Lace up your skates and prepare yourself for another year of on-ice action. EA’s annual hockey franchise is back with new features, a brand new broadcast package, a wealth of game modes, and much more. Kick off the new season with NHL 20, available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
NHL 20 Details
A new look
NHL 20 receives a handful of new upgrades and features this season. First up is a series of new animations using what EA refers to as “RPM Tech”. The primary feature of RPM Tech is to allow players to follow through with shots, passes, and the like using animations that won’t slow down their pace.
Additionally, “Superstar Signature Shots” enables some of the bigger names in the NHL to have their own personal animations and trademark styles. In NHL 20 superstars like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid look and move more like their authentic on-ice counterparts. The pool of puck interactions has been broadened on the whole as well, with over 45 new contextual animations.
Overall RPM Tech seems to provide an improvement to the look and feel of the game. Over my time with NHL 20 I certainly noticed and appreciated many new animations over last year. A lot of these improve the context that they are applicable to—such as a player going head-over-skates and rolling over a sprawling player or goalie.
Not every new animation hits the mark perfectly though. After the whistle, opposing players tend to want to scrum in front of the net. However, in order to get there in time, they appear to rubber band or even teleport into position. It’s completely unnatural and ruins the immersion after nearly every net battle that ends in a frozen puck.
A new voice
NHL 20 sees a pretty heavy update to its overall broadcast aesthetics as well. Commentators Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk have left the building. While Ray Ferraro is still holding down the fort at ice level, he’s now joined by Ottawa native James Cybulski.
Cybulski’s voice is certainly a bit more generic than Emrick’s easily identifiable cadence. I imagine their will be a division in the community—many will certainly find Cybulski more palatable, while others will miss Emrick’s moderately gravel-voiced charm. Either way I find a change and a slew of new dialogue lines refreshing.
There is also a large dose of new graphics, overlays, replay animations, and the like. I particularly love how NHL 20 now overlays the trading cards (complete with ratings) for point-getters on a goal in Hockey Ultimate Team mode. Each period also now ends with a slow motion replay set to a booming bass note. I really enjoy above all others seeing blocked shots this way.
My only real issue with presentation in NHL 20 is the ambiguity in when you can or cannot skip replays or between-play crowd shots. I don’t always want to skip the colourful filler between the action, but when I do it’s a bit frustrating that NHL 20 doesn’t pop up with a loading icon if skipping isn’t possible. This leads to a lot of blind button-pressing without knowing whether the effort is redundant or not.
Updated game modes
The overall collection of game modes in NHL 20 remains largely the same as past years. Be A Pro, Franchise, HUT, World of CHEL and more are all back as you would expect. A few modes have been revamped however, mixing up the gameplay and adding new features for players to enjoy. Don’t look for much innovation in single player focused modes such as Be A Pro though—these remain essentially untouched.
This year Hockey Ultimate Team (or HUT) mode introduces “Squad Battles”, a fan-favourite way to play that borrows from EA’s FIFA franchise. This is a single player mode where players battle AI-run versions of other real-life competitor’s HUT rosters, as well as featured squads put together by guest curators. Here HUT competitors can climb the Squad Battle leaderboard and earn currency and other rewards.
I’m actually a big fan of how much single player content is available overall in HUT this year. There is a lot to do both for fans of competitive multiplayer, but also those who prefer to play solo, and the rewards are significant enough to make you feel that progress is being made. Of course as with any Ultimate Team mode, the temptation to spend real currency is there, but I feel like NHL 20 is better than most this year at balancing rewards for those who don’t want to spend more.
New action in CHEL
World of CHEL also builds on a strong foundation from last year. Notable improvements include the addition of “Eliminator”—a battle royale-style tournament that extends across “Ones” (1v1) and “Threes” (3v3) matches in a winner-takes-all tourney. Of course it’s not quite a true battle royale considering eliminations take place by rounds instead of a single free-for-all, but eliminator is a fun new way to compete and earn CHEL rewards nonetheless.
CHEL Challenges are another new addition that expand on the franchise’s newest core mode. Weekly cycling tasks not only earn players more XP and rewards, but they give a reason to explore more of what World of CHEL has to offer. With many small and easy to accomplish feats such as “play a game of Ones” or “take 15 shots”, players will feel rewarded more regularly and likely feel the progression of their CHEL avatar is less of a grind.
NHL 20 builds on last year’s entry with new animations and more ways to earn rewards
NHL 20 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does make some solid improvements on many of its more recent and most popular game modes. As a primarily single player gamer I’m enjoying HUT mode more than in recent years, yet the addition of Eliminator to World of CHEL has me playing more multiplayer than ever as well. I definitely appreciate the effort put into improving these game modes for the better, although it comes at the cost of other modes such as Be A Pro being largely ignored.
The new animations are great, although the occasional wonky ones dole out a bit of silliness to an otherwise gorgeous looking game. I don’t really understand why this year it’s so difficult to skip (or be told to wait patiently) during non-game action, but ultimately these are minor nitpicks. When the game is on, NHL 20 delivers a satisfying experience.
+ Addition of Squad Battles to HUT mode
+ Eliminator battles in World of CHEL
+ New commentary and updated presentation
– No innovation to single player modes like Be a Pro
– A few wonky animations
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF NHL 20
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5