It’s time to start lacing up your skates, the start of the 2022-2023 NHL season is here. And, you know what that means, the latest entry in the NHL video game series has arrived. NHL 23 improves upon last years’ experience with a whole host of improvements and features including the most socially connected CHEL experience and adding women’s players to Ultimate Team.

This year, there are two cover athletes—Anaheim Ducks Trevor Zegras and Canadian professional hockey and women’s national team member Sarah Nurse, the first woman to grace the cover of EA SPORTS NHL.

NHL 23NHL 23 Details

Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4 and Xbox One
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Developer(s): EA Vancouver and EA Bucharest
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Genre: Sports
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)

X-Factor Is Back

Last year, EA Introduced X-Factor abilities to freshen up the franchise. The results were fun but could have felt more comprehensive. The new playmaking addition update helps X-Factor players feel more in line with their real-world counterparts. The abilities this year don’t feel as tacked on and really breathe the necessary life that star players in a sports game need.

Playing as Sarah Nurse or Auston Matthews actually does feel different than other players. The focus on Trevor Zebras’ puck flip over the net is a fun feature, but it should be said that there is a bit more to look forward to than a fancy new deke. I found myself saucing the puck to X-Factor players as often as possible while deking my way through the defense over the blue line.

Skating never felt smoother

That’s another thing: dekes. Skating has never felt smoother and while the developers must have just been getting their feet onto the Frostbite ice last year, this year’s NHL feels like they’ve been skating with the engine for many seasons. To top it off, while on the offense, the last-minute puck movements do make NHL feel more like a hockey simulation than an arcade free for all.

The moments that are created can be intense and that last minute reaction is definitely a game changer, giving crease battle moments an extra flair they really needed. There are stumble actions, loose puck plays, and even enhanced goalie movements making saves look very unique at all times. This all being said, these moments could happen more often and felt tough to execute at times.

Way of the Skater

NHL 23 makes a point to highlight the overall presentation overhauls to the Crowds and Celebration moments. These changes are unfortunately not as noticeable. The crowd reactions still feel like background noise and do not necessarily add to the game anymore than they did previously. Celebrations still lack realism after goals. This all being said the new lights and sounds of the arenas still feel fun and definitely add to the experience of scoring goals.

One of the biggest additions to NHL 23 is a customizable franchise mode. Players can go through a vast number of customizations to fit their franchise wants. If you’re an offline player, the additions to this mode should give you many hours of fun tinkering with the league. You also have a new Stanley cup celebration video, finally. However, it’s a clunky presentation overall, but at least EA listened to the fans and updated it.

Be a Pro feels like deja vu

Be a Pro mode is a moment of complete deja vu. It opens exactly the same as last year’s entry. In fact, other than added X-Factor slots, this mode feels identical. So, if this is your preferred way to play NHL, you will be fine sticking with last year’s entry unless a full roster update is worth the money for you.

A new opening or even some kind of effort would have been appreciated. Overall, it’s very clear that offline modes, other than Franchise mode for the most part, have not been touched this year. The biggest update on these modes is a roster update, and the inclusion of the IIHF players and Women’s Hockey Championships.

World of Chel could be its own free to play standalone game

World of Chel seems like it’s gearing up to be NHL 23’s way of joining the free to play genre fun. It’s essentially a free to play mode built into the game. Opening Hockey Bags, collecting loot, and customizing your player is as familiar as ever.

This online mode is very fun at launch as it’s highly populated. I got a few great matches of Threes Eliminator in. It’s a fun distraction from the simulation feel of the rest of the game.

HUT now includes Women’s Hockey Players

HUT is also not much different other than the inclusion of Women’s Hockey Players. This is the moment where players can put Sarah Nurse in a line with Johnny Gaudreu. This was fun and made me rethink lines a lot. It also felt great to have fresh faces to play with in HUT.

These are all worthy additions, but as the yearly game consistently gets questioned by players; are these updates worth a brand-new yearly price tag?

Ice, Camera, Action

The on-ice sounds, the new commentary lines, dynamic player movements, and overall general look is definitely a sight to be seen. Gameplay just feels smoother and that’s a plus. The only thing is that it feels only 75% of the way there.

Crowds still operate at a very noticeable different frame rate and refs present as android looking rather than human. There are moments that took me out of the new smooth feeling like fights, some celebrations and on bench interactions. There were also some noticeable glitches and issues that come with every new release sport title.

These are likely to be fixed with patches in the future. Noting all of this though, it still feels like NHL 23 is an improved version of its predecessor and that’s a plus.

NHL 23 adds some noticeable changes and added features

Overall NHL 23 fixes some problems from last year and adds some asked-for features for the players. The biggest noticeable changes are in Franchise Mode, Sound, and Lighting. Frostbite definitely is present here. Player models are fantastic, realism is enhanced, and the ability to have tons of fun customizing your own Franchise is a super positive addition.

Further, the (finally) added Women’s Hockey Players is a fantastic addition to further give players choice and diversity in the way they play the game. The game is on its way to being the smoothest (though it is the only) hockey experience available to players. It’s always disappointing though to get a brand-new game only to find completely reused intro videos and player interview animations in modes like Be a Pro.

While there have been some worthy additions, if you aren’t wowed by the few mentioned in this review, you might want to play a few more periods of last season’s entry before jumping into NHL 23.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF NHL 23

Gameplay: 3/5
Graphics: 4/5
Sound: 4/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5

Overall Rating 3.75/5 (75%)

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