It’s getting to be that time of year again! EA’s NHL 18 is several weeks away, and I was lucky enough to participate in the NHL 18 beta. The beta included EASHL, the brand-new NHL Threes, and Online Versus modes. While this game is still a work in progress, let’s take a look and see how NHL 18 is shaping up.
EASHL is back and is left virtually unchanged for the most part. In short, you control one player against other teams with the identical setup. Normal NHL rules apply, and the strategies used by each team are vitally important. You can choose to go all-in and get a goal for your team, but one small error and you’ll turn over ownership and lead to a breakaway from the other direction.
There is however a change to this mode as a whole that I am glad was added. You can now play 6 on 6 or 3 on 3, which makes the game exciting, fast-paced, and fun. It gives you more space to attack, and to make mistakes, it gives EASHL higher stakes with more competition and skills.
The biggest new feature seen in the NHL 18 beta is by far the new NHL Threes mode. In a welcomed decision, the NHL recently changed their overtime rules from 4 on 4 hockey to five minutes of 3 on 3 hockey. EA Sports Vancouver quickly took notice and thus designed the new mode NHL Threes for NHL 18.
In a nutshell, NHL Threes is the arcade version of 3 on 3 overtime. This mode never takes itself seriously, it’s a game to have fun that’s not bout winning or losing. With only penalty shots for infractions, no offsides or icing, this game mode is faster, hits are bigger, and goalies are even more crazy than before.
There’s only one face-off each period and if the goalie freezes the puck or a goal is scored, the opposing team gets the puck at centre ice. I spent the most time by far in this mode during the beta period and simply could not get enough of it.
It’s perfect if you just want to jump in without the worry of all the rules and don’t feel like playing an hour long game. Furthermore, if you have friends over that aren’t really into all the technical details of hockey there’s no worry—just pick up the controllers and play.
It’s worth mentioning the new broadcast and commentary that is included in this mode. The commentator is full of humour and laughs. He provides a unique energy that will keep the crowd on their feet. There are special incentives that he offers for each goal that range from making the goal with two points and taking away a point from your opponent.
One of the first things I noticed right away with online versus was the improved match making when trying to find a game online. I was able to find opponents really quickly. I also noticed that this year’s game feels a lot more like a simulation than previous years.
The more realistic approach makes for slower pacing that makes plays easier to start, but hard to finish off. I found that if you get caught up ice, it’s a lot harder to get back in position. Luckily, goalies seem more competent than last year’s game. So if you happen to allow a breakaway, your goalie has a good chance at making the save.
NHL 18 introduces a new defensive skill that allows you to have a lot more control over what an attacking player can do. Simply by swiping your stick back and forth along the ice beside and in front of you, gives you more control. Poke checking has been revamped, making it harder to just spam the button to continuously knock the puck away—you now have to aim and time it properly.
Furthermore, body checking seems to be a lot more structured in NHL 18. Line someone up, and watch them fly. Shove your opponent against the boards, and they’ll react just like in a real hockey game by bouncing slightly off of them.
On the offensive side, EA Sports Vancouver have added some interesting dekes and trick shots. Some dekes are harder than others, but they can be chained together. As you get better with dekes, including shooting between your legs, you can create some really cool offense.
Passing feels more precise and NHL 18 gives you the ability to have a lot more control over them. I found that by quickly moving the puck around, I was able to really hem my opponents in their own zone.
Overall, I was impressed with the NHL 18 beta. The new NHL Threes is one of the best additions to EA’s NHL series in a very long time. I can see this mode becoming very popular amongst gamers and casuals. The new defensive and offensive moves add another level of realism to the game and the controls are more refined.
I can’t wait for the full game to see how it stacks up in September.