EA Sports Hockey League: you’ve got your MMO in my NHL 09, it sounds brilliant!

Everyone loves to rag on EA for a purported lack of innovation, or a perceived tendency to forgo change in lieu of taking chances. But it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up the EA hate train; lately, they’ve been publishing lots of wonderfully fun, exciting, and daring new titles like Rock Band, Mirror’s Edge, Spore, and Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure.

Last year, NHL 08 garnered “Sports Game of the Year” honors from seven publications, but that doesn’t mean that EA Canada is resting on its lofty laurels. IGN recently previewed a brand-new online mode in NHL 09, a setup that EA is referring to as sports gaming’s first MMO mode (presumably, they mean console sports gaming). The idea sounds absolutely fantastic, and it’s something I could easily get behind, even though I don’t consider myself an “MMO guy.”

Up until now, most online sports games have been one-on-one affairs, pitting you against a foe as you each take control of an entire team. With EA Sports Hockey League, the developers of NHL 09 are aiming to change the game. The mode will allow you to take control of one player on the ice, while five other players around the world will each control one of your teammates. A real six-on-six online hockey game sounds badass enough, but EA Canada isn’t stopping there; there’s plenty more to it.

The point of the Hockey League is to create your own player (with your real name on the back of his jersey) and build yourself up, RPG-style, until you’re renowned for your skills on the virtual rink. Teams can have up to 50 players, allowing groups of six to break off and play by themselves (though everyone’s stats are aggregated for the entire team). You won’t need to have a full six-man squad, though; the game only requires three human players per team.

This really sounds like something that could revolutionize the way console sports games are played online. I was already eagerly anticipating NHL 09, but now, the wait until September 9th (its release date) seems absolutely interminable. How does EA Sports Hockey League sound to you? All I’ve been saying to everyone since I heard about it is, “Jesus f*ck, NHL 09 is going to be amazing.”

[Via IGN]

Samit Sarkar