In 1994, I would wake up, stare at my Mark Messier poster and say This is the year! Sure enough, it was and the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Watching hockey was a big part of my youth and I mostly preferred playing Hockey video games versus actually playing on ice (I played LW). So, when NHL 22 Rewind edition was released, all the good feels came back from my younger days since that edition also included NHL 94 rewind.
In fact, I think I put more time into playing NHL 94 rewind than NHL 22. But, that was last year and this year’s EA NHL 23 is packed to the brim with gameplay tweaks across all of the returning modes to keep Hockey fans entertained for another year. With that said, are all these new bells & whistles worth the buy? I want to address the obvious. If you are a die-hard fan of the sport then you are definitely going to pick up this latest release regardless so this review is for everyone else.
I personally feel one of the key must-have features for ANY sports title is an amazing presentation. I want to feel like I’m at the game. I want to be immersed in the sight and sounds of the arena, the commentary team calling all the correct player names and statuses, and the crowd reacting to pushing body checks along the boards. I WANT TO FEEL THE GAME! This is also why I use the camera option Dynamic low. Put me on the ice, and let’s GO! So in this regard, NHL 23 checks the box.
Each arena looks and sounds authentic. The online ice sounds of the players skating around, making quick-stop cutbacks, and colliding with each other sounds fantastic! However, the same can’t be said for the player animations. This was an issue in NHL 22 and it’s still present in NHL 23 in which players would collide and the down player animation would glitch or more like react in an unnatural motion.
Now, this doesn’t occur for every hit but when it happens, it’s noticeable. I’m actually surprised this wasn’t addressed since a new player animation has been added in which your player can stumble and still take a shot while falling. This new animation looks cool, especially if you can net a goal in the process.
While on the topic of animations, a new Stanley Cup celebration mechanic has been added. Gone are the days in which your bench warmers who you never played a single game with are getting early dibs on parading around the ring holding the cup while your starting line stands aside in video game amazement. You can now select which player gets to hold the cup.
For some, this may seem trivial but for those who spent countless hours playing a season this final moment of the game is meaningful. There are also a couple of subtle new player animations which can easily be ignored if unaware. One is when an AI player is open, he or she will lift the stick at a directional point.
Similar stick animation is performed when doing a line change. Now I’m going to be perfectly honest. When I play I’m a brut, highs ticking, tripping, slashing, you know it, I’m doing it and yeah, I’m giving up power plays but HEY! I’m having a good time. With that said, I’m rarely paying that much attention to players outside of my direct field of view.
Now if you’ve read my FIFA 23 review then you know I’m a FUT-HEAD (yeah I said it) I truly love that mode and spend 96.3% only playing FUT, earning coins to buy players in the market or packs. I spend zero dollars to obtain packs. My point is that there is plenty of fun to be had in UT mode without having to re-enter your credit card number.
HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) in my opinion has made the biggest leap forward overstepping MUT and FUT. This is because HUT has intergraded IIHF Women’s National Team and for the first time in any version of UT, women can play alongside men in your team lineups. This is groundbreaking people.
FIFA 23 just introduced a number of women’s leagues yet this feature was not included in FUT. To be fair, men and women can play on the same team in VOLTA but that’s not UT so having this ability is huge for the mode.
A major talking point has been NHL 23 cross-platform play or the lack thereof. As of this writing, this feature is still unavailable and honestly it’s mind-boggling. This is mainly because if you are on the next-gen version of the game then you cannot play with the previous-gen version on the same platform.
You would think since they are in the same ecosystem that this wouldn’t be a problem. On the positive, the cross-platform play between PS5, PS4, XBOX X/S, and one should arrive in November. However, it will only be available in World of Chel and HUT modes.
NHL 23 does a good job of recreating the NHL experience. A good number of tweaks have been made to almost every mode but they are just that, tweaks. I also encountered a variety of odd game glitches, the most notable of which occurred on more than one occasion showcased in my clip above.
The game would start, but the players and ring would be blacked out. You can hear the players skating around as if the game is already underway. Besides the IIHF integration in HUT, everything else feels like light touch-ups. The truth of the matter when it comes to picking up the next yearly sports title release for the casuals is do you see enough improvements in the mode you play the most to justify the purchase.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of NHL 23 for the Xbox Series X provided by EA Sports.