(CTN NEWS) – If I had to sum up the NHL series from NHL 20 to NHL 23 in one word, it would be “stale.” Keeping a gaming series fresh with annual releases can be a challenge, but EA’s hockey series has been in a rut.
Fortunately, NHL 24 is not more of the same; it breaks the cycle and injects new life into the on-ice action with meaningful innovations, particularly in terms of hard-hitting body checks.
However, despite the improved gameplay, there’s not much innovation in the available game modes, which remain rather standard.
What reinvigorates the excitement in hockey this year is the new Sustained Pressure system. In this system, when the offensive team maintains extended pressure in the attacking zone, they gradually build up a pressure gauge.
When this gauge is filled, they receive a boost in passing accuracy and speed, while the defense faces quicker stamina depletion. This introduces an element of excitement that the series has lacked for quite some time.
Strategically leveraging this cycle of exhaustion and turning it to your advantage can create a real sense of urgency in pivotal make-or-break situations. It’s evident that the new Exhaust Engine strongly benefits the offensive team, but it’s not as overpowered as it may seem.
This is because it requires time to fill the pressure gauge, allowing the defense an opportunity to intercept, and the effect is temporary. However, it appears that there’s nothing to offset the debuffs that the defense must contend with.
The offense is indeed rewarded for maintaining pressure in the attack zone, but there’s a lack of a similar reward mechanism for the defense in relation to successfully protecting the net over time. Achieving a more balanced push-pull dynamic within this new system is essential.
Despite these concerns, it’s a mechanic that shows promise, and there’s hope for further expansion in the coming year. The impact on gameplay is significantly more pronounced than the lackluster X-Factor system introduced in NHL 22.
I really appreciated a more subtle change introduced this year, the new contact-based physics system. It adds depth to body checks, requiring players to charge a check by holding down on the right stick before executing it.
This change imparts a realistic sense of weight and momentum as players move across the ice, enhancing the impact of every check. There’s even an element of risk and reward, as failing to connect a check can lead to stumbling on the ice and vulnerability.
While it might seem like a minor adjustment, I found that it encouraged me to adapt my playstyle on the fly, particularly in challenging situations.
For instance, in a match where I was struggling as the Montreal Canadiens against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team with superior defensive stats, I had to focus on well-timed checks during critical moments, such as intercepting passes, rather than going for riskier checks that could result in penalties.
NHL 24 introduces Vision Passing, a feature that displays a face button icon over teammates’ heads, allowing you more control over your passes from anywhere on the ice.While this is a great idea in theory, it proves to be a challenging multitasking experience in practice.
To use Vision Passing effectively, you need to hold down the pass button, identify a suitable passing opportunity, visually associate the correct face button with your intended teammate, and execute the pass – all while navigating through the opposing team.
This multitasking aspect can hinder your moment-to-moment gameplay, as it can make the screen appear cluttered and difficult to interpret during fast-paced action. Mixing up the face buttons is a common occurrence and can lead to botched plays in critical situations.
NHL 24 introduces a new game mode called HUT Moments, which allows you to experience iconic moments in hockey history, similar to the Jordan Challenge or Mamba Moments in the NBA 2K series.
At launch, there are over 50 Moments to relive, with more expected to be added over time. In HUT Moments, you can reenact memorable events like Marie-Philip Poulin’s historic 100th career goal, scored earlier this year, or try to recreate Sidney Crosby’s Shootout victory against the Montreal Canadiens in 2005.
While some players may not be enthusiastic about replaying historical moments, it’s a unique way to engage with hockey history in an interactive manner. While HUT Moments may not be groundbreaking, it serves a purpose and adds something new to the game.
The changes in NHL 24, beyond the expected roster updates, can be effectively summed up. Offline modes in the game remain nearly identical to the previous year.The career mode, Be a Pro, which saw its last major update in NHL 21, is one of the most significant victims of this lack of innovation.
In Be a Pro, cutscenes still feature stiff animations and lack voice acting, creating an eerie atmosphere that resembles watching animatronics at a theme park attempting to have a conversation.
Compared to other sports games like NBA 2K and FIFA (formerly), which offer more cinematic and engaging single-player campaigns, Be a Pro feels severely outdated. It falls short of making the experience of rising through a personal hockey career compelling, resulting in a rather dull mode.
The rest of the updates in the game seem to be moving in the wrong direction. World of Chel, a major feature, has undergone a significant change this year. Instead of unlocking new gear through hockey bags filled with random loot, the game now uses a battle pass system.
This change has generated much discussion regarding battle pass fatigue and the demand for constant attention and commitment from players.
To put it plainly, based on the first season, it seems that the premium battle pass is primarily aimed at the most dedicated World of Chel fans who were already planning to spend the majority of their time in this mode.
Progressing through a battle pass can be seen as a more predictable alternative to relying on luck-based hockey bags, but the premium battle pass for NHL 24’s first season is far from impressive. The rewards for each tier seem lackluster and uninspiring.
While some of the new goal celebrations are cute, much of the unlockable seasonal gear is unattractive, with a substantial focus on different colored camo patterns covered in skulls, which some players might find boring.
Notably, there’s the Angry Turkey Facemask, which gives your character a turkey beak, potentially adding a creepy element to your hockey experience. Completing all levels of the premium battle pass earns you a set of animated gear, but even that appears to be underwhelming in design.
It’s understandable that you don’t find it worth your time to grind out the World of Chel pass, as the system is designed to encourage players to keep coming back for seasonal rewards.
What’s worse, you’ve encountered several server issues since the launch, particularly with extended waiting times to get into games. In some instances, you’ve had to wait up to five minutes only to load into an EA server error screen, which can be incredibly frustrating and detracts from the overall experience.
The new features in NHL 24 bring some exciting elements to the game, like the Exhaust Engine and improved checking system, which add intensity and depth to gameplay. The inclusion of HUT Moments is also a notable addition.
However, the lack of significant updates to returning game modes and the introduction of a battle pass, coupled with frustrating wait times to get into games, present challenges for the overall experience. The game shows promise but leaves room for improvement in certain areas.
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