It’s been a rough year for fans of EA Sports’s NHL franchise. After the hype that NHL 15 brought around E3 of last year, the months that followed have been filled with empty promises and massive disappointment. A game launched without a ton of trademark game modes and features such as fan favourite “EASHL”, the online league that has you and 5 friends hit the ice against others on your own created club. The team at EA Canada promised a bevy of missing features would be added in later through game updates and patches, but the damage had already been done. NHL 15, as you can read in my review last year was a giant failure both in terms the game itself and how the team handled the launch by making fans wait until just a few weeks before the release date to let them know just how bare bones this iteration was going to be. It is a good sign then, that nearly 4 months until the puck drops in NHL 16, the team is being upfront and open about what to expect, and so far all signs point to the return of the NHL series I know and love.
Right off the bat, we know that NHL 16 will mark the return of EASHL, touting input from the community, the massively popular mode is reimagined with a much greater focus on playing as a team. Gone are the days of XP gaining and leveling cards and unlocking boosts for your created player, instead focusing on a more simple class based system similar to what you would find in a game like Call Of Duty. Each class sounds like it is fitted with a pre-set overall and different pros and cons. A good example of this would be the sniper class, who is going to benefit from a wicked wrist shot and puck handling skills, but will lack in defense and playmaking abilities, where as a playmaker will have high passing and offensive awareness, but a bit more limited in terms of scoring ability. Stuff like speed and acceleration sounds like it will be the same across the board, meaning playing like a team and playing real hockey takes center stage over being a one man superstar and controlling the game alone.
Included with the new EASHL comes a slew of new options for player customization. New face templates, stick tape designs and custom skate laces are all new for NHL 16. In addition there is the ability to grow actual playoff beards that start off as a 5 o’clock shadow and blossom into full, glorious beards as you and your team battle it out in the EASHL playoffs, a ritual that is known and loved by hockey fans around the world. Thankfully these customization options are present in every other game mode, online and off.
Also back for NHL 16 is online couch co-op, meaning you and a friend can have a few beers and team up online against others, this is a great way to get your practice in for Online Team Play and EASHL, and a feature that many fans have wanted back.
Be a GM mode has a new hook as well in the form of a new player moral system. Gone are the days of just snatching up the best players, now each skater has a unique personality and act as individuals, requesting trades, forming positive and negative relationships with other teammates and management, calling team meetings and more. EA promises more in depth information on this radical change to Be a GM mode in the months leading up to the September release, but just this little bit of info has me very excited.
EA Sports also promises a revamped system in place for offline Be a Pro mode, and while information has been sparse, expect a new player progression system similar to FIFA, where your on ice actions will directly influence the attributes that you increase. If you spend your time throwing big hits and being aggressive, eventually you will earn the “tough guy” or “grinder” roles, while if you play the offensive game, maybe you will lean towards a sniper or a two-way forward. This new system sounds like a lot of fun, and I really look forward to hearing more in the coming months.
Hockey Ultimate Team is obviously going to be back, as it was really the only fleshed out mode to make it into NHL 15, but will see the return of popular options such as the ability to play a friend, and much more focus on single player aspects like playing a full offline season before jumping online, much of HUT will look and play as it does now, but these changes are welcomed regardless.
On the ice, NHL 16 looks to expand upon its great visuals and presentation. Areas are even more true to life, with team mascots and famous props like the Oilers giant oil rig, the San Jose Sharks skating out of a giant shark mouth, giant team flags being passed around in the crowd, and expanded commentary from “Doc” Emmerick and the NBC team. So far, NHL 16 looks to keep authenticity a major focus.
In terms of gameplay, not much has been said or shown off, but we can expect to see changes to the skating engine, allowing for refined movements in any situation, easier time getting into passing lanes and working on the power play to set up shots from the point. Its my hope that many of the problems from NHL 15 are corrected, such as auto dekes, better and harder hits and crisper passes. EA promises a much smoother and varied gameplay experience for NHL 16.
Another new addition is “seamless puck pickups”, which is just another way of saying your skates will have a much easier time getting to loose pucks and passes thanks to a bunch of new animations and smoother transitions, which could be the difference between a scoring chance and getting laid out by a huge hit. A personal hope of mine is to see some new deke’s added back into our arsenal, as the amount of variation we have now feels a bit lacking in creativity.
So far, NHL 16 looks to be heading in a great direction, which is key to try and win back the lost fans from the debacle of last years launch. Quite a few members of the community have had a chance to give feedback and get some hands on time with an early bid of the game, these guys know the NHL series inside and out, much like I do, and they have come away very pleased with what they have seen so far. Obviously the game is still 4 months out, and many things can and will change, but keep it locked to 3GEM as more info is revealed at this year’s E3 and beyond.