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NHL 23 Technical Test Highlights Subtle Gameplay Changes

nhl 23 gameplay

NHL 23

NHL 23 Technical Test Highlights Subtle Gameplay Changes

The recent release of the NHL 23 technical test over Labor Day weekend gave people who were fortunate enough to snag a code the opportunity to preview how the game is coming along ahead of its official release on October 14. While the technical test was limited to playing in the World of Chel and thus excluded any glimpses of 1-on-1 hockey where you can control every player on the ice, there was still ample opportunity to see where the series is headed.

The first thing that was readily apparent from playing just one period was that the game hasn’t been drastically altered from its predecessor in NHL 22. The accompanying feeling of disappointment started to dissipate some though once I played a little more and realized that, while there may not have been any major upgrades or overhauls to the visuals, there have been some small yet meaningful tweaks to how the controls and player builds balance the game. Most of these changes would seem to indicate that the series wants to emphasize scoring this year and make defense harder to play than it was in NHL 22.

Let’s go through some of the biggest impressions and takeaways from the short-lived NHL 23 technical test (could we at least have a week with it next time and not just one long weekend?) and draw some conclusions about where the series might be headed.

NHL 23 Technical Test

nhl 23 gameplay

Defensive Skill Stick

As part of a shift to a more offensive brand of hockey, it looks as if nothing will suffer the consequences more in NHL 23 than the defensive skill stick. A valuable tool in the past that could put an abrupt end to rushes coming into your zone, there have been some noteworthy changes that should prevent those who may have abused its power in the past from doing so going forward. For starters, your skating speed is now significantly reduced compared to last year when holding out your stick on defense, meaning you can’t just skate around wielding it while hunting for the puck without the huge risk of a puck handler speeding right past you.

Even unleashing a simple poke check requires better timing and positioning as you can no longer count on its ability to knock the puck off a player’s stick unless you’re in an ideal spot to do that. This all makes it more important than ever to stay disciplined on defense and not find yourself straying from your assignment or zone because one little misstep can be the difference in allowing a prime scoring chance.

Player Builds

NHL 23 preview Trevor Zegras

A change that’s both exciting and somewhat worrying within the World of Chel is increased flexibility in using the mode’s archetypes to mold yourself into the type of player that you prefer to use on the ice. In the past, you were rather constrained by the amount that you could manipulate the attributes for your player build, putting a ceiling on how much you could boost skills depending on your size and archetype.

This new malleability facilitates creating the kinds of players that were previously impossible to conjure, like speedier defensemen and forwards who can fly around the ice without being toppled by the slightest touch. Of course, you’ll still have to be willing to sacrifice certain attributes in order to become elite in the areas that you want, but these changes should foster variety in the kinds of players you’ll see in the World of Chel.

The worrying part is that this could instead end up leading to an imbalance among builds and have the community unanimously settling on one super-build that’s daunting to defend against. It will be interesting to see how this plays out once some of the elite players have more time in the lab to test out which archetypes have the potential to be the most dangerous now.

Game Speed

nhl 23 preview sarah nurse

When you compare the flow of a real hockey game to one that you see in the video games, the reality is that the NHL series has pretty much always skewed towards a faster and more arcade style than you see in the actual NHL. This is why you’ll find that most NHL 22 slider sets geared towards having the game play more like a simulation recommend targeting the speed of the game in general if you want to inject realism.

NHL 23 appears to have taken a step in this direction on its own with how speed and acceleration were both noticeably reduced within the technical test. This makes it imperative now to find some space on the ice to operate, execute strategies and dekes consistently, and deliver smart, crisp passes if you want to create offense. The less frenetic pace also helps to eliminate the kind of comically violent collisions you’d see in the past where a body check could prove capable of sending a player flying all the way from one blue line to center ice when struck at the right angle. This will probably entice more people to add some speed when creating their build in order to help combat against the game around them slowing down.

Goalies

The reliability of goalies has been spotty throughout much of the run of the NHL series, with some entries having them allow too many soft goals and others making them stand on their head to stop everything that comes their way. The AI goalies in the NHL 23 technical test represented both of those two extremes at various times, capable of making superhuman saves one moment and then proving to be as porous as a sieve in the next. They show promising signs of anticipating one-timers earlier and sliding across to deny the deadly cross-crease passes that could constantly elude them before. On the other hand, they seemed inept at getting themselves in front of any deflected shots from the point, making a strategy of throwing pucks at the net and hoping for the best a surprisingly viable one. It was also easier to deke goalies out of their shorts on breakaways and get them out of position so you could tuck the puck into the back of the net.

Quick Hitters

nhl 23

Last Chance Animations

In my short amount of time with the game, I didn’t see all that many instances where new last chance animations that allow players to get off a pass or a shot after taking a hit were on display. This is probably a good thing, since we don’t want this to become such a commonplace occurrence that it loses its own intention of seeing something special.

AI Awareness

It’s a little hard to tell from playing a technical test where you were only provided access to the World of Chel and not any of the 1-on-1 modes like versus or HUT, but there’s at least reason for optimism that the AI-controlled players will be a little smarter in NHL 23. In games where you weren’t able to fill a whole team with users in 6-on-6 or when one dropped out in the middle of a game, the AI replacements were less prone to making idiotic decisions and becoming a liability.

Matchmaking

The technical test was yet another indication that the cross-platform play that will be included in NHL 23 when it’s released should be an invaluable addition. Even though devoted fans of the series were being given just a short period of time with a preview of the new game, it was still hard to fill dressing rooms for 6-on-6 games and often required trying multiple times if you wanted to get a game started with users only.

Presentation

NHL 23 Avalanche Arena 3

It can’t help but be a letdown to see the same old in-game presentation from NHL 22 in NHL 23 without nearly enough new wrinkles to separate itself from the prior game and feel like much of an upgrade. This extends to the menus and UI as well, where a new coat of paint would go a long way in transforming the navigational experience into something unique. Perhaps this will change and EA is only waiting to unveil these updates when the game is released, but it doesn’t leave the best first impression upon the community.

Bottom Line

While it’s tempting to look at the subtle changes evident in the NHL 23 technical test and suggest that these kind of advancements are so insubstantial that they could have just been included as part of an NHL 22 patch, that level of severe criticism might be a little premature. Those hoping that the series would make strides in becoming more of a hockey simulation should be pleased by the way the game has slowed down considerably and will urge you to get creative about how to score goals. Increased flexibility within the archetypes in World of Chel will likely lead to more variety among the builds people use and deem effective. With the style of play in the technical test clearly favoring the offense, we’ll have to watch to see if EA shifts that balance at all based on feedback or if players will instead be forced to adjust to the new normal.

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  1. Good Feedback, For me I can not find out if I will purchase until we get to see more. I only care about how people score. in 22 it felt like the AI (I only play franchise mode) went to the goalie and shot from right in front of the net. Did not matter if it was power play or not. I need to se people setup on the power play, take shots from the point. score other ways. WAtching me collaspse three defenders into the front of the net and the AI still just went to the same spot was a real downer
    Maybe I speak for myself and am guilty of being harsher on the series than most... But for me the 23 technical test was a complete wash and after only a couple of hours I was thoroughly done with it.
    In some ways the GUI and menus, which were basically copy-pasted from NHL 22, didn't instill me with any great joy to behold from the get go. Then getting into matches, you get the familiar matchmaking issues of not enough players to fill up a 6v6 unless you try a bajillion times. Even in 3v3, it may take a few tries to find people to play with, but then other issues crop up. Like getting saddled against a team of al LVL "I have no life" players while your team is composed of all LVL 1 players... This was a problem 10 years ago, it's still a problem in the test. Worse even, when I'd find a match 3s match and there was a goalie on the other side, rather than lose the match (because players quit), I'd back out to try and search for the same room, being a human goalie this time, but the search would find an entirely DIFFERENT room. Even if there was over 1m30 left to start the match in the original room, I would never be able to find it again. Why??? There's a room with a human goalie, I'm searching AS a human goalie, match me up with it. That too much to ask? Why do I gotta find 10 rooms back to back, all different ones, with NO GOALIES?? Doesn't make sense...
    Then there were the gameplay issues. The AI may be better, but it's not like there were many opportunities to sample just how much better they are. For the most part they were competent enough when I was in nets, but I only got to see the AI when my teammates would get a penalty, which was I think once or twice in about 4 or 5 games. I did try defense, and it did feel better to move around a bit, but I cheated and used a forward build (TWF). Poking or DSS didn't feel any different to me, but then again I was never the type to just hold my stick out on D or mash RB all the time except when I was in good position. I did try out if it's possible to play actual defense while playing defense by trying to rub out a player waiting in front of the net for a pass... nope. Instant penalty for lightly tapping him on the shoulders. On the other side if the 7'5", 250 LBS Enforcer D comes barreling from the goal line to the blue line and lays you out (with or without the puck), apparently THAT's not a charging penalty. It's ok because he has the TRUCKULENCE x-factor whatever the hell THAT means...
    And last but not least, the Human goalies.... *sigh*
    Look, I don't care about AI goalie, because cheating AI gonna cheat anyways. If they have to make impossible save after impossible save, and then let in a muffin from the red line, that will happen. With or without any input from anyone.
    But when there's an actual person behind the goalie trying to control it, it's just as bad, if not WORSE than it's ever been. In fact, after the first day, when I went back to check if there were a few drop-ins to play... Where on the first day there were at least most rooms with a goalie, the 2nd day there were NO goalies at all. I ended up searching for 30 minutes, and found 1 room with a human goalie, plus 2 forwards vs my room with 1 defense and myself as a goalie. I waited the 1 minute and 50+ seconds for more people to show up, none ever did and the matchup was canceled due to insufficient players on both sides. So just to keep up the score here, by the 2nd day of the test, people already where NOT playing as human goalies. That's how GOOD the position is...
    When I did get to play as goalie in 6s, I was able to pull my weight mostly off my own experiences as an actual goalie, plus the experience I already had in this series. For the most part, I had the same complaints I've always had about the position since NHL 16 on the XB1/PS4: goalies don't make saves, they ALLOW goals. If the puck is anywhere but 100% dead center to your body, you will struggle to get a save animation, let alone a GOOD one. Sometimes I'd get a wild kick save when I was out of position. Many times I got NO save animation while the puck sailed a few inches from my face without so much as a twitch from my avatar on the ice. One thing I did notice and liked was that now goalies were much better at rotating their bodies to stay square to the shooter. But it doesn't do much good when you're basically allowing most snipes to go in.
    I know scoring is fun.... When you're a Foward, perhaps. When you're a goalie, making SAVES is what's fun. For a shooter, getting 50% scoring is amazing (it's actually downright ludicrous as even the best scorers in the NHL rarely get over 15% during a season). For a goalie, ending up with 50% save percentage SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSUCKS!!!!!
    So goaltending during the Test was a huge letdown and I'm not confident EA will change anything for the actual game.
    All in all, the test was another chance for EA to let me down. And, boy! Did they EVER deliver on that premise! I never got to play another game past the ones I did on the first day and by the afternoon of the 2nd day, there was 35GB of brand new space on my Xbox hard drive.
    Eyes were not batted. Not one tear was shed... Oh well.
    I played the technical test for a couple of days. I honestly don't understand how we're meant to get a sense of what the game plays like by being given the wasted time of online play. Whynot just give us a variety of exhibition match situations? How are we supposed to test the gameplay and the CPU with online play only ? I don't get it. Anyway, I wasn't able to test, try out, or provoke any of the new animations or anything so all I can say is that all I see is NHL22. Even the UI. There you have it for whatever that's worth.
    tinpanalley
    I played the technical test for a couple of days. I honestly don't understand how we're meant to get a sense of what the game plays like by being given the wasted time of online play. Whynot just give us a variety of exhibition match situations? How are we supposed to test the gameplay and the CPU with online play only ? I don't get it. Anyway, I wasn't able to test, try out, or provoke any of the new animations or anything so all I can say is that all I see is NHL22. Even the UI. There you have it for whatever that's worth.

    That might be intentional so you will buy it first. I am not sure just who knows with EA
    It’s not a demo or even a beta that they are looking for player feedback. It’s strict a technical test for their online servers. I wish we would get a beta like Madden’s and Fifa where you always get ample time with the game and most of its modes, plays now, franchise etc.
    I just wish they'd go back to the gameplay we had in NHL 19 and earlier as far back as NHL 11.
    There's a distinct change in the AI behaviour in NHL 20, 21 and 22 where the AI has become really direct. Essentially the AI's focus is to stake into your zone and try to shot the puck from as close to the middle of the net as possible. I understand the need for the AI to be aggressive but we've lost a lot of the behind net play and puck cycling the older games did better.
    Sure games like NHL Legacy and older have a few AI defensive problems but at least the game looked and play more realistic. The fact the AI is so direct takes away those subtle little things that make it a hockey experience. The AI will never take the puck behind their own net and wait for a line change like you see at real hockey games. They'll never go behind your net hold up and try to bring others into attack either and they'll only skate behind if you make them by defending. Dumping is really hit and miss too. I used to enjoy in older games how the AI would take the odd random point shot or shoot from obscure angles occasionally catching the goalie unawares or getting a scrappy rebound goal... you just don't get this much unless you really defend with pressure. I understand the need for skill cap etc I've played ultimate team and done quite well but I just prefer coop and franchise mode to playing randoms online. Sliders seem the only way to fix issues BUT they don't change the AI tendencies enough.
    The AI basically just wants to get into the zone and shoot as centrally as possible or get a breakaway. Pop NHL Legacy or NHL 2K10 on harder difficulties and you'll see what I mean about puck cycling and movement.
    Being in the UK I'm not as hardcore or as knowledgeable about ice hockey as others why does the NHL series get less love than say Fifa? There's enough expertise in the gaming industry to hire good AI coders... sure Fifa has a much bigger audience but I doubt the salary of a couple of AI coders is that costly.
    Don't get me started on the separation and differences between player types lol. These games do so much well but the basics let them down sure they look amazing and animations are great but get the little things right and don't remove them like EA seem to do. Why do they strip features like GM Connected why is TRAINING not an option since NHL 12?
    MuzzUK
    Being in the UK I'm not as hardcore or as knowledgeable about ice hockey as others why does the NHL series get less love than say Fifa? There's enough expertise in the gaming industry to hire good AI coders... sure Fifa has a much bigger audience but I doubt the salary of a couple of AI coders is that costly.

    Doesn't matter where you're from, you are spot on with surgical precision about what hockey is, what hockey gaming is, what hockey gaming was, and what is sorely lacking in today's video game. I turn on Legacy every now and then (and it helps with up to date rosters) I play a game and I marvel at the realism in the gameplay. I may very well just play my season with Legacy this year for that very reason. Even NHL09 on PC one of my absolute favourites just gets hockey so right. No game is perfect, but those two do far more right than wrong.
    To answer your question, it is purely turnover and market penetration. There are simply not enough people that play NHL as there are that play FIFA and it comes down to popularity of the sport but it would be wrong to not acknowledge the popularity of the respective game series'. NHL the video game's popularity was largely, if not entirely, founded on and created by the popularity and ubiquitous nature of the Genesis years specifically from 93-97 when people who didn't even like sports found themselves playing NHL. In North America that had an enormous popular culture influence and a massive influence on how all sports games were developed from that point on. Even FIFA's first 3/4 angle was a variation on the usual look of the football pitch from previous years (mostly up and down or side to side) which was aided by looking at NHL and saying, "well, that non-side to side view of the rink worked well, how about an angled look of a football pitch to show you more of what's going on." It worked so well, they did it with the early NBA games as well.
    My point is, I would argue that part of what makes FIFA more popular today is that what once made NHL so popular has since faded as the generation that played the 90s NHL has aged and perhaps left gaming or only continued playing the older game. FIFA on the other hand has developed over time. I would say that it's truly global appeal didn't really hit its stride until football from around the world started becoming more watched around the world and where local brands and jerseys weren't only familiar to people of that region. So, one could argue FIFA became the juggernaut it is today sometime at the end of the PS2/XBOX era when both itself and PES had to do different covers for different regions with different athletes. That doesn't happen anymore for anything other than special edition covers. Mbappe gets a cover all over the world, it doesn't change to a more local star when you're in Argentina or Japan or Canada.
    On last exploration of sales, I remember seeing NHL selling vaguely just under 1 million copies per year, all consoles combined. FIFA sells several times that. It's as simple as that. There are parts of the world that simply have no cultural reference for getting into ice hockey. Just like most North Americans have absolutely no connection to pro cricket and pro rugby.
    There is also the far simpler reason that the people who are in charge of the team making this video game have a HUGE disconnect, not only with how the sport is actually played, but with it's own community of loyal fans who play it.
    You can have the best Developers in the world, but if the direction and vision pushing them forwards is bad, well, the end result is what the NHL series has been for the last 20 yrs: shallow, repetitive and obtuse. It's even worse since it's made the jump to "Next-Gen" back in the XB1/PS4 days.
    EA's NHL was once on par with Madden and FIFA in terms of popularity (if not sales). Now a days, the series is basically treated like the sick cow of the barn.
    Hockey fans aren't as numerous, worldwide, as Futbol/Soccer fans. And even in America, it falls a distant last among NFL, NBA and even MLB fandom. But it's stilll there and we're much more numerous than the "barely ONE Million" that regularly buy the game each year. But it would take EFFORT to reach out to them.
    And, as history has repeatedly shown, EFFORT and EA mix as well as OIL and WATER...
    It really hurts that it has no competition from other companies to push it to work harder. Worst thing that happen to sports video games was letting companies buy exclusive rights. This is with all sports games.
    Wow these are some detailed analysis. For me I played only but a handful of games but it did feel to me very much of the same. But I did not see much there so I was not able to put a bunch of games together. I am fortunate that I only buy one game a year at full price so this will be buy for me day one. Hoping that presentation will get some kind of bump.
    I am an offline gamer only so the test for me was pointless but every once in awhile I will play online trying to get guys to play real hockey is difficult but when it happens it is magical. IMO I don’t think we will get the experience we are looking for until they distance themselves from the Xbox one.
    LegendKillerOne
    It really hurts that it has no competition from other companies to push it to work harder. Worst thing that happen to sports video games was letting companies buy exclusive rights. This is with all sports games.

    i dont get it.
    there are lije 10 football games. 5 baseball games. and tgere is even about 5 different tennis games.
    i dont understand why somebody cant make a decent hockey game. is it just a hard sport to replicate to video game??
    I just want one solid hockey game.
    i wouldve done anything for the super nega hockey game. you can edit everything in. but now EA has that and even the baseball game will turn to crap now.
    MJ200
    i dont get it.
    there are lije 10 football games. 5 baseball games. and tgere is even about 5 different tennis games.
    i dont understand why somebody cant make a decent hockey game. is it just a hard sport to replicate to video game??
    I just want one solid hockey game.
    i wouldve done anything for the super nega hockey game. you can edit everything in. but now EA has that and even the baseball game will turn to crap now.

    Well from a competition stand point its a little different. I mean like with football only madden can legally use the players names. Other games are either older or have to use add ons. Baseball is just the show. I miss the day we had both EA and 2K making games for every sport. Forced people to try
    MJ200
    i dont get it.
    there are lije 10 football games. 5 baseball games. and tgere is even about 5 different tennis games.
    i dont understand why somebody cant make a decent hockey game. is it just a hard sport to replicate to video game??
    I just want one solid hockey game.
    i wouldve done anything for the super nega hockey game. you can edit everything in. but now EA has that and even the baseball game will turn to crap now.

    The problem is revenue. 2K can technically make a hockey game, but they won't throw money down the drain. That's what ultimately killed the NHL 2K series.
    Although to be fair it was their own fault: if you're gonna try to ape the competition, then make sure you do it better. NHL 2K9, 2K10 and 2K11 were just not enough to compete and too similar to the opponent's offering.
    2K, like EA Sports, is in it for the money at the end of the day. No money to be made, no game. I assume other companies are in the same boat.
    MJ200
    i dont get it.
    there are lije 10 football games. 5 baseball games. and tgere is even about 5 different tennis games.
    i dont understand why somebody cant make a decent hockey game. is it just a hard sport to replicate to video game??
    I just want one solid hockey game.
    i wouldve done anything for the super nega hockey game. you can edit everything in. but now EA has that and even the baseball game will turn to crap now.

    There are?!? There's 1 NFL game, Madden. There's 1 MLB Game; MLB The Show. Sure if you are PC you can go management style games like FHM, OOTP or DDS:PF but those aren't the same as playing the game.

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