Overall, NHL 18 gameplay has been tightened up, and you’ll notice a very nice distinction between their competitive, sim and arcade gameplay modes. There are still a few legacy issues that seem to plague this game, but I’m enjoying the game a great deal, and find the three unique gameplay modes to be solid attempts at mirroring what they are intended to do. In breaking down the gameplay for NHL 18, I spent time using all three of their gameplay modes in what seemed the most ideal atmosphere to sample each of these modes. Here are some tidbits that I’ve noted while playing the game:
Sim-Style Gameplay: Franchise Mode, All-Star Difficulty
- I have seen more execution on odd-man rushes that are resulting in goal by the AI. This is a nice new threat from the AI who no longer only scores goals primarily from the slot or off of deflected shots by defensemen.
- The AI is still pretty awful at breakaways, especially if you’re expecting to see the deadliness you’ll witness while playing online. This includes overtime shootouts where the AI has gone scoreless in more than one game I was playing. Oftentimes the AI simply makes one move, and shoots the puck. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t really fear them walking in on my goalie on a breakaway any longer, as I know there’s probably a 90 percent likeliness he’ll make the save.
- I like that we are starting to see more faceoffs and stoppages in play. This is what we should be seeing in a sim setting versus something like competitive. The game (on sim and competitive) has net dislodgings now that happen at a realistic frequency, which is a nice subtle change.
- The AI is still too a bit too perfect at passing, even when I have the slider down to 5-10. At 0, they’ll keep passing the puck down to the other end of the rink too often when trying to pass it back to their defensemen. This results in very high pass percentage for the AI, and a bit too unrealistic of puck control — you’ll feel as though you are shorthanded once or twice a game, even though you’re at even strength.
- Deflections look great, and feel much more responsive and realistic this year. They’re subtle, but they also aren’t goals as frequently as they were, so they are much more suspenseful and rewarding when they do go in. Of course, player ratings have an impact on this as well.
- Even with penalties scaled to 4/4, and the general penalty sliders for AI teammates and AI opponents as high as 75, you still may see a lack of penalties. The good news is that these sliders are responsive, so with some tinkering you should be able to find a balance. You’ll still see games, however, where one team simply doesn’t commit a penalty the entire game, which seems very odd, especially on the sim setting.
- There’s generally more chippy play to the gameplay on sim, and I like it a lot. This results in some frustrating times where you’re trying to generate offense, but also feels very rewarding when you do put a beautiful series of passes together that leads to a scoring chance.
- I’ve seen goalies make saves that had me saying, “Wow!” They felt very realistic, and were not repetitive; I was genuinely reacting to what was a rare moment of outstanding goaltending.
- I’ve had no issues adjusting to the defensive skill stick, and quite honestly, it feels exactly how I’d use this in last year’s game, even though it wasn’t a feature, per se. I’m also happy to report that it is not overpowering.
Competitive Gameplay: HUT, EASHL
- I enjoyed HUT last year, and made it up to Division II before realizing that the sort of teams and players you run into at that level was not worth continuing with it any longer — things like your opponent just skating around their own net the entire third period with a 1-0 lead start to exist in this realm. While my sample size with NHL 18 is obviously much smaller than in last year’s game, I feel as though my games have been more realistic, and almost more “boring” but in a good way. It wasn’t a breakaway-deke-fest with a speedy winger flying down the side only to swoop in and score the same goal over and over. Most of the games I was playing were actually quite defensive, and the goals seemed legitimate. Of course some of this has to do with my opponents who played a good, fair game, and perhaps in time folks will find new loopholes, but while I saw some attempts at what’s worked in years’ past, these were luckily not successful.
- The new advanced dekes are intense, and difficult to pull off. I consider this a huge plus, as I was worried when seeing the initial trailer for this game thinking that it was going to be way too arcade-like. You can pull them off in competitive gameplay, but they are much more difficult in sim. It’s a perfect balance, and leads to some really fun scoring opportunities in competitive game modes.
- EASHL actually feels like last year’s EASHL. However, I did see one gimmicky goal rear its ugly head where a forward took a puck out of a corner battle, drove completely horizontal to the goal line, and skated all the way across the goal crease and backhanded the puck into the net in one simple motion.
- Not quite gameplay, but I love that we can now skip those long replays on goal reviews. This is similar to how Madden asks whether you want to skip a scene by holding down X (PS4) for a few seconds.
- After playing EASHL some more, my team is starting to see some glitches that are going to need patching, such as goals disappearing off the scoreboard and no longer counting, 5-on-3 powerplay goals still leaving both men in the penalty box and the powerplay continuing, and fights just cutting to a faceoff midway through the fisticuffs with no one actuall being sent to the penalty box.
- Overall, it seems competitive gameplay took on a bit more of a sim feel to it, but don’t confuse it for pure realism — I actually feel this mode is balanced extremely well for its intended audience, and I’m glad other games like Madden 18 are taking a similar approach to separating their gameplay into different categories.
Arcade Gameplay: Threes
- You can play Threes in a number of different ways, and I played it in the traditional Threes mode that has a smaller rink. I also played it in EASHL, which is basically a competitive gameplay mode of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, but consisting of a three-period game.
- It of course feels arcadey, but nothing crazy; you don’t have any superpowers. The gameplay overall feels like an excellent fit, and probably the best fit of the three gameplay modes for which it’s intended. Going into it, I thought this would be something I would dislike, but it was actually a lot of fun, and very challenging. It’s the same hockey you’ll see in the other modes, just with a lot of the “fat” cut out, such as loose pucks and battles along the boards — even goalies freezing the puck results in the other team starting off with the puck as there’s only one faceoff for each new period in traditional Threes.
- I’ll be discussing Threes more in its own write-up, so for now just know that arcade mode is working as intended, and is a lot of fun.
So while no game is every perfect, it seems that for whatever style of play you’re most interested in, NHL 18 is going to deliver an enjoyable experience. Perhaps best of all, you can jump in and out of these different modes to get the full range of experiences this game provides.