In our review of NHL 17, we pinpointed the game’s lack of variety from a visual standpoint as a detrimental factor. Back then, we stated that “the majority of content feels very ‘samey’ by this point. It’s just a bit too familiar, and most of the excitement wore off a long time ago.”
Let’s expand on this. On a game-by-game basis, NHL 17 rarely differs in terms of its presentation. Sure, you’re faced with different arenas, all offering their own unique aspects, and that’s a welcome thing. I’ve already discussed my appreciation for NHL 17’s customization features too, but they’re not the main focus here. Aside from those cosmetic elements, it’s hard to feel a differing sense of immersion from one location to the next.
There are multiple reasons for this. First, the atmosphere of each individual arena fails to inspire after a while. It’s easy to feel the contrast between home and away games, but those visiting trips lack individuality and a general sense of what it must be like to face a packed arena of rabid hometown fans. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t matter which venue you’re playing in, how crucial the game is, or even what game mode you decide to try — the presentation remains largely the same. There are a few minor differences to note, but nothing substantial.
You’re still faced with Doc and Eddie providing an in-game overlay before the opening faceoff, whether you’re in packed arenas or empty ones. You’re still treated to familiar cutscenes between plays, after goals and at the end of periods. If you’re a veteran of the series, three years of the same thing grows tiresome, and many of these scenes had already outstayed their welcome by the time NHL 17 rolled around.
It’d be great to see more updates to the game’s commentary as well, despite the addition of new lines in last year’s game. Again, greater variation is needed in this area as I’m getting used to hearing the same stuff over and over again. How many times do we have to sit through “let’s go down to the benches,” before it disappears for good?
Oh, and let’s just mention that Stanley Cup celebration, can we? I know, I know — it’s been discussed to death by this point, and I’m sure EA is well aware we’d like a new one. Honestly, the current version isn’t all that bad, but like many other presentation features, it’s grown stale by this point.
It has been suggested that the Frostbite engine will make its way to the NHL series before long, given its success in last year’s FIFA 17. I’d take a guess that it won’t happen this year though, given that Madden’s changeover, but not NHL’s, was announced in EA’s recent earnings conference call. Maybe that’s a good thing for now? It’s surely taxing to transition from one engine to another (I don’t know for sure — purely an educated guess), and as someone who personally felt the FIFA series took one step forward, two steps back last year, I have to wonder whether the move is a necessary one just yet.
Let’s not forget how graphically impressive NHL can look at times, particularly in terms of the little details that populate arenas. It’s inevitable that the NHL series will end up migrating before long (and the process has probably begun), but the Ignite engine continues to possess apparent longevity at this point. Yes, many would like a fully-featured story mode like FIFA 17 (and it’s a great selling point), but many would also like to see an intense focus on gameplay-specific issues before that happens. Would the Frostbite engine offer more potential going forward? Almost definitely, but only EA truly knows the best time to hit the switch.
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