It is time to head back to the Ice with the annual NHL franchise that EA Sports can release without any competition. Does the lack of competition cause the franchise to continue on its decline or has NHL 18 picked up the slack over NHL 17? As you may or may not be aware, EA’s FIFA  franchise has continually been impressive over the PES series over recent years with FIFA continuing its strong form as the prime football title. Has EA become too comfortable with the NHL Franchise?

NHL’s core ice hockey gameplay has always held up to be strong. The skating and shooting feel slick and fluid, you feel like you have full control over your passes, and with the stick controls you feel in control of your shots, from power to accuracy. Some may agree or disagree, but NHL has always had a steep learning curve with defending. It’s not as easy as breaking away on the offence hunting for a goal, the gameplay elements it does feature for defending gives players the strength to be solid thanks to the returning mechanic of the poke check move, which can get you out of dangerous situations. As mentioned briefly about the stick controls, there are plenty of options for whatever player you are. Whether that be the simple controls for newcomers or casual players, or complex deke mechanics for the veterans, you never feel out of your depth. This opens up the playing field and makes NHL appealing to all types of players.

There’s a new training mode, presented by the members of Team Canada, that teaches you an in-depth look into not just why, but when to use certain skills, and not just how you should use certain moves. The deke system has been tweaked since NHL 17 and now gives players the opportunity to pull off more complex chains of moves and one-handed moves. This is an incredibly nice touch as I felt the flow of the skills in the previous additions were a bit slow, a bit blocked in a sense. Now there is the freedom to perform said tricks, you feel one with the ice. The defensive skill stick addition has also helped with more precise defending when protecting your own net with the ability to block passing lanes and disrupt opposition moves. Even though these additions may not be groundbreaking in-terms of improving the gameplay, they are a welcome feature and they give you the opportunity to express yourself on the ice.

NHL 18 has also brought a new mode to the franchise, or as a re-occurring mode depending how you look it. NHL’s 3-on-3 mode is a mode that is literally what it says on the tin. The matches take place on small rinks, with the chance for action, big hits, and a more, I would say, intense but fun drama. The gameplay remains the same, with no face-offs after the start of each period to keep the action flowing, and the money puck rule can see you leapfrog your opponent to take the lead from two goals down. It’s a non-serious mode that breaks away from the traditional franchise and adds another element to it. It is great, it’s one of the modes I have spent the most time on just because it’s quick, fun and friends that don’t play can get involved in a less technical aspect. The 3-on-3 mode is not just a confined mode, it also includes a circuit mode that sees you take your team across the United States; you can play the mode in split-screen co-op and online play. As mentioned, the fun continues, especially with the online co-op play.

NHL 18’s other modes return, even though they are strong modes, they don’t feel that much improved and almost remain identical to NHL 17. This is not really much of a negative as modes such as Hockey Ultimate Team don’t really need any improvements, but some slight changes would have been noticed, yet is still one of the game’s best modes as it allows you to create a roster featuring your favourite players. There is of course the micro transaction part of the game that will put off most players, but you can grind your way through and earn Ultimate Team coins to purchase players off the transfer market. However, it’s that sheer excitement of opening a pack and being rewarded with a player that is expensive to buy and has great stats. It’s digital card collecting, just like FIFA Ultimate Team and NFL ultimate team. It has it’s positives, but the fact it’s behind a paywall essentially is what some may see as a negative. HUT is supplemented by Draft Champions – the mode introduced last year that sees you add twelve players to a squad to face four teams in an attempt to win larger awards for the aforementioned mode. The rewards are of course packs and the further you progress the better the reward. However it does come at a cost, but adds a bit of excitement to the traditional Ultimate Team mode, due to being able to play with the franchise’s lucrative players.

Franchise Mode is back and is still as deep as ever, offering you the chance to take charge of all facilities of management. As your favourite NHL team you can set ticket and merchandise prices, monitor the morale of you key players, and renew contracts all while progressing through a season. Think of Football Manager but with a bit of Planet Coaster. This mode does feature some small, welcome additions, such as mid-season contract negotiations. This mode is my go-to-mode with 3-on-3. Franchise mode offers such a deep field of various different options and freedom that it’s one of the strongest modes in a sports title, actually it is the strongest mode in any sports title. EA Sports Hockey League also returns (this is the same as FIFA’s Pro creation) and you can create a skater and compete online with friends. Still solid as it has always been.
Even though some of the modes may not have been touched upon, they are still great modes. NHL 18 is far superior to NHL 17 and it is finally going back on track and offers a more complete package in comparison to what we have received since NHL 14, where I felt that’s where NHL really peaked.

Before I close this review off, I wanted to briefly mention the character animations are absolutely stunningly accurate, I do at times forget I’m playing a game and not actually watching a live match, it’s that accurate. It is very impressive the amount of quality that has gone into the players this year. The crowd continues to be the best of any sports game I’ve played. There is a good variation of crowd members and not just a copy and paste job we see in FIFA, they have emotions, they react to the plays, the decisions it’s so varied, and helps create an atmosphere that you don’t experience in any other sports title. The NBCSN presentation overlays return and remain unchanged from previous years, but they continue to do what they are meant to do and create atmosphere and are also impressively presented.

NHL 18 does need some improvements when it comes to the commentary as the commentators still stay the same dialogue as they have over the past few years, it seems disconnected and doesn’t feel authentic. It’s just too limited and feels too scripted. Also, the pre-game skyline before going into a team’s stadium is in a really poor resolution that should be improved if they choose to introduce games like this in the NHL 19.

Overall, I feel that NHL 18 is the best NHL since NHL 14; it’s improved on a few areas that really lacked and is the best current gen NHL title. However, this does not mean it is perfect and I think EA are getting a bit too comfortable with its lack of competition. As always the gameplay remains strong, the presentation keeps getting better and better, the game finally features all the modes that were missing in the previous addition, whilst adding more modes to keep it fresh. Re-occurring players may not find the changes too innovative and I have to agree, they are good changes, but it needs some finer tweaking before NHL gets back on form. For now, it is a slight step behind EA’s more dominate sport franchises.



Author

Marshall
Marshall

Video game fanatic since a young age. FIFA expert and all-round sports junky. I dive into various titles and love experiencing new and creative games.