Reviewed on Xbox One; Also available on PlayStation.
EA Sports NHL series is a conundrum for gamers. The game is really the only option for the hockey loving masses, and is definitely a solid, enjoyable game. However year over year improvements do not always justify a purchase, and those who’ve plunked down their hard earned dollars on one of the previous year’s games will likely find NHL 18’s additions to be modest and perhaps not worth the money.
If you’re new to EA Sports NHL series, or hockey in general, you’ll find this year’s addition of the Hockey School to be a valuable feature. When booting the game for the first time players are invited to a series of tutorials that teach them the basics of the game with video narratives by Hockey Canada president Tom Renney.
The game offers players a range of options, from simulating seasons as a General Manager to filling the shoes as a pro and a number of online options as well. The gameplay is primarily hockey simulation and players can adjust the difficulty to change the arcade feel of the in game experience. The game uses a two stick system, the left controlling the direction of movement and the right providing stick control.
This year’s iteration of NHL adds Threes mode, akin to the popular XBLA title NHL Arcade 3 on 3. Though this game mode does draw inspiration from its XBLA predecessor, it remains true to the simulation roots.
The games also boasts a number of cooperative and online modes, several of which have been NHL series highlights since its existence on Xbox One. Hockey Ultimate Team allows user to earn coins to purchase packs of hockey cards to improve their team (similar to PvZ: GW2). EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) gives players the opportunity to play as an individual in full 6 versus 6 games.
If there’s some frustration to be found, there are still minor glitches that happen within the game – and through my short initial playthroughs I had already experienced some wonky collision physics and problems with the EASHL connections similar to those present in NHL 17.
Graphics and Sound
NHL 18 is the best looking game of the series, however it only shows a modest improvement over NHL 17. Once again menus have been tweaked and slightly improved. New animations on-ice appear, especially with the new dekes, however this looks much the same year over year.
Part of this could be due to the fact that NHL still runs using the Havok engine. Fans of the series have been clamoring for an upgrade to the coveted Frostbite engine, however EA has stated that this may see a decrease in features if and when this upgrade happens.
The commentary is once again provided by Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Ray Ferraro, however other than a few new quips this once again feels outdated. While the commentary has been a staple of the NHL, the technology doesn’t seem to have improved much year over year – and frankly as someone who has been playing for years this is usually muted after a few games as you’ve heard everything before. The sound effects on the ice, however, are always top notch, and you feel as though you’re sitting in the stands.
At what point will EA change up how they manage their yearly release model? I would love to see a world where we could have a larger player base in the EASHL, which is arguably the best mode of the game. However these minute tweaks hardly justify a full price game year over year, and frankly that’s where NHL 18 suffers. Most of the additions to NHL 18 feel like something that would be akin to DLC in other games, however ravenous sports fans seem to keep giving EA a pass.
While the game itself is undeniably good, there are still several problems with AI, hit detection and how you connect to the online component in EASHL. It’s frustrating as you see a lot of potential in the series.
Single player content7.0/10
- This is the best hockey game going, even if it's one of the only options.
- The gameplay is still, bar-none, amazing
- The emphasis on couch coop is appreciated.
- Bugs persist from previous years.
- The lack of significant updates is hurting this series and the EA Sports brand.
- Multiplayer connectivity is still an issue.
- The additional modes feel like DLC.