The puck officially drops on NHL 18 tomorrow (Sept. 15), marking EA Sports' latest edition of the must-have game for hockey fans. We got an early taste of the game and here's what we learned.
Open Ice Ice Baby
NHL Threes, the new arcade-inspired 3-on-3 experience is our favorite addition to this long-running series. The less cluttered ice allows for more freedom, more scoring, bigger hits, faster action and...well, you get the idea. It's also a great way to practice your skill moves, including some new offensive dekes and defensive controls. Plus, it's the only way we'll ever get to double-digits on the scoreboard.
Get Your Moves On
This year's edition has some new offensive skills. And yes, they take practice. Lots and lots of practice, especially if you're hoping to string together a combination of moves like back-handed toe drags and one-handed moves, or cheeky puck flips. But learning these new creative attacks are worth it when you start pulling off between-the-legs finishes, drop your controller and proclaim yourself "the greatest" with a fist pump to your fellow gamer's face.
To really balance things out, the game has finally added more control to the defensive side with Defensive Skill Stick. This gives you full control over your stick while skating to target poke checks, keep your stick extended against an attacker to disrupt a play, and even sweep your stick back and forth to cover a zone. Again, practice is required.
Viva Las Vegas or A New City
The Franchise Mode allows you to participate in the NHL Expansion Draft and to play as the newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, or re-shape the entire league by creating and drafting the 32nd NHL team. You can use the new Creation Zone customization tools to choose your city, build an arena, design a uniform and a logo, and design your very own custom mascot. This takes time, so be prepared.
And the Rest...
While this year's version doesn't make any amazing leaps forward visually, the truth is that it still looks fantastic, from the realistic player movement to the hype shots of the arena. Some repetitive commentary and the lack of improvements in deeper areas that only hard-core fans will notice (as in, no major improvements to the Be A Pro mode) are perhaps the only real criticism.
Overall, NHL 18 has enough new bells and whistles to keep veteran players engaged and get first-timers hooked (hello, NHL Threes). Sure, nothing is revolutionary, mind you, but it's a solid step forward for an already solid and beloved franchise. And sometimes, that's all you want.
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 and PS4