Live out your NHL fantasy with NHL 18
It’s no secret that when EA Sports’ NHL series arrived on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014, it wasn’t what everyone was expecting. It wasn’t until last year’s NHL 17, that EA Sports’ beloved franchise gave fans the ultimately hockey experience on home consoles.
With that being said, the pressure is on EA Sports to deliver on NHL 18 and take the franchise to the next level. Let’s take a look and see if NHL 18 offers a step forward in the ever popular franchise.
New Defensive and Offensive skill stick moves
This year, EA Sports introduces a new defensive skill stick into NHL 18. The ability to control your stick, just like a real NHL player, gives you a new way to attack forward in all areas of the ice. And, it also adds another layer of realism to the game that you cannot find anywhere else. I noticed the the new defensive skill stick skills made the biggest difference for me while playing defense in EASHL than it did in any other mode.
Consequently, the offensive skill stick in NHL 18 has been updated with all new offensive deke moves. New moves such as between the legs shot or pass, one-handed tucks, and the backhand heel drag look incredibly amazing. Though, pulling them off during highly competitive games can be deadly if not done right. Dekes range in difficulty and thus some like toe drags and windmill dekes are easier to pull off than others.
Luckily you don’t have to go out on the ice cold turkey to learn these new moves. NHL 18 has a new Training Camp that is presented by Hockey Canada. Here you will learn virtually everything you need to be successful in the game such as goaltending, the rules of hockey, passing, deke, score etc. I highly recommend before playing to head over to the training camp, you’ll be surprised at what you might learn.
Improved A.I. controlled players
NHL 18 marks a substantial change in the way that A.I. controlled players act on the ice. Previously, more often than not, A.I. controlled players would skate up and down the ice and get in the way. However, with EA’s new Creative A.I., players now make board passes, dump the puck around the boards, and stay in position more often.
In addition, the A.I. controlled players will use the new creative attack dekes and utilize the defensive skill stick to make some very smart plays. While it not perfect by any means, it’s a breath of fresh air to have competent A.I. controlled teammates for a more realistic NHL experience.
Over-the-top arcade action with NHL Threes
My absolute favourite addition to NHL 18 is NHL Threes. This mode takes 3-on-3 hockey and adds a little NBA JAM into it for some of the most over the top arcade hockey I have ever played. This mode never takes itself seriously, it’s a game to have fun that’s not bout winning or losing.
With only penalty shots for infractions, no offsides or icing, this game mode is faster, hits are bigger, and goalies are even more crazy than before. There’s only one face-off each period and if the goalie freezes the puck or a goal is scored, the opposing team gets the puck at centre ice.
There is a Circuit mode where you can unlock new arenas, teams, mascots to play with and allows you to play against the computer or online against other players. If you have friends that aren’t really into hockey and are just looking to pickup and play, NHL Threes is perfect. You don’t have to worry about regular NHL rules and the fast-paced action is a nice change from regular games.
The Ignite Engine makes its return
Oddly enough, NHL 18 didn’t make the jump to the Frostbite Engine that other EA Sports titles have. Instead, EA is using the tried and true Ignite Engine in NHL 18, for the series fourth straight year in a row. As the Ignite Engine has matured, so have the quality of the players on the ice. Though not as good looking as the character models from Madden 18 or FIFA 18, they all look good and are animated well. One thing I did notice, almost immediately, was that that the pace of the game has been slowed down.
The menu system in NHL 18 has been overhauled. Though it might not sound like much, the menu improvement is a big advancement over previous years. Not only does it feel fast and responsive, but you can create a quick menu by pinning three items to the main menu, which you see first in the game. The NBC broadcasting team of Doc Emrick, Eddie Olcyk and Ray Ferraro make a return and not much has changed aside from some updated commentary on the action.
Expand the league with new NHL and AHL teams
With a new NHL team entering the league this year, EA Sports touted one of the biggest new features to NHL 18 would be expansion. I could hardly believe my eyes! For the first time ever you can now add a new NHL and AHL team to their respective leagues.
What I love about this in NHL 18 is that none of the regular considerations matter when adding a new team. You don’t have to worry about how big the region is nor do you have to worry about interest among local city inhabitants. Additionally, you get to choose how passionate your fan base is, how popular they are, and the market size no matter what city you choose.
There is no need to worry about realignment either, NHL 18 does that for you based upon where you put your team. There is even a detailed expansion draft to boot.
Returning modes see minor updates
EASHL offers new unlockables for your team and you now have the option to play games in a 3-on-3 format with an AI goaltender. Though it might not sound like much, changing from a 6-on-6 scenario to a 3-on-3 opens up the ice substantially. Ultimately, this puts games more into the hands of the players. Moreover, it goes a long way towards making EASHL worthy of coming back to day in and day out.
Last year in Be-A-Pro, your player could not request a trade. So if you were stuck with the Avalanche, you were stuck there forever. This year, NHL 18 fixes this, though its seems kind of odd as you would think that this would have already been in this mode. The same goes with Hockey Ultimate Team. There are very few minor changes such as the addition of challenges and competitive seasons. Though it was nice to see Draft Champions come back, even if it was left virtually untouched.
This year, Franchise offers in-season contract extensions, which add another strategy to managing your team. Additionally, Free Agency and drafting logic have been tweaked to make the experience more realistic. This will keep players coming back to their franchise for multiple seasons.
This is one I have been waiting for quite a while, true co-op play makes its return to the franchise. You and a friend can now play locally against other players online. Or, you can team up to play a co-op game online against the computer. Additionally, Hockey Ultimate Team and NHL Threes get co-op added, yes! It’s nice to see this brought back, as it adds more ways to enjoy NHL 18.
Hockey fans, without a doubt, NHL 18 is for you. When it comes down to it, NHL 18 is not a major step forward over last years game. However, it does warrant a purchase due to its many online and offline modes that will keep you busy well into next year. I enjoyed playing EASHL, Hockey Ultimate Team, NHL Threes, and Franchise mode. They all provided me and friends with countless hours of enjoyment.
If you are looking for an authentic and entertaining hockey experience, NHL 18 is a must-have game for you. Just don’t expect to see a whole lot of new changes.
+ A.I. controlled players have been improved
+ NHL Threes is fun for both casual and pro players
+ Plenty of online and offline modes to keep you busy
– Not a major step forward over last year’s game
– Some returning modes only saw minor updates
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5