NHL 19 Review — Prioritizing Online Play Over Offline
NHL 19 for PS4 and Xbox One is a ton of fun online, only suffering from from offline modes that are too iterative for the game's own good.
Review copy provided by the publisher
After years of work to regain the content they lost in the jump to the then next-gen platforms, EA’s NHL series finally feels like a complete package. While it still doesn’t include the fan-favorite GM Connected mode and there are some rough edges, the way NHL 19 looks and feels shows that the series is back on its feet.
Online multiplayer has been revamped with World of Chel, so multiplayer-focused fans will have a dense amount of content to return to. While it’s good that the series is skating smoothly (pun intened) again, NHL 19 as a whole does falter a bit once you notice that the game doesn’t have much new to offer in the offline experience is outside of the iterative gameplay and animation improvements.
NHL 19 is at its best in World of Chel. Like most EA Sports games, the NHL series has a really dedicated online community, and the developers tried their hardest to cater to this crowd with a brand new multiplayer hub that should also do a good job at enticing more casual players to hop online. Customization is a huge part of World of Chel, with tons of casual and official outfits and features to choose from. The customization depth is definitely appreciated, even if the game did glitch when I tried to give myself a beard.
Four modes are included within World of Chel: EASHL, Online Threes, NHL Pro-Am, and Ones. EASHL and Online Threes both work just as well as they did in previous games, so both players who liked the simulation aspect of the game and ones who would like to play something a bit more visceral and arcadey have something they can enjoy online. While matchmaking could be a bit slow, the games themselves have run super smoothly since launch.
The two other new modes are also really interesting and fun. The headlining new mode is NHL Ones, a 1v1v1 modes where individual players can duke it out on outdoor rinks. There are four different tiers that players can get into each day, with one winner being crowned at the end of the day. Each tier has a unique outdoor court, which the developers have gone an added quite a few of in NHL 19.
When it comes to NHL Pro-Am, NHL 19 takes advantage of the vast number of famous players, both current and alumni, and has players compete in challenges either with or against them for rewards like XP or new gear. Both NHL Ones and Pro-Am represent are really fun and surprisingly addictive, which kept me returning to World of Chel, I just wish they were available offline.
These new modes show the game at its best, adding new things that take advantage of the NHL liscene and the culture surrounding it. Like I mentioned in my review-in-progress, it’s quite baffling that these modes, or at least variations of them don’t appear offline. Something like EASHL is entwined with the online experience, but Ones and Pro-Am wouldn’t be that restrained offline.
Ones especially would be fun offline locally with friends, and the tiers could even be reworked into a challenge mode or something like Threes Circuit. While I understand that EA wanted some new, headlining modes for World of Chel and that hub turned out great, it leaves NHL 19 feeling lacking offline.
NHL 19 includes every mode present in NHL 18, so no one has to worry about cut content. Hoping into modes like Be A Player and Shootout are present in top form and help highlight the new animations. EA is rolling out more advanced Real Player Motion (RPM) technology across most on the titles, which has removed a lot of the animation jank that is associated with sports games.
While the game may not be without an occasional visual oddity, just skating around feels tighter due to better animation and the improved gameplay and puck physics, which are improved every year. Collisions and body checks have seen the biggest improvements, and look way better than they have in the past. NHL 19 plays better than previous hockey games this generation, so you may find some enjoyment picking this game up for that if you haven’t played an EA NHL game in years.
As for other improvements offline, Franchise Mode has deeper scouting tools that let you hire either the scouts you’d like and features a fog-of-war like system for the stats of players you do not scout enough. That improvement should definitely be enticing for the simulation die-hards, though more casual fans probably won’t notice much of a difference. Most offline modes also let you play games outside occasionally, which gives these annualized modes a tiny bit of new visual flair.
Threes still remains one of my favorite modes in the game and features an addictive Threes Circuit 2.0 mode to boot. Even if not much has changed about it mode, it’s still a great addictive outlet for more visceral and fast-paced matches. While these iterative new offline features make sense and do polish the game further, it doesn’t cover up the fact that you’ve mostly played it before.
If you haven’t picked up an NHL game in years or play mainly for the online experience, you will really like NHL 19. EA’s NHL series has reached a point where the gameplay is tighter than ever, and outside of the rare visual hiccup, looks better than ever in motion. World of Chel as serves a great new hub that multiplayer veterans won’t want to leave, and even tries to attract some casual fans with pond hockey and deep customization options. That’s why it stings that it’s too familiar a package offline when compared to NHL 18.
Outside of a couple of minor tweaks that most players won’t notice, things are mostly the same, which is odd when you consider that both One and Pro-Am could work well offline and that this game’s servers will shut off one day. Yearly players who stay offline should heavily consider whether the few small changes there make NHL 19 worth picking up, but I have no problem recommending it to the multiplayer die-hards or those who want to jump into the games for the first time.