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September 2020

NHL 19

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2018

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


PS4 Review - 'NHL 19'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 28, 2018 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

For the first time in franchise history, NHL 19 allows players to journey from the pond to the pros and play on outdoor rinks in new and returning game modes.

Buy NHL 19

While EA's annual sports titles often suffer from a lack of progression and meaningful additions, this has been apparent in the NHL series more so than anywhere else. A smaller footprint in terms of revenue and thus a smaller development team seem to have dragged down the title in recent years, from a refined yet lackluster transition to current-gen consoles with NHL 15 to NHL 18, which often failed to represent the fast and dynamic game of hockey itself. The title's only saving grace was the inclusion of a new NHL Threes mode that embraced the fun and arcade-like feel that the series has lost over time. NHL 19 is the newest release in the franchise, and it finally takes a somewhat bigger step forward instead of stumbling. This is due to several meaningful changes in the gameplay, not all of which were necessarily advertised.

The heavy hitter this year is the inclusion of Real Player Motion Tech, which is also used in other EA Sports titles such as FIFA, NBA Life and UFC. Taken from the young superstar Connor McDavid, the skating movements on the ice may not be immediately apparent, but with increasing playtime, they become an irreplaceable asset. Finally, players don't feel like turning a cruise ship on a rough sea, but instead, portray dynamic movements and explosiveness that don't only affect the optics, but the general gameplay, too. Sprinting and cruising up an down the ice is a treat, especially coming from the dark place that was NHL 18. Combine that with a new hitting and collision engine that affects players even when you don't fully land a hit, and the gameplay feels radically improved, even though not much has really changed on paper.

With that said, if you're a frequent player of the series, prepare to spend a huge chunk of your time in the penalty box during your first few matches. EA finally did something it should've done ages ago: nerfed the overly potent skill stick that allowed players to hack in the general vicinity of the puck as if they were trying to hack off their opponent's leg — and still emerge with the puck and without a penalty. This year, the skill stick has a realistic limit to its usage, and it may feel restrictive if you're used to the "old way" of blindly chipping away at an opponent. You'll probably sweep quite a few guys off their feet until you learn which angles do and don't work. This is especially important with the new motion technology, which allows for greater dexterity.

This shift in the controls and options means that other means of separating your opponent from the puck become more important, such as improved checking and using stick lifts. It generally feels like the puck is more receptive to sticks that are in its way than it was in previous games, enabling you to get into free areas and block passes more often if you position yourself well. This alone makes the gameplay more skillful, as you have to read a situation and chose your weapon more carefully. It changes up the whole gameplay loop in ways that I've missed in recent years.

Apart from these more prominent changes, there a few minor tweaks, and some parts of the presentation have received a few minor additions, such as player huddle celebrations after goals and a better algorithm for the commentator duo that seems to spam certain phrases less often, making them slightly more bearable. Goalies aren't receptive to the exploitive goals of prior years but have opened up new loopholes elsewhere. It's the same story every year: Learn what works and exploit the hell out of it. Thus far, this still looks and feels like other NHL titles without many noteworthy improvements. I hope that in the next couple of iterations, we'll see some radical improvements to the presentation.

Speaking of radical improvements, NHL 19 still banks on its very solid and extensive number of modes, but there aren't many changes. This is especially frustrating for players who were hoping the Be a Pro mode would get some much-deserved attention. Instead, our hourney from the AHL to the NHL offers little in between matches and is as far away as it could be from the more interesting and engaging career modes that we've seen in FIFA and NFL. Thankfully, the Franchise mode has received some more attention in this go-round, especially if you're looking for a deeper management component and its main new feature: in-depth scouting.

We can now employ up to 20 scouts, and a huge range of different stats determine how good they are at scouting certain abilities or regions. Why scout if we don't have a reason to engage in it? NHL 19 introduces a "fog of war" to its Franchise mode that affects all players. If you want to make a trade, you'll have to scout a player to keep track of his abilities and development over a season. The beauty here is that it gives an enticing reason to pay attention to pre-season games, since they're a great opportunity to scout the tryouts. You aren't forced to use it, but if you're into it, this might be one of the most exciting new features this year. There's still more, though.

I loved Threes last year. It's a fast and lawless 3v3 mode where we battle it out with mascots and special item-goals thrown in for good measure. While NHL19 is a better simulation than many of its predecessors, it's great to have the option to jump in and just have a quick round of fun. Threes is still intact and integrated with the new World of CHEL that sees you creating your own player — similar to Be a Pro — but with hundreds of visual customization options to become the next fashion-obsessed superstar.

In addition to Threes, we have the popular EASHL, where we take control of our player within a game of 5v5 or 3v3 with regular rules; the Pro AM, which is an offline 3v3 challenge mode; and Ones. Almost all of these modes takes place on an ice rink in the middle of a field, so it's almost true pond hockey. Ones is especially interesting because it pits three players against each other 1v1v1 on a half-rink with an easy goalie. The challenge is to overcome your opponents and retain the puck while trying to score as many goals as possible. Currently, Ones runs on a tier system that is reset daily and has players compete in real time. With each game, we receive experience points to level up, use perks to improve, and most importantly, get hockey bags to receive more fashion items. The best thing is that there's no in-game currency or in-app purchases in this mode. I'm worried this may change in future games if the mode becomes popular.

Microtransactions are alive and well in HUT, which also received a minor upgrade with the inclusion of Legends (Alumni) players and a decent offline challenge mode that earns you extra coins and items. It's greatly appreciated to have these options, but most players are likely to ignore them if they can easily jump into a new online game.

The rest of NHL 19 is remarkably unremarkable. Modes are where they've always been and are mostly untouched except for the above-mentioned differences. This year's launch was smoother and only had a few minor issues, such as the occasional game resetting in the middle of a play. NHL19 improves on quite a few fronts — more than I expected, actually — and that is a very welcome change. The gameplay finally feels like it's worth your time and attention, and the new World of CHEL is an equally fun addition to the formula.

NHL 19 is vastly better than its predecessors in terms of value and pushing the franchise forward, but it still falls short of a significant upgrade in many areas. If you haven't purchased an NHL title in a while, this is a good year to jump back in and experience one of the better NHL games in recent memory.

Score: 7.0/10

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