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NHL 23 Preview - Variety Is the Spice of Life

nhl 23 preview sarah nurse

NHL 23

NHL 23 Preview - Variety Is the Spice of Life

When it comes to my relationship with EA’s NHL series, I feel like I’ve been in a holding pattern with the series for multiple years at this point. I’m waiting for something that truly rekindles the joy I had when I originally played in the EASHL all the way back in NHL 09. I coasted on that happiness for years, and I would say in general my enjoyment of the series peaked with the series around NHL 14. At that point, NHL was the most played sports game in my library, but since that time it’s ended up being more of a secondary title for me in my personal rankings. I never generally hate the game or anything like that, but it’s also not something that sticks with me in the same way. I say all this to frame how I came into EA’s first presentation for NHL 23. I got to hear from the devs (no hands-on time as of yet) and see what their general philosophy is for this year, so let’s go through that here with this NHL 23 preview.

NHL 23 Preview

NHL 23 Avalanche Arena 3

Moving Beyond The One-Timer

To be clear, one-timers are a huge part of real hockey and they’re one of the most effective ways to score goals. The same should be true in EA’s NHL series, and it has been true. Getting the goalie moving side to side is crucial, and no one is saying that it should not be a great way to score. However, it’s come to a point at times where it feels like it’s almost one-timer or bust in the game, and so during this presentation EA spent a lot of time harping on goal variety for NHL 23.

This starts with adding modern power play and penalty kill strategies into the game. I don’t need to tell you that the power play has been awful in NHL for years. There is no creativity, no variety, and the AI just doesn’t even seem to understand how to work around you most of the time. The EA NHL team is attacking this problem by adding new roles, formations, and strategies to these special teams units.

The new formations will be 1-3-1 on the power play, a wedge penalty kill, and then a 3-player penalty kill type. From there, you can set tendencies/roles so you can pick players as distributors, finishers, puck carriers, and being designated as someone who should be in front of the net.

The AI also will have access to these strategies, so my hope is that the AI will also be more creative. I say that because, in general, one of my biggest gripes is how every AI opponent feels the same more or less because they just take the puck and skate to the front of the net. The same holds true on the power play, and so at least the option exists for the AI to try to do more on offense this year if EA figures out a way to make sure these CPU-controlled teams harness the new strategies at their disposal.

NHL 23 preview Trevor Zegras

Along those same lines, the NHL devs believe adding more X-factors will increase the amount of variety we see during games. The new X-factors touted include Tape to Tape and Send It for passing. Tape to Tape relates to how much a player will go for risky passes, and then Send It relates to breakout passing. As a side note, the devs also went out of their way to say the AI passing was a major focus in general this year.

There is also a new Truculence X-factor that means certain players will go for checks more than others. There is also one called One-tee, which I believe relates to knowing to feed that player for a one-timer. Other X-factors mentioned include Skilled Up and Relentless. Skilled Up means performing lacrosse moves will be easier for that player (tying into Zegras being on the cover — the NHL devs always try to relate something back to the cover athletes), and then Relentless means certain players will be better at performing off-balance shots.

I am hesitant to believe X-factors is the way to make AI opponents feel different without seeing the results for myself, not because I don’t think they can work, but because there is a general track record with EA games where these things don’t quite make the impact it seems they could. FIFA has tried to implement similar mechanics in the past, but the AI players never quite feel as unique as they should, especially when compared to something like a peak PES game. However, if X-factors are just one piece of the puzzle that the devs will be using to strengthen the AI, then it could work out in everyone’s favor.

Speaking of the Relentless X-factor, off-balance shots are a new thing this year as well. Off-balance shots and passes are user-controlled and they’re being framed as ways to create new situations on the ice. You can use them to dive into plays, clear the puck, and other things like that. EA said there are over 500 animations for this new gameplay mechanic, and we did get to see how it works in practice on offense and defense. I think this is something we’ll see more often than the lacrosse plays and such (because it is a more common thing in normal hockey), but I’m mostly in a wait-and-see mindset with the mechanic until getting to use it myself.

nhl 23 preview sarah nurse

Returning to some more general improvements, EA also touted 50 new desperation save groups, along with hundreds of new goalie animations. We get a similar line about goalies just about every year, but the goalies did improve last year, so I’m hopeful this investment will continue that upward trend. There are some new AI fixes for “ragging” as well, so hopefully that mechanic won’t be as dominant at times (especially online). We were also shown some varied “lancing” with the poke check to show how it has more force behind it. I’m not sure this is exactly what people want in terms of strengthening the poke check as a mechanic on defense, but I think the idea here is that the poke check can now be better utilized as way to start counter-rushes, so I’ll keep an open mind on this one as well.

Lastly, shooting was called out as something they also re-tuned to try and increase goal variety. This means they tried to focus in on blasts through traffic from the point leading to more goal opportunities, and then also increasing the deadliness of snipe shots from the slot. This tuning was done to try and raise the fear levels for defenses so defenders feel like they have to better defend more shot types.

Custom Franchise Mode Settings

The biggest offline change this year will be the addition of custom league settings for your franchise mode. You will be able to set your league up with 6-48 teams, and then you can designate who is in each conference/division, control salary cap min/max, and have a dynamic schedule where you choose the length of the season and the opponent layout.

In terms of how the regular season plays out, you can also control how the standings are designed (set points assignments), how the playoff structure will work (league/conference/division), the number of teams that can qualify for the playoffs (2-32), and also have tie-breakers for the standings like wins, +/-, or goals.

With the playoffs, there will be a wild card and option for a wild card round, playoff reseeding, a way to structure the home/away games, and you can pick how many games should be in a series (or even have an aggregate option decide how teams advance).

The “normal” franchise mode and expansion draft option still exist as well, but this seems like NHL‘s way to give people the option to re-live eras or just create their own world. In addition, you can use custom rosters so the roster share will be nice to have here. That said, you can’t import rosters from last year’s game, so NHL is making the same mistake some other sports games make (like NBA 2K) by forcing people to start from scratch with their created rosters with each new version of the game.

Overall, I am hopeful the community comes up with some great custom rosters because I would be happy to play through a franchise from a different era.

Presentation

NHL 23 preview

Back on the ice, the crowd and arena atmosphere were the things EA touted the most on the presentation front. With the crowd, they spent a lot of time adding more context and awareness to crowd reactions so that score, momentum shifts, and time remaining play a role in how intensely the crowd reacts to things like hits, goals, and calls by the officials. They also recorded new crowds and put together a new mixing system strategy, so the hope is the crowds will feel more alive than ever before. We got to hear some samples during the presentation but, again, this is one of those things you need to experience in your own home over a period of time to really judge.

EA is also trying to make the crowds feel smarter, so they’ve added more detailed responses to other areas of the game. There will be relief or disappointment during the power play or penalty kill after a clear or during a period of sustained pressure in the zone. There is also that level of anxiety that will build up as the home team watches their team work the puck around the zone on a power play (SHOOT!). The crowd will also be more anticipatory during those breakaway or odd-man rush situations, and big goals should have even bigger reactions than in the past (and the goal horns were also reworked). Finally, things like booing will be more pronounced during poor power plays, and there will even be some Bronx cheers down the stretch if the home team has played a brutal game.

On the visual side of things, EA showed off the custom props for the crowd (they are available in EASHL), the new light shows/on-ice projections for intros, and that they’re blowing out the hat trick moment by having, well, a lot of hats thrown on the ice. There will even be some hats thrown out there if an away player gets a hat trick. In general, the extended cutscene for hat tricks ties into other areas here as well because there will be bigger celebrations for OT winners, shootout winners, and general “big” goals.

Limited Cross-Platform Implementation Coming In November

The big thing coming in November will be limited cross-platform play. I call it limited because the functionality seems to vary by mode to some degree, and there will still be some limits on things. For example, you will be able to take your HUT team from PS4 to PS5 but not PS4 to Xbox Series X. I also believe you’ll be able to matchmake and play PS5 vs. Xbox Series X, but you won’t be able to do Xbox Series X vs. PS4. There will be no mixed clubs matchmaking or the ability to create/join mixed clubs for things like EASHL, so those will still be tied to singular platforms for now.

Sarah Nurse being the other cover athlete ties in here as well because now women will be able to play alongside men in HUT. The functionality will work the same (just no fighting between men and women), so basically the NHL team is blowing out the national teams from last year to better incorporate them into HUT. In addition, the HUT Rivals playlist is getting overhauled. This means more variety (10 rotating game styles), and better and more immediate rewards.

 

Bottom Line

Without having hands-on time, I’m always going to come out of these sorts of presentations more focused on giving you what I felt like the general vibe was coming from the team, and where the focus seems to be for the year. I only saw brief clips of gameplay and without seeing or playing the game for an extended period, I’m not going to be too high or low on NHL 23. With that in mind, I do get the sense this is a team that is looking to try and shake things up moving forward. I don’t think Year 2 on new-gen consoles is going to be the “true” breakthrough moment for this franchise, but I do get the feeling there is some movement happening here behind the scenes. We were introduced to some new developers, and the focus did seem to be on trying to find their footing again as they navigate ways to work with the Frostbite engine on these new platforms. They will continue to blow out the HUT/World of Chel experiences, but I also think they realize everyone ends up ahead if the “normal” NHL experience also hits some new highs for the crowd just looking to play a fun and realistic game of NHL hockey.

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  1. No PC version so I will not be getting this game this year only way I will play this game is when it is available to play on the PC on the X Box Pass later this year
    Any idea if the new franchise features and gameplay tuning is going to be strictly for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S or if they are coming to all versions of the game?
    I'm with Chase; we need hands-on time with the game to truly know where they're are going with the series. Every year we get the same spiel about AI improvements, goalie improvements, etc. And every year we're either outright disappointed (no real changes) or they change things for the better only to revert them in short order because of outcry from the TWITCH/YOUTUBE gamers (I'm looking at you NHL 17-18).
    They use the excuse that a 1:1 recreation of the sport is impossible, but that's not what the fans want. We want a HOCKEY game that plays (for the most part) like HOCKEY, not FORTNITE on ICE.
    All in all they said the RIGHT things about what's supposedly coming with NHL 23. Now we just have to wait and try it out to see HOW much it's actually better (or worse).
    A few quick thoughts:
    -Love the idea of franchise customization...will be great to potentially use some classic rosters on a more "realistic" stage.
    -New PP/PK schemes will hopefully help. I've always disliked the lack of net-front presence though. Pretty rare to get a good screen on the PP, when in reality NHL teams literally always have someone trying to screen the goalie.
    -Off balance shots are a nice addition...I worry about them being overpowered though. Seems like this type of thing always ends up being successful way too often.
    -When they say they've added animations to make the goalies better it makes me happy...unfortunately they've said this for a handful of years now, so I'm not holding my breath. Would love if the game could get to the point where you're consistently getting closer to accurate save percentages.
    While I'm not their target demo (which is HUT players and streamers), a lot to like in the previews:
    - New PP and PK strategies, formations and "roles" for the powerplay which is huge and a welcome change
    - AI passing a major focus in gameplay this year
    - Custom settings for franchise mode open up entire new worlds for the game (up to 48 teams is crazy) and has been a requested feature from his site for years
    - Crowds and atmosphere a major effort and improvement, and new celebrations for overtime winners and big goals
    - Chase's read is that the team is trying to shake things up and get realistic hockey as the base for the game.
    As someone who really enjoyed NHL22 and thinks the gameplay (with sliders found here) is solid overall, I am really excited for the game. My biggest complaints have been special teams and atmosphere, and giving us the tools to actually devise a good powerplay is really important and much-needed. Creating new animations for big goals and big moments is so critical to immersion. I am not one to be super picky about games and sim anymore, as it's just not realistic unfortunately to get a lot of what his community wants. But the last two years, thanks to sliders, I've found the game really fun to play and as close to sim as we've gotten. And I expect the same this year.
    While I want more franchise mode things like a deeper coaching system, I actually look at this series and see an interesting comparison to MLB the Show. The Show has elite gameplay, but has basically given up on franchise mode completely.
    SDS has done literally nothing to franchise mode for years, save for some new menus and graphics, while NHL has the best scouting system compared to Madden and MLB, and the coaching system is actually pretty impactful and good, even though it needs more. Expansion mode is well-done, there's good sim stats, the trade deadline is awesome, and stat tracking/records are very good and easy to follow.
    So, in my eyes, this is a pretty good list of new things they're adding that show a focus on the hardcore community. Sure, most of the stuff is in there for HUT and EASHL. But there's plenty in here to be bullish on the direction the series IMO and I think 23 looks pretty exciting.
    I'll be stoked and hurting, both, as I haven't played NHL since 2018. Making the next gen switch just now, I will be experiencing all extremes, I'm sure.
    Visually, it looks stunning, as it should. I'm definitely going to lean on the lot of you, though, for sliders and ensuring my games stay in the 3 to 4 goal per game average.
    Did they say say you could use more than one team in offline franchise? I thought I read 6-10 but that was probably online franchise.
    Sent from my iPhone using Operation Sports
    Custom franchise mode sounds very interesting. It's something I have been wanting for years. Maybe I will actually complete a few seasons now instead of abandoning my franchises after 30 games. I will definitely need to get more info on it. Make it an online mode and it's an instant buy! It gives me a reason at least to use my 10 hour trial. All the other stuff sounds like the same old crap.
    Sent from my moto z3 using Tapatalk
    My one question for the custom franchise settings is if I we will be able to user control all teams similar to what I can do In season mode?
    For whatever reason the NHL team has never given us the option to do this like Madden, The Show and NBA2k have at least not in recent memory. If I can have up to 48 teams I’d like to be able control and experience the mode with more than 1 team.
    Absolutely perfect. :appl:
    As to be expected from a veteran of the NHL gaming community.
    VeNOM3099
    I'm with Chase; we need hands-on time with the game to truly know where they're are going with the series. Every year we get the same spiel about AI improvements, goalie improvements, etc. And every year we're either outright disappointed (no real changes) or they change things for the better only to revert them in short order because of outcry from the TWITCH/YOUTUBE gamers (I'm looking at you NHL 17-18).
    They use the excuse that a 1:1 recreation of the sport is impossible, but that's not what the fans want. We want a HOCKEY game that plays (for the most part) like HOCKEY, not FORTNITE on ICE.
    All in all they said the RIGHT things about what's supposedly coming with NHL 23. Now we just have to wait and try it out to see HOW much it's actually better (or worse).
    Grentthealien
    My one question for the custom franchise settings is if I we will be able to user control all teams similar to what I can do In season mode?
    For whatever reason the NHL team has never given us the option to do this like Madden, The Show and NBA2k have at least not in recent memory. If I can have up to 48 teams I’d like to be able control and experience the mode with more than 1 team.

    That's a good question, and it's probably something I should have asked.
    Good to hear they are addressing the crowd and presentation issues and of course, PP and goal variey are other areas that needed attention.
    Will wait on impressions before buying this year though.
    if we can start a custom franchise with all fictional roster players. like super mega baseball. that is only way im getting this game.
    also fix the net physics ea. the netting is supposed to movevwhen you score.
    It feels like a large step in the right direction. Wasn't expecting custom franchise settings for teams and season lengths, hoping we can control all teams.
    They're adding some key improvements to the atmosphere of games. Maybe playoffs will be even more intense with the increased crowd reactions?
    Hopefully they deliver on increased goal variety and ai ability to make games feel different from each other.
    voodoo_magic
    It feels like a large step in the right direction. Wasn't expecting custom franchise settings for teams and season lengths, hoping we can control all teams.
    They're adding some key improvements to the atmosphere of games. Maybe playoffs will be even more intense with the increased crowd reactions?
    Hopefully they deliver on increased goal variety and ai ability to make games feel different from each other.

    Yeah, 32 team control (33?!?!) would be ideal. Such an easy way to mop up a lot of the back end issues this game (likely) will have.
    Such a great feature in MLB the Show (it's also in NBA 2k and, I think, Madden?), that helps cover up some of the random issues that are inevitably there. Even if they gave users the ability to reject some of the CPU to CPU trades that happen that'd be groovy.
    Can't tell you how many times I saw a team like the Ducks, who would be fighting for a wildcard spot or something along those lines, trade 2 x 1st round picks+Mason McTavish for a rental in NHL 22.
    22 was great...release week. Ever that it was dumbed own where I gave up on it within the 1st month of release. Until there is a PC release, I'll pass on another CHEL game with the NHL add on.
    Haven’t dug deep into the series in a long time but does this game have online connected franchise? Loooking for a game for my buddy and I to play together from our own houses.
    Keirik
    Haven’t dug deep into the series in a long time but does this game have online connected franchise? Loooking for a game for my buddy and I to play together from our own houses.

    No. You can share play on PS consoles but have to manage/play for the same team. I don’t think Xbox offers anything like that.
    VeNOM3099
    I'm with Chase; we need hands-on time with the game to truly know where they're are going with the series. Every year we get the same spiel about AI improvements, goalie improvements, etc. And every year we're either outright disappointed (no real changes) or they change things for the better only to revert them in short order because of outcry from the TWITCH/YOUTUBE gamers (I'm looking at you NHL 17-18).
    They use the excuse that a 1:1 recreation of the sport is impossible, but that's not what the fans want. We want a HOCKEY game that plays (for the most part) like HOCKEY, not FORTNITE on ICE.
    All in all they said the RIGHT things about what's supposedly coming with NHL 23. Now we just have to wait and try it out to see HOW much it's actually better (or worse).

    yup, to me after nhl 14, it just feels like ea just cleared everyone that knew anything about hockey and put in people that never played or saw a hockey game in their life and just relied on youtube highlights and go what was popular on youtube aka hut and that's it.
    because at this time in 2022 everything like breaking glass, custom goalie helmets, custom music/goal horns, goalie injuries, winter classic mode, realistic coaches, all star competitions, stanley cup celebrations like passing the cup to a teammate with their game controller like nhl 2k 10 while wearing stanley cup championships hats they all should be in this game.
    it's mind blogging how a business like ea that's been around for over 30 years all of sudden dont know how a sport is played and dont put everything you see in real life and put in the game especially when it's 2020's.
    beetjstag83
    yup, to me after nhl 14, it just feels like ea just cleared everyone that knew anything about hockey and put in people that never played or saw a hockey game in their life and just relied on youtube highlights and go what was popular on youtube aka hut and that's it.
    because at this time in 2022 everything like breaking glass, custom goalie helmets, custom music/goal horns, goalie injuries, winter classic mode, realistic coaches, all star competitions, stanley cup celebrations like passing the cup to a teammate with their game controller like nhl 2k 10 while wearing stanley cup championships hats they all should be in this game.
    it's mind blogging how a business like ea that's been around for over 30 years all of sudden dont know how a sport is played and dont put everything you see in real life and put in the game especially when it's 2020's.

    Somethings, it's understandable they're not in the game. Custom music/goal songs would be a headache to try and get the licensing for every song the NHL arenas use for their respective players/teams. Allowing anyone to put whatever they want in the game would create an even bigger legal migraine, so best to leave that one under the rug. Same with custom goalie helmets; I get enough of names that include every iteration of the human genitalia when playing online, thank you. I don't need to see a giant phallus or vulvae on top of my head. And realistically, getting 60+ NHL goalies to give you their individual rights to their goalie mask art? Yeah... Not gonna happen.
    Other things like goalie injuries and breaking equipment would certainly make the game more tedious (for the online masses playing HUT or EASHL). Although the sim heads on this site (guilty as charged) would probably enjoy this little bit of authenticity.
    But still more things in this game are left out or outright omitted, like All Star Games or Winter Classic (Really??), real coaches, better animations and presentation that brings the sport closer to real life. We don't need FORTNITE intros before games, we need to see pre-game skates and warmups. We need to see teams respective props being used. We need better end of game or playoffs celebrations. Better, more realistic commentary. Etc...
    It's not like we're asking for the impossible... Well, we are on the count of asking for EA to "make an effort" is actually impossible.
    As someone who is playing the Technical Test on PS5 this is highly encouraging.
    The gameplay doesn't seem to be a lot different in the technical test than 22 but this gives me some hope for NHL 23.
    VeNOM3099
    Somethings, it's understandable they're not in the game. Custom music/goal songs would be a headache to try and get the licensing for every song the NHL arenas use for their respective players/teams. Allowing anyone to put whatever they want in the game would create an even bigger legal migraine, so best to leave that one under the rug. Same with custom goalie helmets; I get enough of names that include every iteration of the human genitalia when playing online, thank you. I don't need to see a giant phallus or vulvae on top of my head. And realistically, getting 60+ NHL goalies to give you their individual rights to their goalie mask art? Yeah... Not gonna happen. .

    As for custom music, MLB The Show had it for years until the move to Next Gen/Xbox. NHL 2k had it all the way back in the early 2000s until their final game of 2k11.
    While I'll agree with the realistic goalie mask for each goalie, how about just updated ones? The Blue Jackets goalie mask has a wordmark logo that hasn't been used by Columbus since 2006/2007. That's unacceptable. If they don't want to take the time to update them, let the fans make their own.
    Jeffrey99
    As for custom music, MLB The Show had it for years until the move to Next Gen/Xbox. NHL 2k had it all the way back in the early 2000s until their final game of 2k11.
    While I'll agree with the realistic goalie mask for each goalie, how about just updated ones? The Blue Jackets goalie mask has a wordmark logo that hasn't been used by Columbus since 2006/2007. That's unacceptable. If they don't want to take the time to update them, let the fans make their own.

    EA's lack of care for details is just so evident in all of their games. No passion.
    Jeffrey99
    As for custom music, MLB The Show had it for years until the move to Next Gen/Xbox. NHL 2k had it all the way back in the early 2000s until their final game of 2k11.
    While I'll agree with the realistic goalie mask for each goalie, how about just updated ones? The Blue Jackets goalie mask has a wordmark logo that hasn't been used by Columbus since 2006/2007. That's unacceptable. If they don't want to take the time to update them, let the fans make their own.

    Yeah, the problem is that the change to the licensing was recently (and stealthly, I might add) done to old consoles. On the Xbox 360 for example, the last console update removed the option to copy music media from USB source to the HDD. It was never mentioned in any documentation that they removed this feature and the update was automatically applied if your console was connected to the internet. This happened a few years ago when the music industry put up a stink about their licensing rights and basically forcing streaming services like TWITCH to ban using licensed music during streams. Right around that time the UELA for console usage was changed and the feature removed.
    So basically it wasn't just the games, but console manufacturers made it impossible to "share" music (unless through an app or subscription service like Spotify or iTunes).
    I agree that they could update the goalie masks (we've had the same ones since NHL 16, IIRC?). Didn't EA recently announce they made a deal with DaveArt for goalie masks designs? Watch this be another ESPN/NBC type deal where they have the license to use them, but they do ABSOLUTELY nothing with it!
    :lol::lol::lol::lol:
    VeNOM3099
    Yeah, the problem is that the change to the licensing was recently (and stealthly, I might add) done to old consoles. On the Xbox 360 for example, the last console update removed the option to copy music media from USB source to the HDD. It was never mentioned in any documentation that they removed this feature and the update was automatically applied if your console was connected to the internet. This happened a few years ago when the music industry put up a stink about their licensing rights and basically forcing streaming services like TWITCH to ban using licensed music during streams. Right around that time the UELA for console usage was changed and the feature removed.
    So basically it wasn't just the games, but console manufacturers made it impossible to "share" music (unless through an app or subscription service like Spotify or iTunes).

    Interesting. Did not know that. I wonder how 2k gets around all their logo stuff for NBA 2k's created teams. Sure it's graphics compared to audio but people are still uploading copyrighted logos. I've glad they allow it but I've always wondered how. LOL
    Jeffrey99
    Interesting. Did not know that. I wonder how 2k gets around all their logo stuff for NBA 2k's created teams. Sure it's graphics compared to audio but people are still uploading copyrighted logos. I've glad they allow it but I've always wondered how. LOL

    I guess it's the same thing that allows a game like Forza Motorsport for having Spongebob or Escaflowne custom car liveries. It's more of a grey area when you copy a drawing as long as you don't make an earning on it. Microsoft regulates the content (so people can't put giant genitalia on the cars).
    The music industry don't give NO effs... Whether it's you or someone that's listening to your stream, they don't allow that.
    The worse is that's it's not even COPYING the artist, you're just playing the song, which in turn is free publicity (in theory) for the artist. So you'd think they'd be more down with streamers running their Spotify song list that they're paying monthly for. They already have the streamer's membership income. They can add more by having people who tune into the stream pay for new membership to listen to the same tune.
    Nope; you can't listen to your music that you're paying for and have other people listen to the music you are playing out loud. That's stealing!!
    LOL

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