The days are finally getting shorter, and that means that fall will be upon us shortly. That also means that a new season of hockey is right around the corner, and EA Sports is prepared with the newest edition of its popular sports sim, NHL 20. This year’s edition has some new features, a new broadcast package, some much-needed tweaks to players, and a major expansion to the World of CHEL game mode, but at its core, it’s still classic EA hockey, and that’s a good thing.
NHL 20 doesn’t try to break what has worked for the last few seasons, nor is this the major overhaul year that an annual sorts game undergoes every few seasons. The gameplay and the amount of control given to gamers are still magnificent, and the new overhaul to the individual players on the ice is wonderful — Real Player Motion Tech lets them behave like their human counterparts.
Superstar players — like Connor McDavid or Alexander Ovechkin — skate, shoot, hit, and score based on their real stats and abilities. Heck, they even have signature animations. An Ovechkin slap shot just feels different than one taken by a defenseman on, say, the Arizona Coyotes — as it should. The same can’t be said for previous seasons.
Because of this new RPM Tech, the game plays much faster — and that’s a very good thing. My heart actually races when I play an EA NHL game, and NHL 20 amps things up even higher. I feel like I have more control on what’s happening on the ice and I’m not ashamed to admit that I even pump my fist in the air when I score a goal. Yes, I really get into the experience.
Goalies also get some love with new animations, moves, and split-second decision making. This doesn’t make the average NHL goalie a superman by any stretch, but it’s nice to see a modicum of realism applied to the netminders this year.
Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) is refreshed and expanded with a new mode, Squad battles, along with daily and weekly challenges, making it deeper than ever. Squad Battles pulls player-created HUT teams and allows you to play against other AI-controlled squads for cool rewards and the like. EA is promising that some of these teams come from celebrities, like Drake, and real life hockey players, past and present, so you never know whose squad you are taking on.
Over 400 NHL Icons were added to the game, which makes team building more fun and allows you to get a solid squad of amazing historical NHL players on the ice much quicker. Completing daily and weekly challenges unlock rewards of new card packs and even high-rated “loaner” players, so just by doing your “dailies”, you can unlock an 87-rated Ron Hextall in your net for 10 games. For hockey fans, this drives you to keep playing, keep collecting new stars, and then taking the team out into the world with couch or online play against other gamers.
I’ve spent entire gaming sessions just playing HUT, completing challenges, and more, just to keep building my team. It’s addictive, and the thrill of seeing an NHL Icon card pop up in pack is awesome. Much like what Sony did with this year’s MLB: The Show, EA is giving gamers the good players early and not keeping them locked away with near-impossible challenges, creating a better play experience overall. Even a casual fan can build a solid HUT team in a few short hours and then use that team to unlock better and better players.
Team building and line construction can also be affected by player synergy which extends to all game modes, tasking you to be mindful of the various play styles of individual athletes and even the coaching staff. This allows you to mix and match to create new levels of teamwork. The synergies feature is daunting at first, but you will quickly get the hang of it to ensure that the squad you take t0 the ice — whether in HUT, Franchise, or Season — is the best, most cohesive unit possible. Victory may depend on it.
The World of CHEL, which was one of the best additions to last year’s game, is back and even better. This mode lets you create a player and take them out into a competitive world of Pro-Am and NHL inspired events. The player grows in skill with XP, and new equipment and animations can be unlocked. The Pro-Am matches drop the player into a Threes game with NHL stars, or you can enter challenges with alongside or against other gamers around the world. Like HUT, World of CHEL has weekly challenges that unlock cool rewards when completed, and that addictive drive to keep playing to make your character better, stronger, faster, and looking sharper is plenty of reason to get you to log daily play sessions.
NHL 20 also introduces the new Eliminator mode to NHL Ones and NHL Threes. Like the small competitions from previous seasons, you compete on half-sized rinks against the CPU (or other players) to try and climb the ranks in battle royale-style tournaments. Both NHL Ones and NHL Threes offers a fun distraction from the other game modes and puts a pure, distilled version of the sport front and center. I often find myself playing one or two games of Ones in a single session –they are fast-paced, fun, and give you the chance to try out new techniques that you can then take to Season, Franchise, Draft Champions, and HUT to dominate.
The biggest change to NHL 20 comes in the broadcasting presentation. The NBC Sports Network dressing is gone, as is the commentary from iconic duo Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss their voices, as Doc is the best voice in sports announcing (now that Vin Scully has retired), and James Cybulski, a Canadian broadcaster with TSN, has major shoes to fill. So far, I don’t have many complaints when it comes to his performance, but I’ve also haven’t played a full season yet. Even I can admit it got frustrating hearing the same things over and over and over again.
Joining Cybulski on the team is Ray Ferraro, the previous “third man on the ice” in past NHL games. Ferraro is better now that he doesn’t constantly talk about the goalie going “to the butterfly,” and his script now has some substance to it. Again, it will take some time to get over the loss of Doc and Eddie, two voices that have served as the soundtrack of my sport-fueld gaming sessions for the past five fall and winter seasons.
NHL 20 excels by not trying to fix what wasn’t broken. There are a staggering number of ways to play and the game modes all add up to one magnificent hockey experience. Even the most casual fan will find something fun and exciting here, and the die-hard hockey heads can drill into the meat of the more advanced gameplay mechanics to dominate on rinks all over the world. It takes a special sports game to be able to pull this off year in and year out, and developer EA Vancouver does it annually.
The days are shorter and there’s a definite chill in the air, and the best way to pass the time during long winter nights is with a controller in your hand and NHL 20 booted up on your platform of choice. EA Sports has delivered one of the most complete sports gaming experiences, and fans old and new will find something of value with this one.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of NHL 20. A copy was provided by Electronic Arts.
NHL 20 doesn't try to fix what wasn't broken and instead added new modes, features, and gameplay tweaks to make one of the best sports games on the market even better.