|Release Date||September 13, 2019|
|ESRB Rating||Everyone 10+|
*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by EA for review purposes*
EA has come a long way with their NHL series since the first game of this generation, NHL 15. That game was a bare-bones experience that, quite frankly, almost killed the franchise. Slowly, EA has brought back all the features the people come to expect (minus GM Connected) and made the gameplay experience as close to real hockey as I could ever expect. The same can be said of NHL 20. While not the monumental upgrade I was kind of expecting after the addition of World of CHEL last year, the tweaks made to the on-ice product are the best they’ve ever been.
The NHL on NBC package is the first thing you’ll probably notice is gone when you boot up a game of NHL 20. I thought this would take away from the presentation a bit, but I think Doc and Eddie were getting a bit old and stale and it was time for something new. James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro are great in the booth and provide a lot of witty banter between themselves and don’t give you a lot of awkward pauses. The emotion is there which I feel was very lacking from Doc and Eddie, although I will say James goes overboard at times and there are a lot of repeated lines in certain situations.
The commentators aren’t the only things that have changed. The entire presentation has changed with colourful graphics that pulse with Power Plays and big pop-ups when a goal is scored. It’s actually pretty eye-catching to look at. I expected it to be a little too over the top, but it fits really well. In addition to that, there are some tremendous new Play of the Period and Play of the Game replays that capture a big moment at a cool new angle in slow motion. I’ve rewatched more of my plays than I care to admit. It’s something the presentation has needed for a long time.
There is one big negative of the new presentation package. The new score overlay is positioned on the bottom of the screen instead of the traditional top left corner. While this is helpful to stay out of the way of the action, it’s very difficult to see any of the information on the fly. I had a really hard time with Power Play time left because of where this bar is positioned. A simple patch that could map it to the top of the screen instead might help although it might be too big up there. It’s a shame because I do like the look of it. It’s a classic case of not needing to fix something that wasn’t broken. It isn’t like that in every mode, but it is for most of them.
So the game looks pretty good from a presentation standpoint, but how does it play? The answer is that it’s the best gameplay the series has ever seen. The skating itself looks very lifelike with players being able to pick up a puck in full stride. This seems like such a simple thing, but it’s a monumental improvement. It’s something that makes the difference in getting a breakaway, scooping the puck up behind the net and driving it up the ice, and closing a gap.
Shooting has also been upgraded this year in a big way. Last year, players would complete a shot animation even when the puck would get to them and they’d always shoot from the forehand when receiving a pass. Now players shoot whatever way they receive the pass, sometimes they even take a knee to get a better shot. There are even signature shots this year with things like Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer from a knee and Auston Matthews’ toe drag wrist shot. It’s cool to finally see some difference between players and hopefully, there’s more of this to come.
Goaltending is quite a bit better in NHL 20. They’re still not perfect and let in a few suspect shots here and there, but the better goalies are actually quite adequate. It’s harder to get a one-timer through in this year’s game and even when you do, the goalie ends up reading the play quite well. There were more than a few times that I was surprised that the goalie actually got over to make the save. They do a much better job at redirecting rebounds into the corner and swallowing up long shots too. I was really impressed by just how much better the goaltending was.
The one thing that continues to annoy me how the fans always look the same in this series (which could be the limitations of the IGNITE Engine which is going on year 6 now) and that only select players look anything like their real-life counterparts. This is especially true with the alumni players where people like Darcy Tucker and Dave Andreychuk look nothing like themselves. It really takes me away from the experience. The players that do have real models look great, but it needs to be a lot more consistent. Every sports franchise struggles with this but NHL seems to do so more than any of the others.
ONES returns this year with a couple of new rinks called The Farm and The Canal which are really nice to look at. There’s even the famous hockey dryer that Sidney Crosby used to shoot at in his basement in one of the cutscenes. There’s even snow coming down at times which really adds to the experience. It’s really cool to see what EA is doing with World of CHEL and how it keeps evolving ever so slightly. There’s even an offline mode this year that allows you to play some couch coop which will no doubt be a staple for bragging rights. There’s also an Eliminator game mode where you have to win 4 games in a row to be champion. I ended up winning my first tournament and wanted to keep doing it over and over again. It’s a really addictive mode.
THREES returns as well with the standard crappy circuit mode that is quite frankly way too long for me to enjoy going through. I also take issue with the fact that it is the exact same circuit as last year, they even named it Circuit 2.0 again. That made me a bit annoyed, but the online modes made up for it. THREES also has Eliminator which allows you to team up online with other people to run through 4 teams to win a championship. The cool thing I found with this is you can play with another person and an AI player if you need to so it doesn’t have to be a full 6 human players. I had a lot of fun with this and I’ll definitely be going back to it. Also, you can play as Gritty in THREES.
World of CHEL itself has a little more to do this year that will net your character XP. There are weekly challenges that you can complete across ONES, THREES, Pro-AM, and EASHL that will net you cool customization items and XP for your character to level up with. Last week’s theme was NHL 94 inspired gear. EASHL, unfortunately, hasn’t seen many upgrades, but I really don’t know how I’d upgrade it much more than it has been so I can’t say too many negative things there. It’s pretty awesome as is.
Be A Pro is pretty similar to last year, there aren’t many improvements at all to note. Franchise has received a couple of nice updates in the Trade Finder so that you don’t need to go looking to dump a player and the coaching system. You get the ability to hire your coaching staff and take control of the direction of your team. It’s not as deep as I would like it, but there’s a nice conversation system for morale. It’s not exactly the updates most people would like, but it’s something.
Hockey Ultimate Team has been updated to include the offline Squad Battles which give you sets of teams to defeat to net you big rewards. There are even celebrity teams, last week’s was Auston Matthews. It seems like much less of a grind this year and there are a lot more rewards to be had. It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s Pay to Win anymore which is nice.
|Fresh new presentation package||Terrible score overlay positioning|
|Skating and puck control feel near perfect|
|Goaltending is great|