NHL 17 review – The Best It’s Been This Gen
EA’s NHL franchise has been the most middling of the company’s sports franchises this gen, beginning with the ultra shallow NHL 15. While they did remedy, or rather add missing features for the next iteration, it still didn’t touch the other two tentpole sports, the Madden and Fifa franchises. Is this the year that we are finally given a fully featured title that at least comes close to matching up to the other big franchises?
Where NHL 15 left a sour mark on the franchise, NHL 17 has completely alleviated that feeling and even goes much further than the stopgap in the franchise that was NHL 16. This year, what is at first immediately evident, is the extensive on-ice trainer and between period coaching tips.
Hockey can be quite a complicated series to just jump into, and EA has increasingly been in-tune to that fact and have furthered the on-ice trainer from last year. Each player the user switches to has a “goal” to achieve for their specified position. Be it winning the faceoff with a stick lift, or successfully completing a between the legs deke, the trainer not only gives you a goal but shows you how to do it just beneath your player. No more flipping through a PDF manual on your phone or tablet; it’s all right there and quite convenient. Having been a long time player of the series, I didn’t need these options on, per se (since they are indeed optional), but it was nice to use them to learn how to do new skills such has a slap pass and fighting for position in front of the net.
The between period coaching tips also delved into much more deeply than in previous years. What used to be pretty generic tips are now more fleshed out to actually help a new player. Sure, there are still the ones that say something akin to, “stop turning the puck over,” but you have others that actually have you try out certain techniques that can be viable in each aspect of the game. The letter grades and your progress to the next one is also neat to see; although, it’s not THAT important in the grand scheme of things. Best of all, the on-ice trainer is completely optional, and that’s what makes this year vastly superior than the last, the power of choice.
The plethora of game modes finally catch up to its counterparts with all the modes you would expect. For the franchise junkie, you have the ability as an owner to have a hand in absolutely everything you could ever imagine. From prices, to relocation, all the way to what to have on certain promotional nights, it is all finally here. On the other hand, for those that got sucked into HUT in previous years, it’s even deeper this year. Line synergies play a larger role this year, and the overall feel leans towards an RPG level system. Each player has a certain dominant skill, and if you have a certain amount of those players on your team, you can get + attributes for that skill across all of your skaters.
Also making its way over is Draft Champions. What I first thought was a gimmick in the Madden series, turned out to be one of my favorite modes besides franchise. It’s a quick 4-game tournament where you draft a round of 15 players. It’s quick and fun to use various players you often don’t get the chance to. Having the ability to gain HUT items makes the mode a win-win.
It’s fair to say that if you have played an NHL game in the past three to four years or so, this year’s game will certainly feel familiar. Sure, one year may feel a little different than another but nothing that would take longer than a match or two to get used to. That is exactly how NHL 17 is. There are a few minor changes/additions (fighting in front of the crease and an actual slap pass), but the core gameplay feels just like NHL 16, and NHL 15 for that matter. But, that is certainly not a bad thing. NHL titles have felt the best they ever have, recently. They’ve gotten away from the arcadey feel of the earlier PS2-PS3 era, aside from the odd NHL 12-14 where they introduced the ability to glide while skating, which was a tad jarring at first, and they are finally in a great place as it pertains to its core gameplay. Having said that, there are still some minor niggles that are present. The forehand-backhand deke is still a bit overpowered, and the AI defenders are a bit sluggish turning in pursuit.
Be-A-Pro is always one of my favorite modes to turn to, and it is done pretty well this year. Playing a Right Winger, your teammates actually look to get a pass/one-timer to you. The options of playing in a lesser league to build up your stats before you hit the top tier clubs is a nice addition as well. At times, your ability to gain experience points is negatively impacted by your teammates that, for some reason, don’t know how to play defensively, but aside from that, the mode is relatively straightforward. The only omission I could find is there really isn’t a story line with your character. Something like the tweets in the Madden series would go a long way of playing game after game that can become a bit tiresome in longer play sessions.
The overall presentation for NHL has been spot-on in previous years, and it is even more so here. It’s simple things like graphics popping up explaining that a player has never had a hat trick, or one that says that this is the first meeting between two rookies, which gives the game that TV like production feel. The announcers seem to have more lines this year, but there are still those times where they seem to be a tad behind when the play or their line gets weirdly cut to catch up. All the UI elements are seamless and, surprisingly, I don’t hate the menus that are often cluttered and dense.
NHL 17 was reviewed with a review copy from the developers. The game is also available on Xbox One.