NHL 20 Review — Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day

NHL 20 Review — Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day

Improving upon the changes made in last year's iteration, NHL 20 is the best the series has been this console generation.

Every sports game is under scrutiny for the same reason: What makes this version better than the last and what is the justification for purchasing that same game annually? It is a question many have asked, and for good reason. However, there are some iterations that stand out among the rest. The newest professional hockey game, NHL 20, is somewhat an example of this. While gameplay treads some very familiar territory, the game modes available are varied and provided me with the most fun I’ve had with a sports game in a long while.

With that being said, the most important facet of any sports game is its gameplay. If the game isn’t fun to play, all those excellent modes wouldn’t be worth playing. NHL 20 is less of a step and more of a tip-toe in the right direction in terms of gameplay innovation. It feels pretty similar to last year’s iteration, but just a bit smoother, bringing a more fluid experience.

NHL 20’s fluid gameplay also allows players to execute a play with a bit more ease. At the very least, the outcome of any given play, whether good or bad, doesn’t feel like it can be justified by slow transitions between passes and shots. The hits even feel better thanks to these minor changes. It all feels as it should which is probably the biggest compliment I can give to any sports game.

Along with the minor gameplay changes is a revamped broadcast package, bringing some subtle changes to the presentation of NHL 20 including new color commentary, scoreboards, and graphics packages to help the player immerse themselves in EA’s vision of hockey.

For the most part, the new implementations are great. The new commentary both informs during down periods and brings the hype whenever a shot just misses. The graphics packages themselves transition pretty well between the gameplay and the replays that are shown. The one gripe I have with the presentation is the new scoreboard at the bottom of the screen. It is a little distracting with all the animations that are going on with it between scoring goals. This is super minor and doesn’t really deter from the gameplay by any means, but I would rather have most of my focus on the game than this well-animated scoreboard.

The new Play of the Game highlights that occur between periods is a really nice touch to the presentation while giving the player a reason to relive one of the many awesome plays they executed during the game. Whether it’s a big hit or a sniped shot, these special moments are captured in glorious fashion complete with a slow-motion effect. Something as simple a quick wrist shot looks epic.

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NHL 20’s gameplay and presentation improvements are good but can be chalked up as simple quality-of-life changes. Even if it is more polished, I’m not too sure these facets, although incredibly important, could convince someone that this year’s version is better than last year’s. However, all the modes available should convince any doubters, especially with the addition of the Eliminator tournaments and Squad Battles in Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT).

A few months back, you may remember seeing headlines of a battle royale mode coming to NHL 20. Eliminator tournaments were what those headlines were referring to. Eliminator isn’t really a battle royale mode. Rather, it is a tournament-style competition inspired by the popular video game genre. Available in both a Ones and Threes format, 81 players compete in an elimination bracket. Simply put, if you lose once, you have to start a new game. If you win four games in a row, you win the tournament.

The new Eliminator mode, specifically Ones Eliminator, is the most fun I have had with EA’s NHL series. For those unaware, Ones is a mode where you and two other players compete in a short 1v1v1 game on a half-sized rink. It’s very fast, hectic, and tons of fun. Ones Eliminator is just a tournament version of that mode. It cranks up the competitiveness of the Ones mode by implementing a tournament format while managing to still maintain the fun and frantic gameplay. This mode, along with all the new improvements to gameplay and presentation, is worth the price of admission alone.

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Eliminator is played in World of CHEL, a mode that allows the player to create their own player and compete in arcade-style modes. Along with the modes that were available in NHL 19, CHEL Challenges have been introduced, giving players more options to earn experience or exclusive rewards. The challenges are broken up into different categories, each designated to one of the modes available in World of CHEL: Pro-Am, Ones, Threes, and Drop-In. Completing all of the challenges will earn you a big reward like a HUT pack or a cool looking jersey for your created player to wear.

The CHEL Challenges are a nice way to get players to try all the modes World of CHEL has to offer. Since you will be earning experience or new goodies for the created player, and with the challenges being fairly simple, there isn’t really a reason not to try to complete them unless you really hate a certain mode. As long as the rewards offered are enticing, like the CHEL 94 cosmetics that are currently featured, this is a good way for players to deviate from the modes they usually play.

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Unless you are exclusively playing Pro-Am in World of CHEL, most of your time will be online against other players. This may vary for everyone, but my time online with NHL 20 has generally been positive. Save for a very few hiccups, NHL 20 has been pretty stable in an online environment. Since I was playing before launch, the player population was low so it was a bit of a struggle to get into a game at times. That may be a different story now that the game has officially launched for everyone.

A mode I personally liked in FIFA Ultimate Team was Squad Battles. It allowed me to take my garbage team I created and still feel like I’m progressing and improving my team. EA has brought Squad Battles to HUT, a welcome addition that allows scrubs like me still earn new players and improve my Ultimate Team. There are only four teams available to play per day – unless you are able to refresh the available squads – so you can’t take advantage of the new mode. But it does give players who don’t want to constantly play online another option to earn more HUT goodies.

NHL 20 is the best the series has been this console generation. Improving upon the changes made in NHL 19, the game has never felt better. The changes may seem subtle, but they really tighten up the gameplay enough for it to feel better than its predecessors. Besides the distracting scoreboard, the presentation has received the same treatment, truly immersing you in the action on the ice. All of the modes available, like Ones Eliminator and the World of CHEL, are tremendous and will keep players coming back until the next iteration inevitably releases next year. NHL 20 is a great package for anyone interested in the sport of hockey.