As time goes on it seems that EA focuses the majority of its time on FIFA, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly popular franchise that, in 2018 and 2019, brought in 45 million unique PC and console players. Other games in their roster such as NFL and especially NBA have slightly fallen off the radar. This is where the NHL series comes in. NHL is a very popular sport in America, Russia and large parts of Europe, so they need to keep up appearances and try to keep their player market engaged. Does NHL 20 add anything new to the series? Or is it just another instalment with slightly better graphics and updated teams?
To start, I’m a big ice hockey fan who religiously follows the outrageous amount of games played each year – 82 games during a regular season, and that doesn’t even count pre-season and the playoffs. I want to see players in their new teams, I can’t wait to play as my favourite team, the New York Rangers, and play as the newly acquired Atremi Panarin and the new draft pick Kaapo Kakko to name a few. I love setting up the Franchise Mode and taking my team through the motions and changing lines, travelling all over the USA and eventually taking them, hopefully, all the way to the Stanley Cup final. This isn’t new though and has been the same for years. For that reason I wanted to see new modes and new levels of detail, and luckily NHL 20 has done this to some degree. But sadly they haven’t put enough time and effort in to make this a stand out year for the franchise.
As with most years there are the standard game modes such as Play Now, Season Mode, Franchise Mode etc.. Nothing new there, but this year they have built massively on last year’s most popular game mode “Chel”. Chel this year consists of 4 game modes, ProAm, an offline mode where you play 3v3 with and against current players and legends, ONES Eliminator in which you play against 81 online players in a 1v1 match to make it as the last man standing, and NHL Three which is much the same as ONES but across a 3v3 format where you take your whole team to be the best. Finally there’s EASHL in which you play 3v3 or 6v6 against others online, striving to be top of the rankings worldwide.
This great amount of choice makes it no surprise that the “World Of Chel” will keep you coming back for more and more, always able to switch to another fast-paced, well-orchestrated game mode every time the puck is dropped. As well as the wide choice of game modes, the World Of Chel has an astronomical amount of items to customise your own players with; in fact it has over 2000+ unique items to pick from, ranging from jerseys, hats, sticks, skates, gloves and even the type of material the mouth guard is made of. It’s pretty insane in fact and this has meant that every single player I have come across online during my many, many hours of gameplay has looked completely different, allowing my own unique player to feel much more individual and specific.
Of course we can’t forget Ultimate Team, EA’s classic grind mode where you start with some random card packs and through playing games with your initially bad team, work your way up the ladder, unlock points and then gamble them all away on potentially better players when you purchase more card packs. It’s a game mode I’ve always had issues with, on FIFA as well as NHL. Purposefully making it hard to earn points so we have to spend our hard earned money on a gamble never really sits right with me. As a game mode I do understand why people enjoy it, gambling can be fun and NHL 20 does offer a wide selection of options to unlock, as well as hundreds of challenges that update weekly and daily, so you are never stuck with the same types of games.
As well as World Of Chel, there’s a new mode found in NHL 20 called Ones Now, in which you play offline against 2 other opponents (3 of you in total) in an outdoor rink in quick 3 minute matches to see which of you can score the most in the allotted time. Ones Now is a fantastic way to both hone the skills for the big time NHL league and have a great time with friends. It’s by far the most fun game mode to play with friends and one which gives hours of heart pumping action. You don’t have a huge selection of players available, but you can pick from a select few of the best in the league, meaning you can have a game with Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby all fighting it out in a small rink, smashing into each other with no consequences… that’s just plain fun!
This years instalment of NHL seems to know how to bring the big stage of hockey to a video game. There has been an overhaul of the way the game is presented with brand new replays, transitions and a new scoreboard at the bottom of the screen. During the replay of a goal we now get shown a cinematic, super slow-mo replay that swoops across the ice, zooming in and out of the action to show new angles we wouldn’t previously have seen. It makes the whole experience more dramatic and I always got pumped for the action to start again. They’ve also given us even more control of the puck with new deke animations, new signature shots from the league’s top players and an advanced physics system that makes games feel more realistic than ever. Of course the graphics are marginally better, but it’s nothing to write home about. These may be just minor tweaks, but all of them put together make EA’s NHL 20 look as good as it ever has.
They’ve also finally gotten rid of veteran commentators Doc Emeick and Eddie Olzyck and replaced them with Vancouver radio host James Cyulaki, all whilst giving Ray Ferraro a bigger role. Their commentary seems a lot more fun and less serious this year and I’ve definitely noticed there’s more variety in their commentary. In NHL 19, within just a few games I fast noticed some pretty heavy repetition in the play by play commentary, but with NHL 20 the repetition is significantly lower, which is a real breath of fresh air.
NHL 20 on Xbox One is a great hockey game with advanced physics, new exciting and engaging game modes, better transitions and replays and finally some new commentators; it really is EA’s best hockey game yet. But as the NHL series is still EA’s black sheep, there just isn’t enough money being put into it to make it an utterly stand out game. Each and every year a new installment will arrive with just minor changes, and a lack of major ones. I love this series, I really do, but I just need to see one year where they go all in and make it a game to be reckoned with.