Being Canadian, the annual release of EA Sports’ NHL title is a bit of a tradition around here. It’s almost a requirement to grab the latest offering and put it to the test, whether that be in coop mode against other players online, or simply by becoming the GM of our respective favorite franchises and leading them to a Stanley Cup or eight. Last year’s NHL 18 left a few things to be desired for us, so when the opportunity arose to get an early look at what EA has been cooking up in NHL 19, I jumped on it.
Improving the Basics
It’s almost as if EA read our review of NHL 18 where we pointed out that while the visuals continue to amaze, the basics of the game of hockey needed an overhaul. In the past, skating, shooting, hitting, and general puck movement always felt a little off. So when the folks from EA told me that they reworked some of those core mechanics, I was admittedly excited.
Dubbed Real Motion Player, or RPM for short, technology, NHL 19 aims to improve the way you move as a player. One of my biggest gripes in previous iterations of the series was that I could never seem to pull off seemingly simple maneuvers. So many times the puck would sit just beside me but be out of reach for my player, who would have to skate a giant circle to attempt to retrieve it. Hits had lost their appeal somewhere in the late 2000’s, and I found myself bouncing off players with little hope of ever recovering the puck before my victim did.
It took no more than 30 seconds to realize that all this has changed in NHL 19. Leaving the fancy marketing terms for engine and mechanic changes aside, you frankly feel much more mobile on the ice. I was able to make small adjustments with my skater, stop on a dime and turn around in what seemed appropriate for a high-level skater. Finally, I was able to skate like the skilled player I was controlling, as opposed to what it would undoubtedly feel like if I ever personally strapped on a set of skates.
Hitting is also tuned up in NHL 19. You can once again line players up and deliver crushing blows, but if you’re more strategic, you’re now able to check opposing players and relieve them of the puck properly. I specifically asked if the settings I was playing with were the defaults and was told that indeed they were. It’s amazing how much such seemingly small changes impact the experience of playing the game. Afterall, what good is a hockey game if it doesn’t feel like you’re a skater on ice chasing after a puck like a professional NHLer.
The World of CHEL
A new concept that will coming to NHL 19 is The World of CHEL. I had to look up what CHEL stood for admittedly, and it turns out that it’s an abbreviation for NHL, in particular when referencing EA Sports’ NHL series. The more you know… Anyway, The World of CHEL is a new unified system that lets you take your created player across all the different game modes available. That includes the new NHL ONES mode, which is where I spent most of my time at EA Play. The ONES mode is a new One vs. One vs. One game mode that takes you back to the days of pond hockey in the frozen winter months. Think of it as a king of the hill mode where there are no rules and players compete on half an ice surface with a single AI-controlled goalie.
The idea here is that you’re essentially playing pickup games at the local outdoor rink and you slowly build up your renown as a badass hockey player. New customization options also reflect this newfound freedom as you’ll be able to dress up your player in less than traditional outfits. Overall, the ONES game mode was a fun diversion from the more organized game modes and should provide a welcome change of pace for players too intimidated to join EASHL teams.
Everything Old is New Again
EA also briefly mentioned that some new legendary players, including Wayne Gretzky, will be joining the Legends line up in NHL 19. It will be fun to play as some of those heroes that many of us have never even seen on TV before. I’m most excited by how much better the controls felt in NHL 19, however. I admittedly was lukewarm towards the next NHL entry, but after feeling hands-on how much the skating and hitting are improved, I can’t wait to get back onto the ice later this fall.