In examining the new features, modes and other pertinent details within NHL 18, these are what you’ll want to take away as you make your decision on whether the game for you is a buy now, buy later, or wait until next year.
Expansion Draft & Franchise Mode
The biggest addition to franchise mode this year is not just the inclusion of the new Vegas Golden Knights, but the entire expansion draft that comes along with it. Not only are you able to draft your team using Vegas, but you can also opt to start as a new 32nd team. This is a top enhancement to this year’s game, and it works quite well. If you’re a franchise mode fan, and you’ve always wanted to build an expansion team from the ground up, you’ll likely enjoy NHL 18.
- Expansion draft works surprisingly well for such a large undertaking, and the repeat of the 2017 offseason that follows felt very realistic as well.
- As of now, your expansion team will always start off in the Western Conference, Central Division. This is after EA had shown a video of realignment working properly, so hopefully this will receive an update in a future patch.
- Your expansion team, like the majority of the other teams in the game, will be wearing the old Reebok jerseys, and not the new Adidas ones.
- Customization for your expansion team is very limited. You are not able to use custom logos (only pre-loaded ones in the game), and you cannot do things like add text around your faceoff circle to indicate your arena’s name, for instance.
- This mode is long overdue in bringing its CFM back like in Madden.
- Outside of expansion, franchise mode will feel very familiar. You are able to extend contracts to players during the season now, and the franchise menus have been tidied up a bit, but overall the experience will feel like previous NHL titles. It’s not that it’s a bad experience, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot, but it’s not going to feel as though it’s something entirely new either.
HUT & EASHL
I played a lot of HUT and EASHL last year, and overall the experience will feel very familiar this year. There are some tweaks to both modes, and if you enjoyed these modes last year, there’s nothing that should change that for NHL 18. At the same time, if you’re expecting to see things vastly different than before, you’re not likely to find much of it in these modes.
- I was surprised to see that every single Synergy is new this year in HUT.
- You can now play solo challenges in HUT to earn virtual currency.
- EASHL player builds are the same.
- There are some crazy glitches happening in both HUT and EASHL, such as goals disappearing from the scoreboard, fights cutting mid-punch to a faceoff with no one being put in the penalty box, and other penalties not expiring after a powerplay goal is scored.
- You can play EASHL as a team of Threes, but it will be in competitive mode and on a full-size rink. I actually prefer this setup more than the traditional Threes.
- EASHL will feel similar as far as gameplay goes, and at first I felt as though the game had tightened up a lot of the gimmicky goals last year. It has, but I’m starting to see a new crop of such exploits start to take shape. Good defense can and will help with this, but there are still some frustrating moments.
Be a Pro
Continuing with the reoccurring theme of familiarity, Be a Pro seems to be about the same as last year, so whether or not you enjoyed that experience, just know you’ll be seeing more of the same.
- Still able to choose which league to start in, including choosing your own team, or entering the Memorial Cup or CHL to work your way towards the draft.
- You can adjust some sliding scale ratings in six key areas of your BAP before starting (Shooting, Skating, Defense, etc.)
- You can request to be traded and even set some specific requests such as “trade me to a rival” which makes little-to-no-sense when you think of it from a GM’s perspective.
Creative Dekes & Defensive Skill Stick
I really like both of these additions to the game, and I’m happy to report they both work quite well, all the while not being overpowering.
- Creative dekes are difficult to not just learn, but to also pull off. With practice, you’ll get it, and it will feel very rewarding. I’d recommend spending some time in the Training Camp section of the game — another new feature to NHL 18.
- Creative dekes will not work well in sim mode, and I think that’s fair. Competitive they will be achievable, yet still challenging to find the proper spacing, and on arcade, you’ll be able to use creative dekes in abundance. I’m excited that the NHL team found a very strong balance with this feature.
- Defensive Skill Stick doesn’t seem much different to me than in the past, but understand that I always felt I could control my poke checks accurately before the introduction of this feature. Whether that’s placebo or not, I play the exact same defense as last year, and I’m able to stifle my opponents very frequently using my stick.
Threes is arcadey, ridiculous and it’s a lot of fun. The NHL 18 team has found a very nice new mode to showcase their arcade gameplay. Threes may be the best new feature in this year’s title, and it’s a perfect break from your go-to game modes, or it is something you can immerse yourself in as you work through the Circuit.
- Coin toss to start each game allowing the winner to adjust the settings used for that game, such as the number of Money Pucks, whether to use a clock or play up to a score, and more.
- A fun and more informal announcer who will add to the Threes atmosphere.
- Smaller rinks for condense and faster gameplay.
- Multiple ways to play such as Play Now, Versus, or Circuit.
Sim, Competetive & Arcade Gameplay
While not new, these modes seem to differentiate themselves much more clearly this year. This is one of the most subtle changes to NHL 18, but it’s perhaps the most welcomed and functional. All three modes are different, and all lend themselves to the style of play you’re hoping to achieve based on that mode.
- While I can play competitive or even arcade in franchise mode, I’d love for a new filter to be added to HUT and EASHL that would allow for us to choose “sim” there as well.
- Sim mode needs to be sim mode, and should use a sort of “dynamic adjustment” settings similar to what MLB The Show has used in their Dynamic Difficulty. All sport games should be measuring numerous stats (not just two or three) and auto-adjusting or making recommendations on how to tweak the gameplay sliders to match a more realistic style of play, including penalties.
- It seems competitive is the hardest mode to get right because there are so many moving variables. Nonetheless, I’m glad this mode exists for these particular mode, and it is a strong blend of realism and fun.
- I anticipate seeing even more arcade gameplay next year in NHL, and feel that would be a wise choice to continue to separate out these modes. This would be a wiser approach versus creating a separate arcade hockey game.
- The AI is neither dangerous on breakaways, nor are they crafty enough with the puck in general. They do not mimic their NHL counterparts enough in their creativity with the puck, and with the new creative dekes, we should at least be seeing the AI attempting to show some stick skills. As it is now, there’s very little.
- While the AI is not very crafty with the puck, their ability to hold onto possession is overpowered. On default, you’ll continually see the AI complete 85 percent or more of their passes each game, even when using sim mode. Sliders will help with this, but it’s more a function of game design than minute adjustments.
- Load times are still painfully slow, and this game seems to use an overabundance of unnecessary sound effects for every click.
- Roster and other file sharing ability as a must for this series to continue to grow.
- Little Caesars Arena is not in the game, and instead we see “Detroit Arena,” a 0-year arena that looks just like Joe Louis Arena with all of the names stripped off of it (aside from signs in the crowd).
- We should be seeing highlights during franchise mode as this was something that happened as far back in playoff mode in NHL 92. It would also be nice to see such highlights of other EASHL games, whether that be during our own game, or on a show similar to 2KTV in NBA 2K.T
This familiar but not much new is a definite pattern in NHL 18, and while I’m enjoying the game, it is time for this series to start catching up to the other AAA titles in the sports genre. While hockey may not be the world’s most popular sport, there are plenty of people who do love it, and a country up north of close to 40 million who consider hockey a rite of passage. It’s time this game begins taking these next steps, and in a big way. I’m rooting for them.