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NHL 19 Review: The Good, The Bad and The Repeat

Is this year’s installment of the EA Sports NHL franchise worth the price point?

2018 NHL Awards Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There are seldom few perfect video games. Grand Theft Auto IV and V and Modern Warfare 2 stand out as the best of the past decade or so. Electronic Arts releases the latest installments of it sports franchises every year and occasionally hurries through it. This felt like one of those times. Given a tad more time and consideration of fan feedback, this could have been one of its best installments yet.

NHL 19 released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 last Friday and I was able to get my hands and play it over the weekend and this week. Here are my thoughts on what I’ve experienced so far.


Improvements

EA made many cosmetic changes to NHL 19 from the previous year. Menus have a new look and pause screens in-game are cleaner and provide updated game stats in a concise manner. The menus are clean and easily able to be filtered by pinning them for easy access to your favorite game modes.

One small cosmetic change that users may not realize is group celebrations. When you score top shelf or slide a puck back door, you actually celebrate with a full five players instead of solo or just with one teammate. This definitely helps with an authentic feel.

The big selling point of the new installment is “taking the game outdoors” with the “World of Chel.” It features 1 v 1 v 1 game mode, NHL Threes, EASHL and Pro-Am. You’re able to create a player and keep it through any of the game modes.

There are many customization options for your player to give yourself a unique look on the ice when taking on your friends and foes. It allows players to add their own individual flare to their game instead of being hampered in by just a few options. The gameplay is fun and challenging but full of great moments. I’m a particular fan of “Ones” as it allows the user to play quick games on just half the ice while giving the user an outdoor experience.

The major game play overhaul is the new skating engine RPM or real player motion. Skating is much more realistic and not as rigid as years past. You’re able to make more explosive movements and able to stop and start on a dime. Being able to get an inside edge on breakaways is easier and the improved skating has lead to improved passing in my experience. The extra movements allow you to cleanly deliver crisp passes to your teammates and not onto the stick of an opposing defender.

Also of note, the soundtrack is the best I’ve heard in a long time for NHL franchises, maybe since NHL 06. Artists like Imagine Dragons (because anything related to sports in 2018 can’t exist without Imagine Dragons making an appearance) and Panic! at the Disco keep you entertained through menus and transition screens.


Disappointments

The big selling point with this game was “taking the game outdoors to where it all began”, right? Hey EA, you’re missing something: the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games. The NHL puts much emphasis on outdoor games, even making the Winter Classic a holiday celebration. This has been a glaring hole for me since it was removed from the game. Adding it back next year maybe shouldn’t be a focus point, but a welcomed commodity nonetheless.

The ratings in this game are absolutely insane. Everyone may complain that they think their player deserves a higher rating but giving The Great One a 97? Gutsy move, EA Sports. Sebastian Aho is the highest rated Hurricane at 85. Haydn Fleury is listed as “Elite.” Justin Faulk is rated higher than Dougie Hamilton. Enough said.

The video game company did not add nor has yet to announce any plans for a “Longshot” type campaign for its NHL franchise. Longshot was a cinematic story mode for EA’s Madden franchise in Madden 18 and they continued the story this year in Madden 19. A story mode with a young player featuring appearances like Gretzky, Crosby or Lemieux would be a cool experience for gamers.

The game still lacks an improved franchise mode. Franchise mode is my particular favorite game mode in any sports franchise video game and being able to have creative control over a franchise is a fun experience. This year, EA basically put out the same game mode as was in NHL 18. EA should add a storyline to its game or just simply more features. The best franchise mode in all of sports video games is in 2K’s NBA franchise. The Be-A-GM feature has a story line and cut scenes put in while still giving you complete control of all aspects of the franchise. An NHL version would be a welcome addition.

In terms of contracts to work out, I’d really like EA or the NHL to work out a deal to allow KHL players in the game. You can play as a team in just about any league except for Russia’s top league. Have a top prospect like Ilya Samsonov in your system? Too bad. Can’t play as him and according to this game, he doesn’t exist.


Is it worth it?

As we gear up for the season and preseason games are played, it’s exciting to have your hands on your favorite sport’s video game. But is this year’s version worth the $59.99 US (plus tax) worth it?

It comes down to the preference of the gamer. If you’re into online play, the “World of Chel” will be a huge plus for your experience and it will be hard to put down the controller. But if you’re into offline modes like Be A Pro or Franchise, your experience will be primarily the same albeit updated rosters. If so, keep the cash in your pocket.

What has your experience been with NHL 19? Share in the comments section below.