Oh boy does this franchise need a facelift. I always have to ask myself whether I am playing NHL 15 or NHL 17 or the newest addition to the series because the changes are so minimal to the naked eye. There seems to be more love given to the Madden and FIFA games than any of other sports game. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the hockey games and I love picking my favourite team and beating the opposition into submission (not accurate) but the games are becoming stale and they all play the same. Some would say all they need is a roster update every month and they could get away with that.
NHL 19 is the newest addition to EA Sports’ hockey series and there is a lot included in this package. My mind was actually blown with the amount of content that I could dive into. A lot of returning players to this series may not see this as a lot because of previous titles including a majority of the content but since I have not played an NHL title in years it was daunting just looking at the grid of game modes.
First and foremost, the menu navigation system is awful. The layers that it takes to just get to where you need to go can take an extended period of time. Every screen seems to need to load and there is no seamless transitioning. I understand that there is a heightened need for visuals and this can take time to load but it hurts the flow. It seemed like a quantity versus quality type dilemma and they chose the former.
The tutorial is also extremely boring. It is obviously needed but the presentation of it all just dragged on and there wasn’t much excitement to the tasks. Sure, you have to start somewhere but I think something else could be done here.
Before diving into the game modes let’s get the basics out of the way. The graphics are great (other than the typical dull crowd animations and models). I love recognizing the players and seeing the specific details of each arena done right. The sound design is crisp and clean except the commentators get repetitive and boring in their dialogue. There is only so much you can say after playing so many games of hockey to be honest. The gameplay feels right and they definitely added some specific advanced dekes that, if done right, can put you above your competition every time.
To be honest, this is a hockey game and the most important element to talk about it the game modes that are included in the package. We buy sports games for the additional content and not necessarily to see the sparkle or glare from the graphics. Graphics are nice and all but we want substance. Can too much content become overwhelming? Of course it can but it seems that NHL 19 has done it right in terms of allowing you to play the game your way.
With the amount of players already in the NHL the amount of detail needed to represent each of these players properly must have been time-consuming. Add on to that the addition of each of their respective farm teams (for example, the Toronto Maple Leafs have their farm affiliate the Toronto Marlies) and all those players as well as the players in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), which include the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It is a massive amount of players to keep tabs on. It is quite impressive actually.
Pushed on to this already daunting list of players is the addition hockey Legends. This adds over 200 more hockey players from Wayne Gretzky to Tim Horton. It is amazing to control these players and brings a whole new demographic into the game. I can now ask my grandfather to play as his old school Montreal Canadiens and he will smile as their names pop up on the screen.
A new mode added to the NHL series is called The World of CHEL. This mode allows you to create a player from scratch and gain abilities, equipment and status as you play against the computer and online players in various modes. This is by far one of the better modes in the game and can leave you wanting to play just one more event.
When customizing your character you have so many options aside from your personal look. You can have your own goal horn, goal celebration, stick, skates, tape, etc. Most of the choices are locked to begin with but you easily unlock them as you progress through the CHEL modes. As you progress you gain equipment bags that you can open (much like loot boxes) and they will give you aesthetic items. You also gain special abilities and traits that you can add to your player such as hitting harder, sniping faster and/or better dangles. The better you do, the more traits you unlock for your player.
The modes in CHEL include the returning EA Sports Hockey League, NHL Threes Drop In and two new modes in NHL Ones and Pro-Am. The EA Sports Hockey league is an online mode that allows you to play a tournament style mode where you progress with a team through the ranks of online players. I absolutely love the returning NHL Threes mode because the commentator is full of energy, says hilarious dialogue and the gameplay is way more arcade-style. It felt like I was going back to NHL Hitz. NHL Ones is a 1v1v1 mode where you play against two other online players on half of an outdoor rink. You have a time limit and the player who scores the most goals at the end wins that session. I got my arse handed to me plenty of times but kept hitting that “Find Next Match” button in this mode because of how fun it was trying to dangle around the two other players and hitting them into oblivion. Lastly, there is the Pro-Am mode, which has you playing against a specific team of 4 players (includes the goalie), which are computer controlled, for three periods and if you beat them you progress to the next team of 4. I feel it is smart to complete this mode first so that you can get all the basic experience needed first and unlock some of the traits you may want before venturing into the online modes of CHEL.
Your typical Quick Play options are here with Play Now, NHL Threes and Online versus. Play Now allows you pick two teams and play. NHL Threes is much like the CHEL version but with a vast progression system where you start as a no-name team and battle against other teams to unlock uniforms, arenas, playable mascots and other players. This mode was insane and I absolutely loved the change of pace to the arcade-style gameplay. Depending on how you set the difficulty on each matchup determines what you can unlock. Online Versus pits your team against another team in online play. You can do it for fun or play in a ranked system. Be forewarned, this mode may hurt your feelings with loss after loss after loss if you don’t know the basics. Trust me.
Career modes include Franchise Mode, Be a Pro Career, and Season Mode. Franchise Mode returns as a heavily detailed way of running your team from the ground up. Some elements of this mode are daunting if you don’t understand the logistics of how a franchise if built but it definitely teaches you to appreciate what real management can go through on a day-to-day basis. Contract negotiations are the worst and I do not envy the player or the management. Be a Pro Career is one of my favourite modes in the game. You take a created player with basic stats through one of three options to make it to the NHL level. You can start in the CHL and prove your worthy of the number one draft pick. You can play in the Memorial Cup and show the world what you are worth. You can also just pick a team you want to be drafted by and play in the preseason to try and make the NHL team out of the gate. Whatever path you take is a fun and thrilling experience because you are locked onto one player as you play the game and have to make smart decisions based on the coach feedback. The coach will assign you challenges and tasks and if you complete them you get a better grade, which gives you a better chance to make and stay with the NHL team. As you do better, your progress will increase and you will unlock the skill path you want depending on if you want to shoot well, skate faster or hit harder. Lastly, there is Season Mode, which is for the players that don’t want the detail of the Franchise Mode and just want to play through a season of hockey with the option to run the team as you please.
Online Modes include Hockey Ultimate Team, World of CHEL (which was discussed), and Draft Champions. Hockey Ultimate Team is a card collectable game where you open packs of cards that include players, boosters, and collectables. You start with low ranked players and your goal it to complete challenges, finish tasks, play other players online with your team and collect coin in order to buy more card packs and become a better team overall. While this is a more complex mode it was definitely a lot of fun to dive into. The card collecting aspect becomes addictive and having daily tasks brings you back for more. It is very hard to compete in the online level with the basic players you receive at the start but as you grow you will gain confidence and compete against the people who buy their way to victory. Yes, you can just outright buy the better player packs with real money and get the players you want through buying currency and going to the auction house. I don’t mind it because I like the slow pace of building my team up. I feel more accomplished. You gain card packs through completing challenges and tasks so it really isn’t that difficult to feel like your team is growing in some way. Draft Champions is an extremely neat concept put into practice where you get to draft a team against other online players (like you would in a fantasy league) and form a team to play for the Draft Championship. It really makes you feel like you are a part of something and gives you an idea of how to form specific line-ups when you only have certain players at your disposal.
Other modes in NHL 19 include Champions Hockey League, Playoff Mode, Shootout Mode, and Practice Mode. The Champions Hockey League allows you to play in a European tournament as international teams, which adds even more players to the list. The Playoff Mode is basically skipping the regular season with a team and going straight to the playoffs. Shootout Mode pits two teams against each other in “hockey’s most exciting moment”, which I really don’t think is exciting at all. Finally, there is Practice Mode, which allows you to hone your skills before picking another mode to compete in.
The amount of sheer content in NHL 19 is amazing. There is so much to do and very little to be disappointed in. Sure, the commentating becomes dull, the weird “real-life” video footage of announcers breaks the aesthetic and the hilarious bugs we see in the other games still exist but the gameplay is solid and the modes are fun and engaging. I can come back to this game each and every day and find something new to do and never feel like I am experiencing the same thing over and over.
Can I recommend this game to players returning from NHL 18? I have no idea because I never played it but I am sure this is more than just a roster update especially with The World of CHEL mode. I am glad I took some time off from this series because coming back at this time showed me everything that I had missed and more. These games are obviously for the fans of the sport and for competitive people in general. All I can say is that I am enjoying it and the depth is welcome.