EA Sports is back with its third entry in the NHL franchise on current-gen systems. After back-to-back basement dwellers, can NHL 17 ice a product that gets the series back into the playoffs?
BUILDING A CONTENDER
NHL 17 is my favorite hockey game since the series made the jump to Xbox One and Playstation 4 in 2014. With a new game mode and improved balance, NHL 17 smooths out some of the bumps that critically brought down the two previous games and helps to make this a formidable sports game.
NHL 17’s on-ice product is one of its best assets, as well it should be. The game is not weighed down by issues from 15 & 16 respectively, striking a solid balance between speed, momentum, muscle, and skill. For better or worse, it fully embodies the real-to-life NHL product, creating a well-produced simulation.
Checking is much more realistic. In years’ past, you could check a player with a bone-crushing hit, knock them off the puck, and still not recover the free puck. That has mostly been corrected. In addition, speed and momentum are critical in being able to either perform a huge hit or avoid one. The attributes and physical stance of the skater you are controlling matter too. EA really got this one right.
Puck physics are improved. When in the offensive zone, I love sending the puck back to my defenseman, ripping a shot, and seeing what happens. In a game I played just before writing this review, I took a slapshot from the point that deflected off of a maze of players and went straight up into the air approximately 20 feet before falling down into the crease for a cover-up by the goaltender. At times, the puck can roll on end, sliding down the rink faster than it would have if it were flat. Over the weekend at Buffalo Comicon, an opponent of mine dumped the puck into my end of the rink, hopping and bouncing as it reached my goaltender. I watched in horror as the puck went through my goalie’s legs and into the net. While not an ideal outcome, I loved the realism of the play. It’s always cringe-worthy seeing plays like that happen in real life thanks to the x-factor that is the physics of a puck, so seeing it in a simulation was enticing and added to the overall realism and immersion.
NHL 17 brings 2 new modes to the table. First up is the World Cup of Hockey. Though it’s a bit of a novelty, it is a welcomed addition, particularly as the return of the real life World Cup is mid-stride. The mode is a fun little tournament that features all of the teams, their authentic jerseys, and their actual rosters. I started a tourney as Team North America, which has me drooling at the thought of Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews on the same line. The second new mode is Draft Champions, which is perfect for fantasy hockey players. In DC, you get to choose 12 players to your squad. There is a different theme per round. For example, star players under 24 years of age. This enhances the Hockey Ultimate Team mode too, as you can earn rewards that pay off over there. HUT is at the forefront yet again but thanks to the crossover of Draft Champions, mixed with a better currency system, the mode gives hardcore players a reason to come back.
The EASHL is the game’s most popular mode and it comes with a nice chunk of renovation. The level of customization has reached new depths, adding RPG elements such as badges that mark your club’s progress, as well as arena upgrades. You’ll start off with a small community rink with little-to-no seating. As you win more and level up, you’ll be able to build your arena into a full-fledged, NHL-like building.
Speaking of customization, this year’s Be A GM Mode is more expansive than ever. Though it’s not quite up to par with NBA 2K’s franchise mode or even Madden NFL’s, this is a step in the right direction. This year, you take on the role of GM and President, reporting directly to the owner, who gives consistent feedback to your overall performance. In other words, this is more of a living, breathing animal than ever before. Setting promotional nights, such as Jack Eichel Bobble Head Night is a blast. In addition to your team’s salary cap, you control the advertising and arena improvement budgets. It feels like the whole organization is at your finger tips. Perform well to manage expectations. Fail and you can be fired. Who knew that setting ticket prices could be fun? Expansion is a hot topic in the NHL currently, but how about relocation? In this mode, you can relocate your team to many of the NHL’s real life rumored cities, including Quebec, Kansas, as well as the newly minted Las Vegas franchise.
Be A Pro mode is back. You can choose from a number of options and paths. I chose to play in the Memorial Cup tournament. Unfortunately, I got drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The level of feedback is expansive, much like Be A GM Mode, but this time with your coach. In between shifts, the coach’s advice is extremely detailed, with more categories and specific feedback. The on ice trainer is also solid, giving you a great idea of how you can improve on the fly.
Sadly, the game night presentation is wearing thin quickly, as Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro seemingly haven’t recorded any new dialogue. Little has changed, which has made things a bit stale.
Lastly, I would love for next year’s game to include a Be A Pro Mode that is cinematic and follows a story, sort of like the one you see in NBA 2K games. I think it’d be fascinating to see a “Road to the NHL” mode where you get cutscenes, have to manage social media, and deal with the media. Perhaps one day. If and when that day comes, EA will have graduated from contender to dynasty.
NHL 17 is a blast to play, as the franchise seems to have regained its footing after a few sub-par outings in recent years. The replayability, smooth gameplay, and overall depth make NHL 17 a Cup contender.
+ Subtle improvements to gameplay make a big difference.
+ New game modes are a nice addition while old modes have added meaningful depth.
– Presentation is mundane just a few years into its life cycle.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s obsessed, passionate hockey guy. He is rooting for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey. He went 8 for 11 at Buffalo Comicon in Beat the Geek. Challenge him on Xbox Live via JosiahIsLegend.
NHL 17 was reviewed on the Xbox One. It is also available for PS4 and PC.