Since the shaky introduction of EA’s hockey franchise to current-gen consoles, the NHL series has come a long way. Building off the strengths of NHL 16, this year’s minor adjustments and additions makes NHL 17 a concise and enjoyable experience. However, the limitations imposed by the annual release cycle seems to have prevented the game from making any major strides over its predecessor. With an improved focus on the depth of gameplay on and off the ice, NHL 17 provides a notable but ultimately familiar entry in the series.
There may be no option to do a Flying V in NHL 17 but gliding down the ice with your teammates in tow has never felt better. From performing a double deke to shielding the puck from opposing players with your body – every decision you make with the puck in possession feels fluid and responsive. The seemingly tangible intensity of every hit of the puck (and your body) is felt and really sells the authenticity of the on-ice experience. NHL 17’s ability to harmonise hockey’s hectic speed with its immense physicality is exhilarating.If you haven’t noticed already, prior to playing the NHL series, all of my ice hockey knowledge came from the Mighty Ducks film series. Having had the opportunity to play a majority of EA’s major sports titles this year – it’s great to see their increased emphasis on catering to players of every skill level. This in part is accomplished by once again including the option of using the on-ice trainer during gameplay. The on-ice trainer is a graphical overlay that suggests when, where and how to perform actions around the ice while you’re playing. It’s a great way of teaching you the ways of the ice while providing instantaneous feedback. If you nail a strong pass or go for the puck too early in a face-off, the on-ice trainer will let you know exactly what you did right and what you did wrong. Despite the game’s frantic pace, the trainer never feels intrusive to the flow of the gameplay. Instead, it allows you immediately hone in on what parts of your game need work while providing a solution on to how to improve them. It does a great job of introducing the intricacies of ice hockey organically, without it ever feeling like it’s an overload of information.
Last year’s Be a GM mode has now been replaced with the marquee mode that is Franchise. As a whole, Franchise offers what you would typically expect from such a mode. You can scout for young and upcoming talent, manage the morale of the team locker room or you can just focus on striving for ultimate glory by winning the Stanley Cup. However, you now also have the options of relocating your team to a new city, controlling the prices of tickets and food for your stadium and even scheduling promotional nights such as a bobblehead night. They’re welcome inclusions but start to feel frivolous once the novelty wears off. Thankfully, if peddling bobbleheads to your fans isn’t your kind of thing, these options can be toggled off. Along with turning off scheduling promotional nights, Franchise mode allows quite a lot of its components to be customised – enabling you to focus on what elements of the game matter to you.With the World Cup of Hockey running from late September until early October of this year, it only makes sense that this mode was included in NHL 17. Aside from the differentiation of presentation from other tournament modes, playing through the World Cup of Hockey doesn’t offer much else. However, for diehard fans of hockey, I’m sure the inclusion of this mode is greatly appreciated. I can’t recall the amount of times my friends and I created our own World Cup tournaments in FIFA whilst being caught up in World Cup fever. The mode doesn’t offer anything comprehensive but it does a sufficient job of providing some fan service.
The EA staple Be a Pro mode has once again been included providing a similar experience to years prior. You create a player and attempt to take them from being an unknown to a champion of the game. The notion of only controlling one player has never really appealed to me but the weight of turning a game with a crucial goal or tackle always provides a unique sense of accomplishment not attainable in most other modes.
This feeling of accomplishment is also prominent in the online mode known as the EA Sports Hockey League. In this mode, you take a single player online and are put into a team with other players. If you’re fortunate enough to have five other friends with NHL 17, you can field your own team and challenge other teams from around the world. As you level up and gain experience, you’ll also unlock customisation options for your club arena and your player. It treads similar ground to Be a Pro but heightens the sense of contribution as you’re actually playing with people as opposed to AI.If you like cards and you like ice hockey, then you’re in luck as Hockey Ultimate Team makes a return in NHL 17. As is tradition, you attain card packs that contain players of varying skill level that you then shape into a team to play against AI or people online. You can get more cards to strengthen your roster by spending real money or using in-game currency which you get by grinding. It’s a mode I’ve never been able to get into as it feels like you need to spend money constantly in order to remain competitive online.
Currency for Ultimate Team can be earned through the new addition of Draft Champions. In it, you draft a team of players all pertaining to a certain theme. For example, players who have won the Stanley Cup or the best skaters from the Eastern conference. You begin with 20 reasonably skilled players and then have 12 rounds to bolster your squad with better players. After you’ve drafted your team, you can then face off against AI or online opponents – with the ultimate goal of winning four games in a row. It’s a creative and entertaining way of getting what you need to make improvements to your Ultimate Team.
After the barebones release of NHL 15, the notable improvements of last year’s really stood out. Unfortunately for NHL 17, the additions it has made do not feel imperative to improving the overall experience. The gameplay is great and there is substantial depth in a lot of its modes but the game just feels like it needs something else to really distinguish itself from last year’s release. If you’re new to the hockey scene then NHL 17 is for you, however, those familiar with the series may be left wanting more.
The PS4 version of this game was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.