This year EA Sports gave us a sneak peak of the redesigned EASHL game mode coming to NHL 16 this September. Rather than release a demo of the full game, EA opted to give us all a taste of what’s to come, or come back. If you didn’t get a chance to download and play from July 29 to Aug 6, enjoy the below review on what looks to be a promising step forward in the NHL franchise.
The first thing you notice when you sign in is the updated UI and menu screens. Each one other than the EASHL box brings you to a short video explaining how the game type will work within the game upon release. That’s about as self-explanatory as the Beta gets. From there you are left to navigate the menus, find and join a club, and then finally enter the locker room to load into a game. The catch is that a minimum 2 players on a team need to be in the locker room (game lobby) at one time to play. Luckily for me, I had a whole slew of friends from my childhood hockey days itching to play the game mode that was left out of NHL 15. After creating a team and jumping in an Xbox Live party (Voice chat was not supported for the BETA) we were ready to go, The Top Shelf Professionals, aptly named after one of our college houses.
You have the ability to choose from a range of “classes” that include sniper, playmaker, power forward, etc. This aspect created a discussion before the games even started on who wanted what, and how we could work the classes to our advantage. Player customization looks deeper than ever, and you can bet they included all of the updated equipment and gear (This really got the hockey equipment hoarder in me excited). Once in the actual game, there are some noticeable differences from NHL 15. Although you can only play one position during the course of a game using this mode, you can still feel the slight differences in the skating and puck control. One thing we all noticed right away was the lack of lateral mobility as well as the free-range nature of the pucks. Passing through a screen or an attempted block would almost always result in a skipping puck that more times than not hopped right over our virtual sticks. Shooting with a sniper produced a smooth, rocket of a shot, while shooting with a grinder class player looked almost like a scene from the movie Goon.
The visuals were impressive with many new goalie and player animations, and physics that finally put to rest the unrealistic hits and checks of past NHL installments. The new player identification icon is a little hard to get used to. I kept thinking I was on Google Maps while I was playing. After a couple of games though, I had totally forgotten it had even changed. Server issues played a bit of a role as we were dropped from a few games, but everything I could think of as a potential pain point looks to be tweakable more than ever this year with the heavy involvement of the community.
Throughout the Beta, we were able to climb up to division 5, with 1 being the highest and only consisting of around 10-15 teams at a time. The competition was great and it seemed like a natural fit for anyone who enjoys playing a team based game, rather than controlling every player at once. Any fan of Chel, with any indication from the demo, will absolutely love NHL 16. So much maybe, that you can learn to forgive EA for the last, poorly polished game we call NHL15. Make sure to check back upon release in September to check the full review including Co-op and online vs. play as well as the Be a Pro mode. Until then, keep up to date with the EA Sports YouTube page, (https://www.youtube.com/user/EASPORTS/videos), and as always #StayTaped.