Over the last few years, my interest in the NHL series has waned. For NHL 22, after posting my review, I just stopped playing. I actually didn’t hate last year’s game, I just felt like there were a lot of areas where they could improve. Unfortunately for NHL 23, what’s new this year is extremely underwhelming and it doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over last year. Worst of all, I’m struggling to use up my EA Play trial.
So, what’s new exactly?
If you head over to EA’s official site for NHL 23, you might think there is a problem with it. After looking at the home page, the three pages “Features”, “Gameplay”, and “Game Modes” all look identical. Sure, there are some differences, but the core is the same, and it’s rather disappointing.
The four significant “selling” features for NHL 23 are cross-platform matchmaking, women’s hockey in Hockey Ultimate Team, Last Chance Puck Movement, and Presentation. That’s it. There are no new modes and no drastic changes to existing game modes, with one exception. Franchise mode does have some notable changes, but it didn’t warrant the front page treatment.
You now have the ability to play against players on the same platform generation. Meaning Xbox Series S|X users can play against PlayStation 5 users in some modes. Unfortunately, you can’t play against the older consoles (Xbox One or PS4) and it’s not actually available until next month (November). Women’s cards in HUT are nice but not a major game-changer. “Last Chance Puck Movement” is a gimmick that seems unnecessary. As for Presentation, it’s pretty limited and again, nothing special.
It feels pretty much all the same
“Be a Pro” is the same, so I didn’t touch it. World of Chel has a few more X-Factor abilities to unlock, but no new game types. It still takes way too long to get into matches, especially if you want to play Threes. I tried to do a drop-in EASHL game, but we couldn’t get enough players to start a match.
HUT’s new additions are only really there if you plan on grinding. There are new cards to unlock through challenges, but you need to play a lot to earn them. Meanwhile, they’ve made some changes to HUT Rivals, but that doesn’t really appeal to me. As for single-player content, there is nothing new to talk about.
Women’s HUT cards are a welcomed addition until you begin to see just how limited they are at the moment. While they take full advantage of the IIHF licensing, there aren’t enough good-to-great cards to build meaningful or varied squads. They’ll need to introduce some juiced cards soon. Otherwise, they’ll be treated in the same way as all the European Men’s clubs, AHL, and CHL cards that already exist in the game.
Franchise Mode’s big edition is the ability to go all-out with your league’s customization. You can add a 33rd team, or create a league from as few as 6 to a maximum of 48 teams. The ability to create custom-sized leagues is pretty sweet but can be pretty overwhelming. It’s also limited to offline play only. Why the NHL series still doesn’t have an online franchise mode is beyond me.
Too much half-baked content
With regards to gameplay, the stuff that’s there isn’t anything really remarkable and feels incomplete. I’ve briefly mentioned earlier in this review how they tout the game’s presentation, but it’s very underwhelming. Having been to a few Canucks’ games, I was expecting a similar intro light show before the puck drops at Rogers Arena. Nope, you get a quick national anthem shot then it’s game time. Apparently, pre-game presentation stuff is limited to a few arenas, so you really have to play in the right one to see this in action.
“Last Chance Puck Movement” feels like a quick addition that doesn’t really make much of a difference in the long run. They introduced a new “stumble” animation where a player will fall to the ice and attempt to swing at the puck in a last-ditch effort. Unfortunately, I only saw it happen twice and both times, the swing didn’t even push the puck to a teammate or the goal.
Lastly, we have “Assisted Strategies”, but even this feels incomplete. I was honestly expecting that over the course of the game, I would get suggestions on ways of changing my offense or defense to help me play better.
Instead, if you’re leading the game, it will suggest you go into “Lockdown Defense”. On the flip side, if you’re losing when there is about or minute or so left in the third, it will recommend that you pull your goalie. I never once encountered a different option. I don’t understand how it wasn’t making better or more varied suggestions.
Can’t get myself to play
As with my other EA SPORTS reviews, I like to play both console generations. Thanks to Game Pass and EA Play, I can spend 10 hours playing the Xbox One version, then play another 10 hours on Xbox Series X. But, at the time of this review, I could not use up all 20 accumulative hours. I probably spent only about 10-12 hours across both versions.
As for the differences between old-gen and new-gen, it’s hard to tell them apart. Content is identical, so there is nothing exclusive to the new-gen version. The only notable difference is the faster loading times going into games and some of the between-the-play cut scenes.
Unfortunately, NHL doesn’t have any cross-platform progression. So, my created World of Chel character and HUT team on Xbox One don’t carry over to Xbox Series X. Last year’s game did allow you to import your Xbox One HUT squad to Series X, but it looks like they didn’t do that for this year. Considering cross-platform play is limited, I should have expected I’d have to pick one console over the other to play those two modes.
The NHL Series needs a reset
NHL 23 is a massive disappointment. It’s hard to see the NHL series ever growing in popularity in its current form. There isn’t enough here to keep things interesting, and I don’t see how you could attract newcomers. To be honest, I can’t think of a creative and fresh angle to take the series. For now, I don’t see myself coming back unless something changes drastically.