Let me be clear in that I do not like penalty shots unless it’s for giggles in an All-Star game, or perhaps as part of the pre-season. I don’t like them in my NHL video game, and I don’t like them in the real NHL where a team sport is reduced to an individual skills competition with a dollop of luck. In NHL 18, Content Update 1 adds penalty shots to the three-on-three version of EASHL every time any penalty is called and, in doing so, rewards the worst kind of player that the NHL series offers.
Content Update 1 – Penalty Shots
If you’re a player who can pick the puck up in your zone, dangle through several of your opponents and beat an AI goalie because you know the mechanical weakness of said goaltender, you’re hurting NHL 18. Well, if you do it once in awhile, you should upload that to YouTube, but if you’re trying to do it several times a game, you’re what’s wrong with the NHL 18 online meta.
Myself and my friends who play online are average players. We are interested in pulling off the odd great goal because things just worked out that way, but we’re as likely to celebrate a well-timed blocked shot as a top corner snipe. We value a challenge against similarly skilled players but, more importantly, like-minded players. If you score on us with a great passing play that involves both your teammates, there will be no grief on our end. We’ll appreciate what you pulled off and aim to learn from it.
However, if you pick the puck up in your zone and dangle non-stop into ours, repeatedly looking for that one spot on the ice where you know you can snap off a cheese goal, we’ll want to quit. We won’t, but we’ll want to. What’s more infuriating, is that the players capable of doing this sort of nonsense are some of the most skilled in the online community, and they’re wasting that skill by trying to beat flaws in game design instead of their opponents.
But, who cares what a couple of average players in the latter half of their thirties think, right? Well, every player who goes online with NHL 18 populates servers. They provide competition. They make the time it takes for you to find a game less and less. The more they are driven away by you doing crap that would get you cut from the most casual beer league, the less people available to compete against.
What I don’t understand is why hockey fans would enjoy this style of play. What I understand less is why EA Canada constantly pushes gimmicks over gameplay. Am I the only person who is more excited by the way I moved the puck around on the power-play, and not the fact that the same deke I used five years ago still works on an AI goalie today? I mean, congratulations on being able to hit the same buttons you did last year and get the same result, but how is that new and fresh and rewarding?
I sound bitter, and I probably am at least a little, but I’m more disappointed and confused. I see the way some people can play this game and wish I could do that. There are PS4 trophies for pulling off dekes that I’ll never earn. But, I also wonder if the player who tries to deke through everyone on the opposing team ever looks at the way I see and think the game and wish they could pull that off. Probably not, but it would be cool if we could find a balance, right?
Content Update 1 undoubtedly fixes a lot of things and makes NHL 18 better in ways, and penalty shots on every infraction in a three-on-three EASHL mode aren’t the end of the world. However, it’s the never-ending push by EA Canada to reward individual skill formed through repetition of same-as-last-year mechanics that concerns me. Is EA Canada catering to their player-base, or is the player-base following EA Canada’s lead? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?