In case you haven’t been keeping track at home, this week we’ve been slowly working our way through the EA Sports release portfolio. With Madden and FIFA out of the way, it seems like high time to put this countdown on ice. That’s right, it’s time to talk NHL 19. This will undoubtedly be a huge year for the franchise, because they have a massive batch of enhancements on the horizon. So lace up your skates and join me on the ice for a look at the most improved sports game of the fall.
A History of Disappointment
When it comes to hockey, the history of EA Sports titles have certainly had their fair share of ups and downs. Fortunately, things finally seem to be in a serious upswing. It’s staggering how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time. A huge development that will continue this uptick in quality is the introduction of, World of Chel. Yeah, I’ll admit that the name choice seemed a bit odd. Apparently I’m too old to know that in certain circles “Chel” is the phonetic shortening of NHL. All the cool kids are doing it, I guess. (As a side note: Nothing will make you feel older than having to purposely look up slang in Urban Dictionary. It’s official: I’ve somehow become my parents, overnight.)
If you can get past the quirky name, the core conceit of World of Chel is to provide a centralized hub for the game’s premier modes: EASHL, Threes, Pro-Am, and Ones. Participation in any one of these events will translate to sweet new gear for your created player, which now floats between many of the different modes in NHL 19. When customizing your avatar, you’ll choose between two separate sets of gear, one for normal (traditional) games and another for the more casual affair. Rest assured that with over 900 pieces of gear available to unlock, there’s undoubtedly something that will appeal to everyone.
Customization options of this magnitude are unheard of in EA Sports’ otherwise sterile suite of games. Being able to infuse players with any sort of personality is a breath of fresh air, and something that I hope future EA titles lean into in the future. Regardless, it’s undoubtedly a substantial step in the right direction for the franchise. When you consider player customization and then add in the deliciously bizarre announcer for Threes mode, I would estimate that NHL 19 accounts for 85% of the outrageous content found on the publisher’s docket in 2018. It doesn’t take long to realize that this stupid fun can also translate to entertainment on the ice as well.
Thinking Outside the Penalty Box
Another perfect example of NHL 19’s non-traditional thinking is the new Ones mode. They’ve taken the insanity of 1v1 hockey and added a third adversary to the mix, making it 1v1v1. It can be a bit much to wrap your brain around at first, but it’s also a metric shit-ton of concentrated amusement. The “every man for himself” aspect of the action is what keeps the intensity so damn high. This mode also has deep integrations into the online multiplayer. Based off daily performance, players can move up and down the world-wide rankings. Depending upon position at any given point in the day, a series of different outdoor rinks will be unlocked. Only the best players will be capable of climbing from parking lot dweller to the spotlight center ice, while also attracting a horde of rabid fans in the process.
My personal standout, which is also heavily highlighted within the World of Chel, is the Pro-Am challenge. Each round is a customized match with a defined set of goals to accomplished by the final horn, all while playing in the standard Threes format. Challenges grow more difficult over time and are aimed at assisting newcomers learn how to play the game and introducing some of the finer mechanics and techniques. Based off of what I played, the difficulty progression seems organic enough to avoid turning away the rookies, while still offering a reasonable amount of inconvenience in higher tier missions.
If you would like to see what this mode is all about, check out the raw gameplay clip below. It features over fifty minutes of unedited Pro-Am footage. This probably goes without saying, but I was smitten.
Bringin’ the Pain
One element that you see prominently in the footage above is the update to NHL’s Real Player Motion technology. Strides have been made towards more seamlessly blending transitions between each animation. Skating skills are now also accounted for in each athlete’s specific bank of available moves. The days of every character model on the ice moving exactly the same way is finally going the way of the Dodo.
The last major advancement that directly impacts moment-to-moment gameplay is the physics engine facelift. While not a complete rewrite, many systems were restructured to highlight collisions and attempt to render them in a far more authentic manner. Previous seasons featured rag-dolling the moment a player was on the losing end of a collision. Since the physics engine enhancement, calculations now account for numerous additional points of contact on player models, each player’s mass, the speed at which each model is traveling, and the bodily positioning at the initial point of impact.
The net result of increasing calculations are more organic animations that visually evolve from the point of collision to the eventual follow through of the aggressor. And just to add one more level of depth, character models will automatically brace for contact or follow through on a brutal hit, depending upon if they can see the collision coming and the athlete’s statistical tendencies under duress. The sheer complexity of it all is mind-bending, yet also awe-inspiring.
Oh, and how could we forget the introduction of playable legends? In case you missed the news, it has been publicized that Wayne Gretzky is coming to NHL 19. That’s right, you can now play as “The Great One.” While there haven’t been any other legends announced at the time of this posting, we’ve been told that over 200 NHL alumni will be lacing up their skates this season. Honestly, as long as I can take the ice as Gordy Howe, I will be a happy man. I hope you’re listening, EA.
With all of the strides made this offseason, NHL 19 has positioned itself to have a breakout year. I was genuinely shocked to see how far things had come over the last handful of releases. In fact, I even would go as far as to say this was my favorite game of the entire Summer Showcase. I sure didn’t see that coming! If the NHL series hasn’t been on your radar in recently, it’s high time to give it another look. I’m willing to bet you will be pleased with what you find.
Whatever you do, make sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this week’s EA Sports Summer Showcase preview blowout. We will be talking about some of the exciting advancements coming to NBA Live this fall. You won’t want to miss it!
NHL 19 PS4 hands-on preview was done at an event. Travel and accommodations were provided by Electronic Arts.