You’d be forgiven if you skipped out on NHL 16 last year after the mess that was 15. Though you shouldn’t have — it was a return to grace, offering all the content the game’s premiere current-gen entry was lacking. NHL 17 continues that trend, thankfully, providing even more robust and varied modes.
In short, hockey fans have a lot to be excited for.
So what’s different? Why not get what’s new and amended in NHL 17 straight from the horse’s mouth: long-time developer EA Canada Vancouver.
There are some big calls in that three-minute video, eh? Thankfully, every single claim is delivered upon. In spades.
Without the benefit of DICE’s Frostbite engine, NHL 17 is forced to build upon the groundwork laid by 15, and later refined in 16, inside the current-gen EA IGNITE engine. Soulless gameplay in 15 aside, hockey on current-gen has always been a physics lover’s dream; since debuting on Xbox One and PS4, the puck’s been a unique, physics-based object that’s interacted with practically everything on the ice — including player jerseys. With that all feeling very lifelike, this year’s improvements have been showered upon in-game goalies and battles in front of the pipes.
No longer do keepers look and react like massive brick walls camouflaged as heavily-padded human beings. Stiff, artificial movements are no more; goalies now throw shoulders to stop pucks or scramble backwards with ridiculous kick-outs, desperate to shut down the opposing team. Best yet, goalies have been modelled after their real-life counterparts, so they’re very capable of restraint — just because goalies can act like ridiculous acrobats doesn’t mean they do most of the time. When they do, though? It’s crazy; jaw-dropping, in fact. Stupendous saves are the things that are causing me to scream out, “Xbox, record that!” more often than not.
As a defencemen, NHL 17 is all about new net battles. Tapping the Y button in front of your net will engage in said battle with a nearby, opposing forward. Missing in any version of ice hockey before it, net battles actually reflect the type of work I do in a real game. Pitted against the enemy, you’re able to jockey for position, perform a well-timed stick lift and more. Rather than blindly standing beside an attacker, you’re now able to do what your coach will always tell you to do — tie the man up. As excellent as the feature is for defenders, it’s also great for forwards too; a skillful spin-out will get you back open for a pass in the slot. Oh, and an Achievement or Trophy too.
Speaking of coaches, Coach Feedback has been greatly improved in this year’s iteration. Small things like on-ice representation of how hard a pass will be — and where it’s going to go — help immensely. Both the on-ice and in-menu feedback tools seems like they actually understand the game of hockey this year. Whereas 16‘s feedback was completely black and white — and always without context — this year’s tools just get it. There’s no absolute play for a centre or a winger this year, refreshingly.
The revised feedback program will offer up specific items that you’re to focus on, but you’re now able to dismiss options if they’re not working out for you (or, if they don’t apply). As a defencemen, I ended up dropping a suggested focus on drop passes (pun intended) as I never really had a chance to rush the puck. Getting rid of that focus immediately issued me with a new goal, and one that I could easily meet for an XP boost within Be a Pro mode.
New to the series, Franchise mode seems daunting at first, but returning players will quickly see it for what it truly is: Be a GM on steroids. As we detailed at Gamescom, the mode lets you do normal GM stuff like scout and draft players, assign lines and the like, but also opens up a realm of new activities. Your new and improved GM can also upgrade the rink, set pricing on tickets and concessions, and plan special events like bobblehead giveaways. Whereas last year, the GM only had to keep players and the team’s owner happy, your fans are now thrown into the mix in 17. It’s a challenging and rich mode that simulation fans will be able to sink hours and hours into.
Also new is the World Cup of Hockey mode, mirroring this month’s NHL-sponsored Olympics-but-not special event. It’s unimpressive in that it’s only 6 or 7 games long, depending on how well your team does, but that’s countered by the fact that rosters of each nation are fully licensed. That means you’re going to be able to play with retired legends (and their likenesses) for a bit of good ol’ nostalgia. Switching from Be a Pro and my lowly 69-rated defencemen to the 99-overall Team Canada meant it felt like I’d activated turbo mode in-game. Canada is stacked, and rightfully so. Eh.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed Draft Champions the most of out NHL 17‘s new offerings. In online or offline mode (and as a Canadian playing in Australia, let me tell you how lovely offline offerings are), you are tasked to produce a great team over 12 rounds. In each round, you have four players to choose from; selecting a player will have him replace groupings of your current team — one spot for reach role on the ice. After twelve rounds, you take that team and use them over four rounds. If you win, you earn rewards — including high-level players — for Hockey Ultimate tournament. It’s a bite-sized little mode with a lot of reasons to play.
Online modes suck when your opponents are all on the other side of the world, but HUT, EASHL and the like never fail to disappoint. There’s not much to talk about there, apart from rink and team customisation in most modes. Be a Pro is similar — apart from myriad more customisation options, it’s the tried-and-true career mode. What’s not to love?
NHL 16 saved the franchise from utter ruin, but NHL 17 shows you just what developers who love hockey can do when given ample time to work on a product. This year’s result is polished and bursting at the seams with care and love. With more modes than you can shake a stick at and niggling bugs of the past destroyed — I couldn’t find a single glitch over a marathon play session while preparing for this review — this is the best version of NHL to date. Grab a copy, some beers and a friend and show each other what you can do.
NHL 17 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher.
Review: NHL 17