The franchise has been shorthanded in previous years
Two years ago, EA Sports shipped NHL 15 — the first “next-gen” installment in the perennially fantastic NHL franchise — in bare bones condition. It was a glaring misstep, and the developer has spent years trying to right the ship. NHL 16 got the series to where it felt like it should’ve been the year prior; NHL 17 feels like it might be caught up.
At EA’s Sunday-before-E3 event, we had a chance to go hands-on with NHL 17 and to have a lengthy talk with lead producer Sean Ramjagsingh. Both parts were equally important. The conversation with Ramjagsingh confirmed that there sure is a wealth of new stuff coming to the game this year. The hands-on proved that it should all work.
Before sitting down with Ramjagsingh, I hopped on a station to kill some time. The game was set up as Sharks versus Kings. I picked the Kings despite disliking both teams; they felt like the lesser of two evils. A few minutes in, the ever-pesky Logan Couture bounced a fluky goal through Jonathan Quick’s legs. Hmm. Was this NHL 17 acting closer to arcade than simulation, or was this just one of Those Hockey Plays?
I carried this into my talk with Ramjagsingh. One of the slides in his presentation covered how the goaltenders had been revamped this year. No longer are goalies going to make big dramatic sweeping glove saves on lazy shots on net. Instead, they’ll play the puck reasonably. Sometimes they’ll get big to block the net, knowing that they’re basically conceding a rebound. Other times, they’ll stick to their style. It all depends on what the situation calls for.
The problem with this is that Quick tends to give up most of his goals to his gloveside, usually up high. That’s not where Couture’s goal skipped in. In fact, Quick’s athletic butterfly style means that he’s generally good at keeping low pucks out of the net. Maybe he was out of position or something. Guess we’ll chalk it up to it being one of Those Hockey Plays.
Goalies are hardly all Ramjagsingh had to discuss. It almost seemed like everything about and around hockey was fair play. Generally, the theme was that NHL 17 offers unprecedented freedom. For instance, the franchise mode has a bunch of interesting decisions to make, including whether or not you want to relocate the club. Ramjagsingh says that there are approximately 20 cities to move to (including Vegas, of course), and you have to come to terms with the government of the destination city. That might include negotiating a way to get the city’s taxpayers to fund the new stadium — an issue that’s something of a hotbutton topic in sports right now.
Other changes come in the form of improvements to additions to NHL 16. Last year’s game featured the visual on-ice trainer, a tool that taught players how to play hockey as it was happening. Ramjagsingh said the feedback they got was mostly positive but a lot of players also felt like it was too limited. As a result, more in-depth coaching was high on the list of priorities this time ’round. In the same vein, EA is fleshing out the EASHL so that it has more options that includes the likes of rink and goal song customization.
And, EA’s even drawing from its other popular sports franchises. NHL 17 cribs Madden 16‘s Draft Champions mode — a setting where you can draft entirely new teams quickly and play out a tournament with the cobbled-together unit. Apparently Madden‘s implementation was popular enough to warrant branching out to other EA Sports titles.
That’s most of what Ramjagsingh wanted to touch on. Then it was time to take a second crack at NHL 17. Set up with my beloved Colorado Avalanche, I squared off against the loathesome Minnesota Wild. I only had time to get two periods in before I had to take off. Matt Duchene opened the scoring with a beautiful short-side goal. Nathan MacKinnon followed that up with two tallies on semi-breakaways. 3-0 after 40 minutes.
Yep, seems like NHL 17 is working just fine.