While EA’s NHL series stumbled with the jump to next-gen a few years ago, the series has recovered since then and is much more feature-rich. This year, EA Vancouver has decided to turn their attention to NHL 19’s multiplayer experience and has vastly overhauled it with the World of Chel hub and a new mode called NHL Ones, which I had the chance to try at a recent EA Sports event.
World of Chel introduces extensive customization options for players to take advantage of and creates a neat space for players to delve into EASHL, NHL Threes, and new additions NHL Pro-Am and NHL Ones. Outside of that, animations have also been improved, making the game feel more visceral, though not much has seemed to have been added when it comes to the offline experience.
While not much has been changed when it comes to offline features, NHL 19 doesn’t take anything away and still contains Threes, last year’s standout mode. That being said, the game has seen some improvements visually. Like most of EA Sports’ lineup this year, NHL 19 benefits from Real Player Motion Technology, also known as RPM tech.
RPM allowed the developers to make more detailed and authentic animations, which means thing looks and flow much smoother during gameplay. Size and weight are taken into account at all times and pay off when it comes to body checks. If you play like me, body checks are a fun and frequent occurrence, but could occasionally look a bit stilted and janky from an animation standpoint.
This is fortunately no longer the case, as direct points of contact are now established, and characters follow through with their momentum afterward. It’s a tiny tweak, but one that makes body checks all the more satisfying to pull off. NHL 19 also comes with the standard physics improvements, so things like shooting, passing, and puck pick-ups look slightly better. These changes are very minor, but will still be appreciated by hardcore players at launch.
After spending some time with the Blackhawks and seeing that things felt relatively the same, I moved onto World of Chel, a play on the series’ popular nickname. For those who don’t know, it’s a drop-in hub where players can enter all of the game’s multiplayer modes. Things like EASHL and NHL Threes are present here, so returning players should be content, but World of Chel, also includes things that will help on-board newer players like Pro Am and NHL Ones.
NHL Pro-Am gives new players a series of practice challenges that they can try to get some hands-on time with all-star players and alumni like NHL Legend Wayne Gretzky and learn a position that they can then play in EASHL. NHL 18 also featured a hefty set of tutorials, so it’s nice to see EA Vancouver take steps to funnel newer players into the series and make them feel comfortable.
Old and new players alike should also love NHL Ones, which is a 1v1v1 free-for-all mode. This mode was inspired by pond hockey, so it takes place outside. Players can get better and progress up four tiers as they get better: The Lot, The Cove, The Docks, and The Ring. A daily champion will also consistently be named, and the winner will net some exclusive rewards.
NHL Ones taking place outside feels fresh as the series has gotten a bit stagnant visually. It’s simple setup also makes it a straightforward mode to jump into and play in short bursts, as matches only last three minutes. I’d see myself spending just as much time here as in Threes upon release, but this mode is unfortunately not available offline, which is disappointing. NHL Ones is still a ton of fun to play though, and it will probably be the online mode I spend the most time in when NHL 19 launches.
NHL Ones also does a great job highlighting World of Chel’s customization feature, which lets players don anything from jerseys to jeans and a t-shirt. Several new items can also be unlocked via a progression system, which will hopefully create a satisfying gameplay loop to keep players returning the NHL 19’s online modes, which is where things have improved the most.
While some more new offline content would’ve been welcome, I am still looking forward to NHL 19. As someone who typically plays sports games offline, it seems like World of Chel will finally entice me to play online more. RPM tech also makes the game flow better, and that alongside the outside environments in NHL Ones make it seem like NHL 19 will be the most visually fresh hockey game in years.
NHL 19 is set to release for PS4 and Xbox One on September 14, and those interested can pre-order the game right now on Amazon. For more NHL 19 content, check out DualShockers’ interview with Creative Director William Ho.
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