NHL 22 is a small improvement – My Review

The NHL 22 start-up screen featuring Toronto Maple Leafs' Austin Matthews

After spending about 20 hours playing NHL 22 across two platforms, I still can’t decide if this year’s game is actually good. There are times when I’m playing and really having fun. Then there are moments where I’m shocked at how little things have changed over the years. Yes, the game looks good and there is plenty of content but there are still areas that lack the polish necessary for a game to keep my long-term attention.

Finally On Frostbite

The use of augmented stats in NHL 22. Taken from during a game of HUT Rush

EA’s NHL series makes its first appearance on the new consoles and it’s finally using the Frostbite engine. The move to Frostbite has been in development for many years and it’s been long overdue. Although this is the first year using the aging engine, the transition is pretty good.

For the most part, most of the game still looks the same, which isn’t necessarily a knock. Player models have a bit more detail but nothing drastic. The arenas look the same, mostly because the crowds are the same as in earlier years. But, it’s the lighting, reflections, and use of augmented graphics to highlight stats that really stand out. 

I suspect as DICE continues to work on updating the Frostbite engine for Battlefield, and as EA Canada gets more familiar with the engine, other aspects of the game will see further improvements.

NHL 15’s launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was awful because of its lack of content. Thankfully, even with the move to a new engine and console, they managed to keep all the modes from NHL 21. So, stuff like World of Chel, Hockey Ultimate Team, Be a Pro, and more are back. But it also means that we don’t have any new modes, either.

World of Chel has some new stuff, including more customization with your player builds. Other than that, the only other worthwhile stuff is the Superstar X-Factor player abilities. The augmented stats and replay highlights are more on the visual side of things and don’t really change the gameplay.

No Cross-Play or Progression

My Be a Pro as a member of the Ottawa 67's

Both generations of NHL 22 are the same with regards to content and they play relatively the same. For me, the only thing I really noticed between the two was the much faster loading times on Xbox Series X over Xbox One. Playing in 4K, both games look and perform the same. Because of that, I can’t seem to find any real justification for the 10 dollar price jump on new consoles. This is especially true considering there is absolutely no cross-play or cross-progression between console generations.

Because I was playing on Xbox One and Series X, I was playing the same modes twice. I have two HUT teams. I have two very different Be A Pros, and even my World of Chel characters are unique. EA’s NHL series doesn’t have a large player base so that they didn’t even attempt to include any sort of cross-play doesn’t make sense. Eliminator games in World of Chel were taking a while to find the required number of players and I suspect this will be a greater problem if the more casual players leave the game to play something else.

Apparently, there is an update coming to HUT later in the year that will allow you to move some aspects of your HUT team from one generation to the next, but everything else is staying as is. I suspect that NHL 23 will see the focus shift completely to Series X and PlayStation 5, so there won’t be a need to offer cross-play with the older generations.

Be A Pro is still a mess

My created player taking in the lights before the Seattle Kraken play their first home game

With NHL 22, the mode I spent the most time with was Be A Pro. On the ice, it’s fine. Off the ice, there are a lot of problems. For starters, the story is identical to last year’s. Meaning, you get the same pond hockey intro and the ability to either start in the Memorial Cup, play in Europe, or jump right into the NHL.

Since there is no cross-progression for Be A Pro, I played two different careers. On older gen, I started immediately with my Ottawa Senators and struggled with lower stats. Meanwhile on Series X, after captaining the Ottawa 67’s to the Memorial Cup, the expansion Seattle Kraken drafted me second overall. 

The fact that the mode is the same wouldn’t be a problem if the same bugs from last year’s game were gone. There are still far too many issues off the ice. When I was in the juniors, the interviewers were talking about me going first in the draft but also asking if I would lead the 67’s to more Memorial Cup wins. Then, because I played for the Kraken, every match is an opportunity for me to break the rookie scoring record, the team’s assist record, or any other franchise-specific record.

The tasks/goals set out for me were always the same. Every game, if my coach wasn’t asking me to get a goal, he was asking me to not give one. The lack of variety was really disappointing. Even interactions with teammates were the same and still pretty uninspiring. There were other weird glitches including gloves magically appearing when I’m in the locker room or my stick magically disappearing when the coach was talking to me on the ice.

Still, I was having fun most of the time

The Seattle Kraken playing defense against the Philadelphia Flyers

When I’m on the ice, I’m having fun. Yes, there are still problems with the AI, specifically them losing their assignments or multiple defenders targeting the same attacker. Passing is still a problem for me, as I never feel comfortable with the passing markers. The passing rarely feels right. I will want a pass to go a certain way but it does something completely different, which leads to a turnover.

To be honest, most of my enjoyment with NHL 22 is when there are fewer players on the ice or if I’m in control of only one. I was happy with Be a Pro because I only cared about my player. I was having fun with World of Chel when I was playing Ones Eliminator or Three-on-Three. HUT Rush and NHL Threes are modes I really enjoy because I’m controlling fewer players and there is more space on the ice to do things

The NHL series is a better arcade hockey game than it is a simulation one. It would be nice if it offered a solid arcade and simulation experience. Unfortunately, the areas where it needs realism are not. Meanwhile, the arcade content should bring in more people to the game because of its ease of access. But, I find that EA doesn’t know how to market the game to a wider audience so its community remains small.

NHL 23 must include HyperMotion Tech

Four Ottawa Senators Players too close to each other

With things opening up after our nearly two-year-long pandemic, I am hopeful the NHL series can add HyperMotion Tech soon. This machine learning that was first featured in FIFA 22 allows EA to motion capture larger-scale environments. FIFA used it to record full 11v11 matches. The NHL games need to use this technology to improve their realism.

There are clips on YouTube that show the EA team doing NHL motion capturing with smaller squads. But, if they can record players playing a proper 6v6 with bench players, it could seriously help with the flow of the game and address AI issues I’ve been frustrated with for years. If they want the game to feel more like the real thing, then HyperMotion Tech is incredibly necessary.

So many areas to improve

Celebrating scoring a goal as a member of the Ottawa Senators

I can’t stress this enough, when I was having fun with NHL 22 I was really enjoying the game. But, that still doesn’t hide the fact that I have some serious problems with it. There are far too many areas that still need work on. They need to consider either introducing some new, fresh modes or improving and revamping the existing content. The Superstar X-Factor player skills aren’t revolutionary, Ultimate Team is essentially the same as last year, while Be a Pro’s bugs are annoying.

The commentary needs more depth, as James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro repeat themselves far too often. While I’m not annoyed by Carrlyn Bathe, her inclusion feels forced. She also suffers from repeating the same Superstar X-Factor comments multiple times a game. Player visuals are fine but crowd animations need a refresh. 

I hope it gets better

As it stands, 20 hours of playing NHL 22 through EA Play was enough for now. I don’t see any justification to buy the most expensive version just to get access to both console generations. When there is a significant sale, I’d probably just get the Series X version and hope that there are more people to play against online. Maybe the devs have a surprise cross-play update in the pipes but I wouldn’t hold my breath.