Every year I debate whether or not to pick up the latest NHL game, usually holding off until the day of release and finally giving into the urge. It’s not that I don’t like video game hockey, in fact, I absolutely adore it. But it’s a tough pill to swallow a $60 price tag year over year. EA tends to throw in buzz words for new features that were added back after being removed a year prior; and as a consumer that irks me. But NHL 17 might be the first NHL game in some time that brings quite a lot that actually is new and not just a rehash of an old feature that was cut.
The biggest additions to NHL 17 center around customization - arenas, teams, players, online squads are all fully customizable to levels we have never seen before. If you’re a fan of the EASHL game mode the amount of content to unlock here is mind boggling, prepare to dig in and grind through hundreds of unlockable things for your virtual team with friends. Being able to create your own “Home Ice” is an incredibly neat feature.
While Hockey Ultimate Team returns, it’s a mode I honestly tend to avoid. It just doesn’t have the draw for me in the same way FIFA’s implementation does. That said EA has added additional ways for players to earn unlocks within that mode. The most prominent way is something called Draft Champions, in which you’ll draft a team based on certain criteria like nationality or age and then have to complete four games of increasing difficulty to unlock HUT packs. It’s a nice distraction, but if you aren’t interested in HUT, it feels pretty pointless.
All of the other modes return this year and with extra polish - whether it’s EASHL, online team play, shootouts, or the totally revamped franchise mode; there is a TON to do in NHL 17. The franchise mode is particularly standout with added depth of player control over things like concession pricing, arena maintenance, budget guidelines, and of course management of both Pro and minor league teams - with the ability to take control a play a game at any time for either of them.
The core of the hockey experience is as strong as ever, with the on ice trainer making a return and helping you become a dominant virtual NHLer. Once you’re comfortable you can turn this off and you’ll still be treated with post period ratings on your performance by the game. Gameplay itself is smooth and there’s plenty of sliders to tweak to your play style; whether that’s arcadey or simulation.
All of that said, I feel like this generation of consoles and sports games are really starting to show their holes. It’s obvious when the CPU has to take over and cheat their way to make the game challenging, performing on ice actions to balance the playing field and make the game competitive. This has been a problem with sports video games for ages, I just feel like it becomes a lot more apparent in NHL a lot quicker than previous years. The man behind the curtain is seen much earlier than I anticipated.
All in all there’s not much to complain about in NHL 17. There’s plenty of room for praise with fully featured game modes, customization, and plenty of online and offline play. Being the only kid on the block makes it tough to gauge just how good of a game NHL is, really you’re using last year’s game as the baseline. NHL 17 is definitely a step up in that sense, and you’re sure to get your hockey fix from it with well polished presentation, visuals, and game modes for everyone.