NHL is the sports game that I spend the most time with every year. It's consistently mediocre. With next generation consoles here, will this year's entry show us the future is bright for the series?
Reviewed on PS4
NHL 21 is a step in the right direction but it still has miles to go. Visually, the game looks great, and it always has. The presentation of the game looks like the real thing, that is until you watch how the game is being played. Fast odd man rushes are a huge part of the game, but like every year before it, NHL 21 is basically just a series of these quick rushes over and over again, making NHL 21 look more and more like an arcade game than a simulation game.
They seemed to really amp up the arcade focus over the past few years, with additions like threes and ones, which lead to a lot of open ice and fun rushes. It's great here, but I wish the main game was more simulation than arcade.
The biggest improvement this year is the redesign to the Be a Pro mode. Be a Pro was always my go to mode to play even though it was always bare bones. I just liked the idea of starting out small and trying to make it big. That fantasy is fully realized with the new cinematics, but the lack of voice acting, and borderline intrusive text response, broke the immersion.
Many situations come up where, whether it be a chat with a teammate or a press conference, these scenarios require you to make conversational decisions. It would be a welcomed addition but two main things really break it for me. First, you see people having a conversation and there is no voice acting. Without voice acting, the way they do the subtitles should make it seem natural, but they give you what looks like a phone text message screen to make your decisions. It just didn't look great. The other major problem I had is sometimes you are asked to make a choice, but there is no choice, there is just one option to choose from. Why ask for my input then?
What the new Be a Pro mode really does is just make your journey longer. When on or off the ice you have small cutscenes and interactions that you have to attend to. As my time went on, the novelty of it faded, and it just became an annoyance.
Another new mode was a mode called HUT Rush. This mode failed to grab me, as it was a mode that really plays into the arcade style of NHL 21, and rewards you more points for more stylish moves. I tried it out and just never went back to it.
Besides these two modes, everything else was basically the same as last year, and has been that way for a few years now. They did add some new dekes, like The Michigan and a few others, but good luck trying to pull that off in a real game. As a whole, the franchise is lacking any kind of innovation that hockey fans deserve.
Franchise mode is basically the same except for the welcome inclusion of a record book so you can see all the leaders in your franchise.
World of CHEL remains to be the most fun I have had and that has been the case since EA introduced the EASHL. There is something about playing your position and climbing the ladder with friends that just doesn't get old. With that said, you are still going to run into games where you outplay the other team in every way, but they know some tricks to get those goals that are not very hockey-like, crushing your hopes and dreams.
The arcade modes that are available, like Threes and Ones, almost by default have become the best game modes, since the franchise as a whole has moved to an arcade franchise. I have fun when playing these modes but all it does in the end, is make me really want a simulation hockey experience.
Of course, the cash cow known as Hockey Ultimate Team makes its return. It still is loaded with microtransactions and packs to open to hope you get what you are looking for. This is a mode I tend to avoid, because I don't want the temptation to dump a lot of money trying to find my favorite players.
Although NHL 21 is a step in the right direction, with an overhaul to Be a Pro mode, so much more needs to be done to really make the NHL franchise stand out. It seems every year EA is charging us full price for a roster update. Something needs to change, but for now, this is the only option we have for hockey outside of the Apple Arcade exclusive Ultimate Rivals: The Rink, but more on that at a later date. If it's been a few years since you bought an NHL game then you will have a great time with this one. If you have last year's game, unless you are someone who wants to play online, you will be just fine waiting until next year.
Final Score -4.5/10-
For more reviews, be sure to check out my thoughts on Marvel's Avengers, Simulacra, and Google Stadia and my new podcast: Game Bites, the latest entry in The Spinchoon Podcast Network (check out Flix & a Six here). As always, check us out on Twitter @TheSpinchoonand I’m @Big_Broons.