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New NHL 22 X-Factor system inspired by Madden NFL

Never leave Auston Matthews open.

NHL 22 will employ a new X-Factor system that provides a unique set of perks to a select number of the NHL’s elite, mirroring similar functionality found within the Madden NFL franchise.

EA Vancouver Producer Clement Kwong sat down with Stevivor as part of a hands-off event to discuss what the new functionality means to EA’s yearly hockey franchise.

Madden did a phenomenal job of telling stories of what makes a player special with their X-Factor feature set,” Kwong explained. “Not only does it enable great storytelling as we elevate the superstars, but also introduces a new meta to gameplay that injects more strategy and competition [into] our core, something that we haven’t really done to gameplay in recent years.”

The X-Factor system is broken down into two types of abilities — Zone Abilities and Superstar Abilities — and has been applied to each and every mode found within NHL 22.

“X-Factors enables us to tell new stories and tap in a real world hockey conversation for all our hockey fans,” Kwong continued. “Using our player ratings reveal, as an example, we know how much buzz and excitement that creates in our community. X-Factors takes a step forward by involving the conversation to abilities.”

The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby in NHL 22.

NHL 22 Zone Abilities

Only a handful of NHL players — approximately 50, according to Kwong — will wield mighty Zone Abilities.

“Elite players who possess game-changing talent and can singlehandedly use that to impact the outcome of a game are assigned Zone Abilities. This is what defines the player and what the player is known for,” Kwong said. “These are very powerful abilities, so we only assign one per eligible player.”

Zone Abilities “are also recognisable because some have unique animations when triggered,” Kwong continued, citing “puck pickups [and] deflections” as examples.

The Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews in NHL 22.

Cover star Auston Matthews has the Shock and Awe Zone Ability at his disposal, one that provides “exceptional power and accuracy shooting out of, or shortly after, a deke.”

“He is second to none when it comes to disguising his shots and firing pucks at the net using his patented curl and drag shot,” Kwong said of Matthews’ Zone Ability. “NHL goalies and defenders know better than to give him the space and time in the shooting lane. When Matthews is using a Shock and Awe Zone Ability, the opposing team is going to have to strategise on how they want to counter it. If you ignore him when he’s in the zone, he’s almost guaranteed to burn you and create an incredible scoring chance.”

Because Matthews’ ability presents a major threat to opponents, a revamped broadcast and presentation system will remind players of what he can do during face-offs and through an above-head Zone Ability icon.

Goalies haven’t been left out of the equation; the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has been bestowed the Contrortionist Zone Ability.

“He has the athleticism to stretch and twist himself, making impossible saves look easy,” Kwong said. “Just don’t ask Montreal how he does it — they’re still trying to figure him out.”

The Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi in NHL 22.

Oof. On behalf of Habs fans (and Canadian bandwagon-jumpers): too soon, Kwong.

NHL 22 Superstar Abilities

In contrast, Superstar Abilities are “decidedly less powerful”, but their lesser nature means that more than one can be applied to a single player. Examples of Superstar Abilities include a better snap shot from a stride (Make it Snappy), better peripheral passes (Third Eye), better shots through screens (Seeing Eye), better stick handling (Puck on a String) and more. Around 100 NHL players will possess a Superstar Ability at launch.

The Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl was confirmed to possess the Tape to Tape Superstar Ability, one that provides “exceptional power and accurary on all passes within vision,” according to Kwong,” with passes also auto-saucering when necessary.

“If he sees as you open the slot or breaking for the net, chances are you’re about to have a very good day at the office,” Kwong said of Draisaitl’s ability.

The Penguins’ Leon Draisaitl in NHL 22.

X-Factor abilities in every mode

Players will be able to apply X-Factors to select HUT players with open upgrade slots (aka more valuable cards); in GM mode, X-Factors play into overall line chemistry. Over on the Be A Pro side, players will be able to develop and unlock X-Factors that can then be applied to your own unique character.

“We’re really excited about the NHL 22 feature set that we’re going that we’re about to deliver to our fans,” Kwong said. “With X-Factors, we’re introducing an entirely new layer to our gameplay that will benefit every single mode in the product and give birth to a new generation of superstars for hockey. We are turning to a new generation of elite hockey talent that we intend to turn the heroes on the virtual ice.

“X-Factors is our first key feature… focused on separating superstars from the rest of the NHL and really making making them the focal point of NHL 22,” Kwong summarised.

NHL 22 heads to Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PS4 and PS5 on 15 October 2021. Its special X-Factor Edition will provide three days of early access from 12 October 2021. A technical test is expected later in August.

NHL 22

15 October 2021
PS4 PS5 Xbox One Xbox Series S & X

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for close to fifteen years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.