I’m not going to sugar coat things: NHL 15 was bad…really bad. For some inexplicable reason, the game was stripped of many of the modes that fans had come to love; Battle for the Cup, OTP, Season Mode, and EA Sports Hockey League were all gone for some reason. This felt like an odd move from a game series that usually produced solid content. However, the folks at EA thankfully decided to revisit their standards, and have gone above and beyond with NHL 16.
Before we begin to discuss the game, it’s important to note just how dedicated EA Canada was to making NHL 16 a great product. Along with revisiting a lot of the things that had failed in the previous game, the team also invited 12 “Game Changers” to come into the studio and help advise on what the fans desired. Doing things this way ensured that the game would release with as much fan feedback as could be had.
Thankfully, fans will be glad to know that most of your favorite game modes have returned. EASHL, Season Mode, and Be a GM Mode have all been brought back into the game, and made better than ever. While I haven’t spent much time in EASHL, I’ve spent enough to see that it has been improved vastly. Players can now choose specialized player classes that will help bring a more balanced experience for all. Skill and team strengths also play a much more vital role in the matches as well, which makes winning all the more gratifying.
Diving into the other game modes, Be a GM mode has been re-tooled to offer a much deeper experience for incoming owners. Each NHL team now has different personalities you must manage, and as an owner you must be aware of things such as trade demands, teammate relationships, and many more things. Be A Pro mode has also been updated to allow players to influence their attributes through on-ice actions.
For those that weren’t very well versed in the world of virtual hockey, NHL 15 would have been a tough place to start. The learning curve was pretty brutal, and gameplay in general was often buggy. EA, once again, went back to the drawing board and made things much simpler for newcomers. Mechanics are much tighter this time around, with controls having a much gentler learning curve than in years prior. For extreme novices, there has also been the implementation of a Visual On-Ice Trainer, a tool that shows players where passing lanes might be, when and where to aim a shot, and how to improve their skills.
As far as presentation goes, this might be the best work that EA Sports has done in a sports game yet. Arenas are much more authentic then they’ve ever been, and the attention to detail is astounding; celebrations, chants, and props are all included, making it hard to tell when you’re watching a real game, or playing the virtual one. Visually speaking, the game sports new facial features and an overall upgrade to the graphics. The biggest addition this year, however, has to be the way players grow facial hair. The game has promised accurate representations of facial hair, meaning players will grow beards as they go along. While this isn’t game changing in the slightest, it is nice to see it thrown in for accuracy’s sake.
All in all, it’s clear to see that EA Canada truly wanted to fix the problems present in NHL 15, and they did. NHL 16 is a game that is made with love and features improvements across the board. With a pretty easy learning curve, extremely gratifying gameplay and easy to use controls, NHL 16 could easily be EA Sports’ best release of the year.
This review is based on a digital copy of NHL 16 for the Xbox One provided by EA.