Also On: Xbox One
Developer: EA Canada
ESRB: E 10+
Hockey fans, the NHL season is almost upon us. While I’m a huge football fan, and my love for hockey might not be as big, I would still consider myself a fan. The NHL franchise from EA Sports has always been the gold standard in the hockey genre since its starting days on the Sega Genesis (making Gretzky bleed). So I’ve been tied to the franchise for a long time, especially since some of my closest friends are die hard hockey fans (let’s go Rangers… that’s for you, Anthony). I took a bit of a sabbatical from the franchise the past couple years, so I was eager to return and check out NHL 17. Let’s see if this years release is Stanley Cup worthy.
One thing immediately noticeable on boot up is that like FIFA and Madden, unsurprisingly, NHL features a UI nearly identical to EA’s other sports titles. I’m sure if you're reading this review you must be a fan of hockey. Like 99% of the sports titles out there, NHL 17 is not made to be the introduction to hockey but rather for fans of the league and fans that might not have played the gaming franchise lately. Some gameplay options are given to right before you play your first game. These options vary from different control styles, difficulty, and gameplay styles. The different control options include the popular simplified NHL ’94 as well as closer 1 to 1 simulation style that utilizes the right analog stick for shooting. New to this year is a new difficulty; Semi-Pro. This difficulty is for newer players that are not quite on the Pro level but also find the Rookie difficulty too easy. Along with the controls and difficulty is the option to make the gameplay more Arcade style (big hits and less penalties) or full on simulation. The level of customization and all of these different options impressed me. I could play NHL 17 in so many different ways and it makes the hockey genre instantly accessible to all kinds of fans. I hope EA carries over some of these options to other sports titles in the future.
Also new to NHL 17 is the Draft Champions mode. Madden fans should be familiar with this mode. Draft Champions is basically the equivalent of what Fanduel is to fantasy hockey. Rather than starting a team and continually building off of it, like in Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT), you build a roster through a 12 round draft then play a series of games. Once the series of games is done (online or offline) you're treated to some HUT rewards depending on how you finished, and that’s it for that squad. You can then start the mode again and draft an entirely new team and start the process all over. Draft Champions is quick, to the point, and features a different roster each time you draft a team.
I would like to do a quick sidebar about the presentation in NHL 17. If you read my review of Madden 17 or know any of my other Madden rants, I’m really not a fan of the effort put into its presentation year in and year out. The NHL franchise lately shows off how well the presentation can and should look. We are treated to FMV shots of each arena before the game as well as introductions from the commentary team. It just gives me a feeling of added realism. NHL 17 also features branding of NBC Sports, which again adds to the authentic feel. Why the NFL games, which happen to be the best selling and highest grossing sport in the WORLD, don’t feature any licensed networks or special presentations, continues to baffle me. Without losing my mind over this, I’ll just say: NHL 17 does a great job at feeling authentic in gameplay and presentation, beyond any of EA’s other sports franchises.
When NHL first made its move to the current gen consoles, it was what some (all) would call a half assed entry. Teams outside of the NHL were missing, Franchise mode wasn’t fully featured and there just wasn’t many gameplay styles and options. Fast forward to NHL 17 and all of those issues have been fixed and then some. Franchise mode is deep and includes many different play options. One of which is Be a Pro, which has you create your own player and go through a career as that person. I think of all the sports, this feature lends itself the best to NHL. Having your player come in when the line shifts gives you a feeling of urgency to score a goal during your time on the ice and it also makes the game go faster than playing a full, regular game.
NHL 17 continues the trend EA has been building lately, and it’s another quality title in the franchise. The problem I have with it is, I don’t see the game as an every year investment, unless you're a true diehard hockey fan. I haven’t played an NHL title in depth since the franchise first appeared on this current gen. I’ve played bits here and there since then and I just don’t see too many differences. Besides the necessary roster updates (which can be updated through community downloads for people that don’t want to purchase the latest version), the improvements and new features to the title are minor. Die hard hockey fans will find a reason to buy it every year and I doubt those same fans are even reading this review. I would recommend NHL 17 as a quality purchase for fans that haven’t visited the franchise in a while, and for people that are looking for an introduction to hockey. All of the custom gameplay options make it extremely accessible to everyone.