I spent a lot of time in part one, two and three of my NHL 21 wishlists discussing everything but gameplay. I did that because I wanted to focus solely on that component of the series in the final part of this NHL 21 gameplay wishlist series. It’s also because this sort of article fits right in with playoff hockey. Beyond that, I just have some continued bones to pick with the gameplay and I didn’t want anything else to be a distraction when talking about it for a wishlist article.
Additionally, If you missed my article discussing my issues with the neutral zone and special teams gameplay, you can check it out here.
With that in mind, now let’s take a look at the offensive zone play and defensive zone play in this article. Also, this wishlist will coincide with the release of the first NHL 21 news that’s going to drop later this morning.
NHL 21 Gameplay Wishlist: Offensive Zone
Attacking On The Rush/Defensemen Jumping In
When attacking on the rush, CPU players only seem to skate in straight lines. No creativity. No deception. No drop passes. No three-man weaves. Just up and down, boring, unimaginative straight-line hockey. Most times it feels like bubble hockey teammates. Additionally, the CPU will often pass the puck backwards even when the puck carrier has open ice in front of him. It makes no sense!
Furthermore, NHL defensemen like Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Brent Burns are — believe it or not — actually leading the rush by carrying the puck deep into the offensive zone. In NHL 20 however, defensemen seem to only be programmed to head man the puck to the offense but never initiating the offense themselves.
Cycle And Support/Constant Movement
I have mentioned it to — probable — exhaustion, but once in the offensive zone CPU-controlled teammates stay stationary. If your controlled skater doesn’t move, the CPU-controlled teammates will not move. The cycling is not really cycling, and puck support — especially when engaged in a board battle — is atrocious. The puck carrier obviously does dictate what happens with the play, however it shouldn’t totally dictate whether the CPU-controlled teammates moves at all.
NHL 21 Gameplay Wishlist: Defensive Zone
Stopping The Rush
This is another little gameplay element that I don’t believe has changed in forever. It is painfully frustrating continuing to watch your CPU defensemen just back up when the opposing team is attacking. Your CPU defenders will basically just drift back until they are almost on top of your goalie. The opposition is constantly allowed to skate into the slot into a dangerous scoring position and fire away.
One of the most underappreciated skills a defenseman possesses is the ability to angle off attacking players taking away open ice and space. This is what makes some of the top defensemen in the NHL today the best at their position. So, when your defensemen just back up, what is there that really separates any defensemen in the game on the defensive end?
I think one word sums this up. Brutal. Furthermore, this video actually says it all.
— blakeblake (@Ryan__OS) August 21, 2020
Battles In Front Of The Net
In the NHL, the ice right in front of and around the goalie/net is the most common place where goals are scored from. Ironically, that same area is also the hardest and toughest spot on the ice to score those goals. This is due to the amount of punishment the offensive player has to endure to simply just get positioning on the defensive player. These battles are some of the fiercest battles that take place during an NHL game.
In NHL 20, net front battles are almost non-existent. The lack of this makes guys like Wayne Simmonds and Brendon Gallagher almost irrelevant. EA has said that they have focused on this area in recent years, and in fairness they have gotten a little better, but net front battles are still not even close to replicating their importance — nor do they have the intensity that is seen regularly in the NHL. Currently, most net front battles in the game involve two players just standing side by side. Occasionally, you will see two opposing players tie up/jostle for position, but the ability to tie up the offensive player’s stick is still a major struggle.
Anticipating Where The Puck Is Going
I believe most people have voiced their frustrations with this issue. You know, the issue where the CPU-controlled offense gets set up and spread out in the zone and whips the puck around like it is a magnet. Whenever the CPU is fully able to get set, the puck is generally sent around the perimeter with lighting speed. I always feel like I’m watching a ping pong match with my head rotating in a constant circle. Furthermore, the CPU will not even attempt to take a shot on net, they just move the puck around almost like a four corners setup to kill time.
Additionally frustrating is the fact that your CPU teammates do not read the play at all. This super annoyance is particularly enhanced if you’re someone who likes to choose a collapsing or protect the net defensive strategy setup. Your CPU teammates will go out to challenge defensemen if they have the puck, but then immediately retreat to a pre-programmed position that allows the defenseman to play catch.
Hockey is very much a read-and-react sport. However, in this series there is a lack of creativity on offense and there’s a lack of reading and reacting at your disposal while attempting to defend. It is clear that all skaters are only able to fill in spots on the ice rather than jump into seams or holes to create. Furthermore, it feels like most times you can even predict when the CPU is about to score a goal or get a power play. It is almost like your entire playing experience is canned and thus predictable in certain instances.
Allowing creativity to flourish, and getting the AI out of some exhausting legacy gameplay loops would help immensely in freshening up the offensive and defensive zones gameplay — even all zones and all gameplay for that matter. It’s beyond clear that this series needs it.
What are some of more frustrating gameplay issues you constantly see?