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NHL 17 Review

by Dean James

The NHL just wrapped up the Stanley Cup Finals back in early June with the Pittsburgh Penguins reigning supreme over the San Jose Sharks. Having one of the shortest off-seasons in the sports world, the 2016 NHL season is now only a month away, and with that comes EA Sports’ third iteration of their hockey franchise on current-gen consoles with NHL 17.

EA Canada released the very disappointing and bare bones NHL 15 two years ago, but turned the series around last year with a much more feature filled entry that lived up to the standards of the previous heights of the franchise. Considering many of the most requested features like EASHL were added in last year, the number of game modes added this time around are less, but still manage to enhance the overall experience once again.

While EA Sports employs a number of different developers under the EA Sports umbrella, they often take game mode ideas from one another and implement them in ways that are fine tuned to that sport. The latest of these is the Draft Champions game mode that first appeared in Madden 16, which was followed by the very similar FUT Draft in FIFA 16. For those that have played Draft Champions before in another EA Sports title, nothing is really going to surprise you here. However, that does not take away from the absolute fun provided by this fast paced mode.

Draft Champions is a little different here from in the past, as you start off by choosing if you want to play offline or online, as well as selecting a theme from four options. This is a little simpler than how it was set up in Madden 17, but has its own identity with the theme options. These themes include All Star Alumni, Stanley Cup Champions, European Descent, and Around The World Again, which are exactly as they sound. It would have been nice to also have a general mode that mixes players with lower ratings in as well, but this is still a lot of fun regardless.

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Just like with other variations of Draft Champions, the mode is tied into the always popular Ultimate Team. By doing well in Draft Champions, you can earn more packs and cards for Ultimate Team, which allows you to build a fantasy style roster of players from the ground up. Brand new to HUT this year is roster synergy, which pairs player strengths together to provide the strongest lineup for you. Just like with the rest of the EA Sports titles with Ultimate Team, you aren’t going to get something drastically different in HUT, but it’s a worthy continuation of the fan favorite game mode.

On the other hand, one of the other fairly stagnant game modes in Franchise has been retooled this time around with the ability to be a GM. This means you now not only have control of the team’s roster and playing games, but also now control the budget, promotions, and more. The level of detail included here is rather impressive, including concessions and even relocation options that are pretty in-depth themselves. For those that prefer a more streamlined experience that leaves these additions out, there is an option to do that as well when you’re setting up the franchise.

NHL 17 definitely has its basic online game options, but the EASHL is once again the best of the best in this department. Featuring a more arcade style, you can team up with friends to create a team and go online to face the competition from all around the world. Building up your team is all part of the process and while EASHL in NHL 17 is not a gamechanger, the addition of new player classes and some other little features are worth checking out.

While much more simplistic than most of the modes in the game, NHL 17 introduces one other new game option as well. The World Cup of Hockey is one of the lesser organized events in sports, with the two previous occurring in 1996 and 2004. This actually made it into NHL 2005 back in the day, and now with the World Cup of Hockey returning this month, a game mode based on the tournament has returned. The World Cup of Hockey lineup includes all eight countries that are involved in real life, so this is absolutely ideal for anyone that is really excited about this third iteration of the tournament. While this mode really isn’t anything special otherwise, it is good to have it included since this tournament probably won’t be happening again for awhile.

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One of the few positives out of NHL 15 was the first usage of the Ignite engine in the series, and EA Canada has only made it feel more comfortable to use in each passing year. The feel of skating across the ice with control of the puck in your possession is very natural, with an excellent physics engine in place that truly feels like it is as true to life as possible.

More intense fights for the puck

Like with many EA Sports titles, each new iteration typically focuses on one specific role in the gameplay, with the goalie position getting the most focus in NHL 17. The game has introduced what they are calling Reactionary Save Intelligence, which allows the goalie to have more control than ever in stopping incoming shots. This is helped by brand new motion capture that gives the game actual stances that are used by goalies in the NHL. On the other side, there are also the new Net Battle physics that allow for more intense fights for the puck right in front of the goal on both offense and defense.

Hockey can be a very difficult sport to play and that does translate over to NHL 17 as well. As always, there are different control options and skill levels that you can choose, which work very well in combination with the game’s excellent on-ice trainer. This feature was introduced in last year’s game and is every bit as helpful this year, giving you tips at many points of the game, from face-offs to shooting. When you do something well, you will be rewarded with a check on that specific part of the game, so this is a good way to help see what areas of your game that you need to work on moving forward after each game as you get ranked in different skill areas.

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The NHL series of games has always been known for its top notch presentation over the years. This is definitely still present here with large scale introductions and everything, but the whole presentation really could have used a bit of a touch up this year beyond the new in-game celebrations. The commentary feels stale and repetitive, especially when compared to the dynamic commentary that Madden 17 is employing this year with weekly updates.

The Verdict

While last year’s game was coming off its very disappointingly bare bones predecessor, NHL 17 already had a very solid foundation to build upon at the start. The addition of Draft Champions and the World Cup of Hockey modes provide players with new varying content, along with existing modes that are refined enough to keep players interested. Those that typically buy an NHL game only every couple years may not find enough different from last year, but NHL 17 is still one that will be enjoyed by most any fan of the sport.

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NHL 17

  • Available On: PS4, Xbox One
  • Published By: EA Sports
  • Developed By: EA Canada
  • Genre: Sports
  • US Release Date: September 13th, 2016
  • Reviewed On: PS4
  • Quote: "While last year’s game was coming off its very disappointingly bare bones predecessor, NHL 17 already had a very solid foundation to build upon at the start and is one that will be enjoyed by most any fan of the sport."
Review Policy

The Good

  • Reactionary save intelligence
  • Draft champions mode
  • GM features in franchise mode

The Bad

  • Repetitive commentary
  • No groundbreaking new features
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