‘NHL 17’ Review: Broad Gameplay, But Still Lacks Depth

It’s that time of year again. The month of September plays host to the beginning of hockey season, and with it, its much anticipated video game counterpart, EA Sports’ NHL 17. Last year’s entry in the popular series gave it a much needed revitalization and NHL 17 is expected to improve upon that, but will it be able to live up to the hype?

With every new game in a series, especially sports games, the gameplay is expected to remain relatively the same, minus a few tweaks here and there. NHL 17 is no exception to this rule. The game still offers three different control set-ups and each plays remarkably similar to its predecessors. The atmosphere in the virtual arenas appears to be no different than the previous years’s iteration as well. Where NHL 17 stands out is in the plethora of new ways to play and the customization offered in every aspect of the game.

New Ways to Play

NHL 17 adds two new modes to play with and revamps an old favorite. Although most players stick to just one or two game modes, NHL 17 gives you a couple more options to tinker with if you so choose.

NHL 17 takes a page out of Madden’s book with the new fantasy draft mode, Draft Champions. It’s essentially a virtual card trading game and works pretty much the same as it does in Madden. You can play online or offline with your fantasy team and earn rewards toward your Ultimate Hockey Team.

The World Cup Tournament, while not technically new, was noticeably absent for the past 12 years of EA Sports’ NHL series. NHL 17 marks the mode’s comeback with complete rosters of all eight teams, authentic team jerseys, and even the ability to play as retired NHL players.

nhl17-netbattle-firstlook_1920x1080
[Image provided by EA Sports]

Last year’s entry in the NHL series had a downright deplorable Be A GM mode. In NHL 17, Be A GM has been renamed Franchise mode and gives players the deepest GM experience yet. You’re put in charge of every facet of your NHL 17 organization, from setting prices on tickets and concessions, to managing the team’s budget and choosing which games will have special promotions, like bobble heads, T-shirts, and hats. “Franchise” even requires you to meet goals set by your team’s owner, including win-loss records, financial revenue requirements, and arena upgrades. There’s even the ability to relocate your team.

Customization

NHL 17 ups the ante with a whole new customization system. Do you want to customize your team colors, logos, or jerseys? Go for it. Want to build an arena from scratch and control every detail, down to the color of the seats? Yeah, you can do it. Do you want your Be A Pro player to have his own personal goal celebration? You got it.

While the game adds the ability to customize nearly every aspect of the game, the pool of options to choose from is still remarkably shallow. Be A Pro face options are still limited, unlike the NBA 2K series, which gives you the ability to scale every aspect of your character’s face with sliders and even scan your face into the game. NHL 17‘s customization options may be much broader, but they lack the depth that is required for a true role-playing experience.

Improved Mechanics

One of the biggest turn-offs of EA Sports’ NHL series has been the mechanics. Even with the simplified arcade controls, shooting and skating has always been clunky. NHL 17 greatly improves these facets of the game and adds new mechanics that add a touch of realism to the game that has been lacking up until this point.

Shooting, skating, deking, and checking animations have been overhauled to feel smoother than Ovechkin’s face after he shaves his playoff beard. The size and speed of your player will determine if your checks are friendly bumps or a complete obliteration for your opponent. Boards play happens with a lot more frequency than in previous iterations of the franchise, and net battles have finally come to fruition, but they don’t happen as much as they should.

Most of the game mechanics have been greatly improved, but passing still feels as clunky as ever. Some passes are quick and snappy while others take a good amount of time to execute and you never know which one you’re going to get, so there’s no way to anticipate if the pass will get cut off.

NHL 17 Bishop First Look
[Image provided by EA Sports]

Be A Pro

Along with the lack of customization depth in Be A Pro, the gameplay mode still lacks the narrative that other sports titles have. There’s no real story or goals for you to follow. You have no choice in your character’s personality. It’s a flat aspect of the game that could use a huge revamp in the next iteration of the NHL series.

Commentary

This is a facet of the game that has always had problems and always will. The commentators can only record so many lines of dialogue, so there will be a fair amount of repetition, especially in Franchise and Be A Pro. The NHL series takes it a step further with video intros to games, featuring Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. While it’s better than in-game avatars, like the horrible visage of Shaq in NBA 2K16, it’s still not necessary and gets even more repetitive than the in-game commentary.

Final Words

Last year’s entry in EA Sports’ NHL series vastly improved upon a game that desperately needed it. NHL 17 didn’t see the same kind of game-changing upgrades, but it did build upon them with new game modes, improved mechanics, and an enhanced customization system. There are still a few kinks that need to be worked out, but overall, it’s a great entry in the longest lasting professional hockey simulator.

Final Grade: 8/10

[Image provided by EA Sports]