up to you and you can create any hybrid that you would like. There’s even a tutorial presented by Hockey Canada that shows you how to perform the basic and advanced moves in the game. It doesn’t go through everything, but it does a great job of familiarizing players with the ins and outs of the game. All of this makes NHL 19 a very accessible game for players who are new to the series.
The gameplay itself has been revamped in a pretty big way which has been pretty polarizing with the community. The biggest part of this change is the skating engine which feels more lifelike than ever. There’s more of a momentum to how a player skates and explosive players like Connor McDavid can flat out fly in on a breakaway out of nowhere just like real-life. Strides and pick-ups have been vastly improved with players able to take make short quick movements and gliding into a puck without missing it which was a pretty big problem in previous games. The game flows so much better with the amount of control you now have over your skater.
The hitting engine has also received a massive upgrade and you can now flatten an opponent in many different and realistic ways. The hits feel heavier than ever before and you have to be in the proper position to hit someone or you’re going to end up clipping them and likely sending them on an odd-man rush or a breakaway. Poke checking has been revamped as well and now requires you to be in good position to poke the puck off someone’s stick or you’re going to take a penalty. It can be very frustrating at times, but I found when I was getting tripping calls, I was using poke checks in bad situations. It’s something that has quite a learning curve and, admittedly, it isn’t perfect. There have been many times where I’ve gotten a tripping call when I was in a fairly good position to make the play.
I felt that shot blocking was improved quite a bit too with players getting in the shooting lanes and blocking shots more than I ever remember in this series. The AI, in general, is actually really good in this game and tends to take away the easy plays and swipe the puck away from you at the last second. The goaltending is still questionable at times with certain glitch shots still being present but, I will say that it’s a bit harder to score on breakaways now and deflections don’t go in the net quite as much as they did in previous games. It seems like the goalies react better to the plays for the most part which helps cut down the number of soft goals. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it has been. The gameplay is easily the best in the series thus far.
So let’s get to the new addition to the game, World of CHEL. I’ve been waiting for a mode to pull your online career together for years and EA have finally provided me that. World of CHEL is comprised of 4 main modes, Threes, EASHL, ONES, and Pro-Am. The great thing about this is that you can create a character and upgrade them by playing any of these modes. If you’re not particularly fond of EASHL, you can upgrade your player in ONES. If you’d rather play the CPU at first, you can jump into Pro-Am and get your player to a higher level before you face other players online. No matter what mode you play, you’ll level-up your character, obtain hockey bags with loads of cosmetic items, and gain traits that will give your player better situational attributes.
ONES is easily one of my favourite modes to ever be introduced to the NHL series. It’s a 1 vs. 1 vs. 1 game with no rules on one of four outdoor rinks where the person who scores the most goals in a few minutes is the winner. If you win enough in a row you can get to The Ring. The person with the most wins on that rink in a day becomes the daily champion and it’s where you can get the best rewards. It’s fast, frantic gameplay where one wrong move could mean a loss. Surprisingly, there’s even some strategy involved. If a player is leading 1-0-0, you might want to let your other opponent score to make it 1-1-0 before the timer runs out because then the game goes to sudden death first to two goals. I’ve won a game just like that by scoring 2 goals before my opponents could even get their second. The variety of rinks and time of day was cool to see and I just loved how addictive this mode was. I kept saying, “I’ll just play one more” and that would easily turn into 10 more.
The other new mode this year is called Pro-Am and is a set of challenges against the CPU that you can go through with your created character. This game mode is primarily for people who might not be ready for online competition yet and want to hone their skills. It’s a good addition to have and I liked going back to it every now and then to complete different challenges when I felt like playing the CPU. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s definitely better to have it be part of the game than for it to be absent.
NHL Threes returns after debuting last year and is largely similar to last year’s offering, but you can take your created player and play against others online this time which I don’t remember being possible in NHL 18. There’s still a circuit mode that is similar to last year with you taking a team and completing objectives against other teams from around North America. You can still complete games alone or with another player online.
EASHL also returns and is pretty much the exact same as last year with 3 vs. 3 and 6 vs. 6 options. You can still customize your team and arena and you can even customize your goals horns now if you so desire. During drop-ins, players can now play on one of the ponds which is a nice little touch. You can now use any type of player an change their size and weight within reason as well as add some situational traits to make them play as close to your playstyle as possible. I really like this way of building your character and it offers a lot of different types of players you can create. Be A Pro is similarly unchanged except for the different skills you can add to your character. This mode really needs a revamp, I wish there were more options to control your career. Why can’t I hold out for a better contract? Why can’t I talk to the media after the game? How about endorsements? The possibilities could be endless but this mode has been largely the same for most of this console generation. It’s still a solid career mode if you’re just looking for on-ice stuff, but I want more control over my entire career.
Franchise Mode has finally received some updates that give you more of a true GM experience with some fantastic scouting upgrades. I ended up creating a new age Québec Nordiques team as the 32nd expansion team and I found the scouting tools a truly valuable asset in turning my team into a Stanley Cup Winner in 4 short years. You can now hire and fire scouts and send them to any region/league of the world. These scouts can give you specific reports on players you may be looking to acquire whether it’s someone you’re drafting or someone you’re looking to trade for. I can’t even explain how deep it is, but it’s some of the best scouting options I’ve seen in a sports game. The rest of the mode is pretty similar to last year’s game and you’re able to control budgets, arena upgrades, relocation, and everything else related to your team. I don’t think there’s much left to add to this mode, it’s almost exactly what I want. If only we could see the return of GM Connected…
Hockey Ultimate Team is the last mode I’m going to talk about and this one continues to be a cash cow for EA. The prices for card packs seem to be higher than ever this year, but I never buy them anyway. The significant addition this year for HUT is the Legends and Alumni players that are included in the game. You have bonafide stars like Wayne Gretzky down to players like Darren McCarty and Tie Domi. It’s amazing to see that there are players from all kinds of eras and all different playstyles. It allows you to build a team to play the game the way you want to play it.
HUT has added loaner players this year which allow you to use them for 5-10 games before they expire. I liked this idea because there are a lot of times my team just needs that extra push which is exactly what loaned players give you. Overall, the mode seems to have a bit more substance, you aren’t just handed 90 overall players, you have to earn them through challenges and milestones which reward you with better players and card packs. I think it’s going to be fun to see this evolve as the year goes on. I’d also like to mention that there only seem to be one type of healing and contract cards. I’ve only received 10 game contract cards and 3 game healing cards thus far.
NHL 19 looks great, but it doesn’t quite compare to the quality of Madden and FIFA and that’s something that always annoys me. There are still a lot of generic characters that should have their proper faces, but everything looks pretty good. The new ponds look great especially with all the fans standing on the glass. I was especially happy to see the new goal celebrations which feature all 5 players on the ice rather than just 2 or 3. That was something that bothered me a lot, but that little improvement went a long way. The commentary has been improved quite a bit and Mike and Eddie really feel like their calling an actual game more than a video game with their new lines. The audio itself is amazing from the thunderous NHL arenas to the sparse ponds, EA did a really good job using audio to set the atmosphere.
|World of CHEL||EASHL/Threes/BAP remain similar to last year|
|So many legends!||HUT card packs are really expensive|
|Gameplay is the best in the series|