With NHL 17 set to release next week, I had the chance to discuss some of the new advances and changes to the hockey video game franchise with EA Sports Producer Clement Kwong. Here’s my review.
Previously titled “Be A GM”, franchise mode has rebranded into a more in-depth and detailed game mode. Players now must make roster decisions, set ticket prices, and even market their team. However, with more success comes different scenarios as owners anticipate varying expectations. Altering the difficulty settings also changes the way the overall game mode works. The higher the difficulty, the more challenging certain situations become, such as stiffer trade negotiations and harder owner expectations.
The expectations aspect really seems interesting. They keep you striving for goals that stray from the norm of “Cup or bust” mentality. They also provide more incentive to really buying into your franchise (as if there wasn’t a lot already). NHL 2004 also had a great system implemented where owners would lay out expectations. Although NHL 17 doesn’t have any nostalgia factor like that of NHL 2004, the game provides a nice twist in an ever evolving Franchise Mode.
“Different teams and different owners have different expectations”, Kwong went on to say. These expectations range from “high win percentages to revenue and profit. There are ‘win now’ teams like the Rangers and also rebuilding teams.”
You also have the option to relocate teams. There are 20 different choices including Hamilton, Quebec City, and Las Vegas to name a few (Las Vegas was rewarded the expansion team well after the game studio had begun developing).
I sort of love/hate the relocating aspect. Yes, teams do relocate but it sort of alters the reality of the game for me. There have been relocations in the past but you aren’t quite sure where teams may end up. The relocation element does, however, provide more interest and more fun to the franchise mode.
The fan favorite EA Sports Hockey League returns with all new features and appearance. Focus is put on “building your brand,” as players have an endless amount of customization available to them. Through the Creation Zone, teams are highly detailed while jerseys, individual players, logos, colors and the like are all interchangeable.
I was always interested in the prospect of uploading your own logo to the game. Although not available this year, the details of what you can do to the team is unremarkable.
Club progression is a key point in the EASHL game mode as players strive to take their team from small community arenas to the full on pros. The list of details and features of the EASHL are too numerous to go over. Find more over at EA Sports.
New to the decade and new to NHL 17, the World Cup mode offers players the chance to witness the international play on a whole new level. With NHL 17 to debut on September 13, fans will have the ability to witness the excitement before the preliminary rounds occur (in case you are curious about the World Cup schedule, you can find that here).
In my youth, I recall playing through the early EA Sports NHL 2000’s games, which included World Cup teams and rosters. It is fascinating not only to see the technology transpire in 16 years but the level of talent as well.
And yes, Bolts fans are not too keen on the World Cup as we have a total of 12 players reporting to national teams (a league high). But that’s okay! The scare of injury is there, but players do enjoy representing their countries, and who am I to say otherwise.
New to this year’s installment of NHL 17, Draft Champions allows for players to create an all-star team through a 12-round fantasy draft which can be used against friends in the ultimate tournament. You can utilize current and past rosters to create the best team possible. Players have the choice to play “head to head” against players online or simply against the A.I.
Although quite unrealistic, it will be entertaining to play super-team against super-team - sort of like if Team Canada played Team Canada.
Possibly the most noticeable change from previous years is the gameplay. NHL 17 has included a new difficulty level. Semi-Pro. Meant to be a more accessible level of play, Semi-Pro lies between Rookie and Pro. “Through more tips and more feedback players can now pick up the controller and get to the fun quicker”.
Previously, the range of difficulty had received some slack from fans as the levels themselves weren’t gradual or realistic enough. I personally felt that the game lacked substance at times through the A.I.; however, the game supplies you with difficulty presets along with pretty user-friendly sliders that were rather convenient. With NHL 17, there are “lots of gameplay changes that really make the game that fans want to play.” Kwong discussed the “tuning and testing” that Gameplay Producer Ben Ross and his team went through. “Live updates will occur as needed. Does it (the game) feel right?”
Player celebrations have also been updated in NHL 17. With about 40 to choose from, some popular ones include the Bautista Bat flip, the classic Ovechkin “Hot hands” and now even a headstand (Possibly inspired by this Australian League player).
“Funny story about the headstand… sort of an Easter egg. 1/5 times the player will fall. It’s very physics based.”
Something Kwong took great pride in was the new updates and revamping of the goaltenders. Goalies now make more realistic decisions and their saves feel more lifelike. With “new ways to play in front of the nets” the D-men have a more realistic presence. Also of note is the new take on shots. Shot accuracy and shot physics are “more responsive, feel more balanced, and further the authenticity”. A full list of gameplay changes (and believe me, there are a lot of ‘em) are available here.
My Personal Favorite New Addition
The arrival of NHL 17 means the arrival of the ECHL to the game screen. I am super stoked to play as my hometown Orlando Solar Bears and, of course, as new Lightning affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings. For years, the franchise has included European leagues and the major junior hockey leagues and it only seemed fitting to include the ECHL.
There is only so much change that occurs year to year in the sports video game world. Often people buy the new releases of games for the roster updates. Sometimes, players enjoy the updated graphics and new game modes. For me it was always about the experience. Do the games feel drastically different from their predecessors? Not often. But NHL 17 supplies enough change and entertainment to keep fans playing for hours on end.
Also of Note
I did not delve into the Hockey Ultimate Team. I here lots of great things about the mode yet haven’t really had the chance to play it much. If interested, you can go YouTube and find a plethora of gameplay videos.
There is also so much I was unable to touch upon. More info can be found at the EA Sports site.