The regular season may be just around the corner for 30 eager and hopeful National Hockey League franchises, but things are already in full swing for gamers with the release of NHL 16 for Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The latest release from EA Sports sees a noticeable bump in content over last year, but will it be enough to satisfy hungry fans seeking out a AAA hockey experience?
NHL 16 is developed by EA Canada and published by EA Sports
More bang for your buck
Right out of the gate, NHL 16 is a far more robust experience than its counterpart from last year. While NHL 15 was broadly criticized for a lack of gameplay modes and content, this year’s offering features a menu full of options for you to choose from. With a large variety of modes at your fingertips, there’s definitely enough here to keep most hockey fans engaged.
Time to get your crew together
Undoubtedly the most notable inclusion this year is that of the fan-favourite EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) mode. With EASHL returning to NHL 16, you can once again engage in a deeper online experience, creating competitive leagues populated by friends and players from around the world, and play head-on with full 6 v. 6 player-controlled rosters. EASHL has been further revamped this year to include specialized player classes as well, adding a whole new dynamic to the importance of chemistry and team play.
Even outside of EASHL, NHL 16 is an inherently deep online co-op experience, since 6 v. 6 online team play can be enjoyed on its own through both ranked and unranked drop-in matches. Better yet, do you still enjoy gaming with your friends – you know – in real life? NHL 16 supports local couch co-op for online drop-in matches as well.
Single player action for the lone wolf
If team play isn’t your thing there’s a ton of single player content packed into NHL 16 as well. Be A Pro mode returns as always, allowing you to create your own NHL superstar and guide them on their path to success over the course of an entire NHL career (if you have that level of dedication!), and a brand new progression system influences your pro’s attributes based on their actual on-ice play. This means the path of your pro’s development will actually mirror your own style.
Be A GM mode offers a broader experience for those who want to manage the affairs of an entire franchise rather than just the career of one player, and this year introduces a deeper system involving player chemistry and morale. Each and every player in NHL 16′s Be A GM mode will have their own unique personality, making the juggling of rosters, trade demands, player chemistry and so forth much more involved at a user level.
If you’re looking for a shorter commitment NHL 16 includes a playoff mode as well, which is a neat little addition for jumping straight into post-season action. You can start out with last year’s playoff tree, or manipulate it as you see fit, setting your own first round match-ups in a quest for the Stanley Cup. Play every game of every series, or pick and choose while simulating the rest.
Every sports game is somebody’s first, and jumping into a franchise with more than 20 years of innovation behind it can be daunting. This year NHL 16 definitely steps up its accessibility with the introduction of the Visual On-Ice Trainer. The trainer works during actual gameplay to show a variety of suggestions and ways to improve your gameplay, including passing lanes, exposed shooting targets, and the like. This feature can naturally be toggled on and off at will, and new players are definitely the most likely to benefit, but even series veterans may discover slight ways to tweak and improve their gameplay by trying out the visual trainer.
Coach feedback also makes a return to NHL 16 this year, offering a performance rating along with tips and pointers in between shifts or periods. It’s a neat idea, but just as in previous iterations, I found that the feedback offered here was not necessarily as intuitive as I would hope, often being somewhat deceptively tied to hard statistics without taking into account any of the organic tempo of the game.
Hockey Ultimate Team
As always, I’m compelled to talk specifically about what is far and away my favourite way to play NHL – Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode. Despite the pesky micro-transactional nature of HUT, it hooks me in every year, and the first thing I do when booting up a new game is head straight to the Ultimate Team hub to start cracking packs and building my team. Unfortunately however my feelings are a bit mixed this year.
Let’s start with what’s good though. Single player seasons and play-a-friend features have returned to HUT this year, which is excellent news for players. It definitely felt a little odd last year not being able to challenge a friend’s HUT squad to see how they match up to your own, either for the thrill of the contest or even simply just to see who your buddy’s best players were. The inclusion of single player seasons also adds some great depth to HUT, giving players a way to progress and improve both their skills and their team without being solely relegated to the high level of competition in HUT online seasons.
What’s baffling to to me in HUT this year is the omission of the “Duration” training card. Let’s face it – HUT is an investment, both in time and/or currency. Success in HUT isn’t just about putting out the team you like, it’s about putting out the best team, consisting of the players with the best statistics and chemistry. That said, the Duration training card was a huge help in offering accessibility and variety in HUT.
All players in HUT are trainable, meaning that you can use training cards to buff their stats and make them better. The catch is, these stats only last one game, UNLESS you use a Duration card, the best of which would extend that training for a whole 15 games. This is really significant for two big reasons. Firstly, it allowed HUT managers to compete at a higher level without having to spend hundreds of thousands of coins on the most elite players. With a few training consumables and a duration card, nearly any player could be boosted to a respectable level for competing, so you didn’t have to constantly break the bank trying to open enough Crosby’s and Tavares’ and Doughty’s to fill your entire squad. Secondly, it just created variety. Being able to raise more players to higher stats meant you could play with just about anybody. You could bring up your favourite players from any level and insert them in a highly productive HUT line-up and simply enjoy creating something more unique than the same stock HUT superstars.
With the Duration training card removed this year, I personally feel that HUT has become way less exciting. Training cards that only last a single match feel essentially worthless, and the ability to at least somewhat customize HUT squads with a bit of personality has been removed, for no reason that I can conceivably identify other than to push managers further toward investing more in search of inherently elite players. For a long-time HUT fan such as myself, I found this utterly disappointing.
EA Sports has definitely taken big strides in providing its fans with a more substantial overall product this year. NHL 16 has received an infusion of gameplay and modes notoriously missing from last year, and even more upgrades in other key areas, making it a much more complete and satisfying experience. While NHL 16 is a great package on the whole, I can’t imagine that I am the only HUT enthusiast who finds the mysterious disappearance of the “Duration” consumable a bitter pill to swallow, and that’s something that will definitely affect my enjoyment of the series going forward. Luckily there is still a lot of content to choose from.
+ The return of EASHL
+ New features for Be A Pro, Online Play, HUT
+ Adaptive Visual Training
– Baffling and mysterious disappearance of the Duration consumable from HUT
– Canned coaching feedback
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5
Overall Rating 4/5 (80%)