The NHL 22 is a new game that was released last year. It has been widely praised for its immersive gameplay, smooth graphics and intuitive controls. This year, the game released on next-gen consoles and has seen a significant increase in sales as well as an overall improvement of user reviews.
NHL 22 has been making a successful transition to next-gen consoles. With the release of NHL 19, the game is now available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
After the pandemic shake-up last season (hello to the NHL, Seattle Kraken), audiences are back to packing venues and divisions are reverting to their natural alignments, enthusiasm is strong as a feeling of normality returns to the game. Naturally, the start of the season has been followed by the release of the newest EA hockey game, NHL 22, tempting you to put on your virtual skates and hit the ice as usual. As the generation drew to a close, the series made advances in terms of Be A Pro mode upgrades, but legacy gameplay problems left the game feeling a little stagnant on the ice.
NHL 22 has made the switch to the Frostbite engine on next-gen consoles, perhaps to shake off its image as the EA Sports family’s black sheep compared to Madden and FIFA. This has raised expectations even higher for the game to perform much better than NHL 21. Apart from sharing the same engine as Madden, NHL 22 has also followed in the footsteps of its video game sibling by including the same X-Factors that Madden has utilized to distinguish those with exceptional skills from those who aren’t.
Along with the typical variety of upgrades to popular modes like Hockey Ultimate Team, franchise mode, and the World of Chel (still not a fan of the term), it’s been at least a few years since the EA series has brought this much to the rink.
However, as we all know by now, talk is cheap, and the only thing that counts is how the game performs in comparison to prior years. So let’s take a deeper look at where the game has progressed this year and what parts have remained neglected and disappointing.
NHL 22 Review – What I Like
Player Interactions & Movement
When opposed to NHL 21, a significant change brought about by the Frostbite engine in NHL 22 is instantly apparent in the fundamentals of how players travel around the ice and collide with one another. Speed skaters may get a burst if they discover some free space, while those with less skill are left to plod about a bit less elegantly.
When players are handling the puck, the physics changes are sensed more more. In comparison to how it used to feel attached to a stick, controlling the disc has become a bit more difficult. This makes the game seem more unpredictable, similar to actual hockey, by portraying how a puck may appear to have its own mind and be difficult to contain while making and receiving passes, or when attempting to pick it up on the go.
Hockey is clearly a team sport, and NHL 22 has gone to great lengths to ensure that all of the poke checks, collisions, and bone-shattering body hits that occur when players collide on the ice are accurately represented in the game. It’s simpler than ever in NHL 21 to knock the puck off someone’s stick or utilize a well-timed bump to prevent a player from entering good scoring zone if you’re in the proper spot. It’s also encouraging to observe that there are much less occasions when you precisely position yourself in a passing lane for an interception only to have the puck sail right past you on its way to its intended destination. Instead, by remaining in front of your man and taking up the ball when they attempt to slide it to the guy at the side of the net ready to hammer home a goal with a one-timer, you can routinely shut down those irritating cross-crease passes that were the go-to scoring technique for many last year.
Improved artificial intelligence
One of the biggest flaws in NHL 21 and prior games in the series was that AI players were prone to make odd choices at critical moments, which could be readily exploited. Apart from making any games versus the CPU less interesting, this problem also threatened to stifle online play since you can only control one of the six players on the ice at a time. It wasn’t unusual for you to be preoccupied with pressuring the puck handler as an opponent attacked in your zone, only for them to sneak a pass to a wide open player parked in front of the goal that your AI teammates ignored for some reason.
Thankfully, in NHL 22, this obvious flaw has been substantially addressed, with AI defenders now regularly prioritizing any threats lurking right in the slot. It’s difficult to exaggerate the effect that fixing this one major issue has had on the game’s style of play, pushing everyone to be a bit more creative in their approach to putting pucks in the goal. To make it even more difficult to ignite the lights this year, NHL 22 has some minor improvements in goalkeeper performance, including the elimination of the goalie’s propensity to allow goals on the short side. For others, improving goalkeeper play is arguably more important than anything else.
Because the AI’s tendencies aren’t as predictable as they have been in the past, all games versus the CPU have become more exciting and entertaining in NHL 22. On higher levels (we suggest Superstar since it feels the best so far in our view), the quick ping-pong passing that was both unrealistic and irritating in NHL 21 is no longer present.
However, the CPU’s passing percentages are still too high and may be tweaked to make them somewhat more unpredictable, although the puck will sometimes make a poor choice. Furthermore, your AI teammate’s offensive is still lacking. While playing against the AI is more difficult in certain aspects, your teammates still don’t move around much without the ball, and there’s some overall stagnation that may occur since things don’t seem particularly dynamic while in the offensive zone.
In order for NHL 22 to have the greatest players in the league perform like such, the game has taken a leaf from Madden’s playbook by providing the really exceptional X-Factors that emphasize their particular talents. Some players have been granted superstar powers that enable them to show off their strengths, which may range from speed to shooting accuracy to hitting, rebound handling, and, in the case of goalies, moving swiftly from one post to the other.
NHL 22 has kept the most potent zone skills for the league’s very best players, giving someone like Toronto’s Mitchell Marner the top-notch peripheral passing that fans watch him put on display throughout the season.
But, when you’re utilizing these players, do these X-Factors truly make a difference? Spend some time commanding a player who has one of these X-Factors against one who does not, and you’ll quickly see that the former obviously has certain abilities that the latter does not. On offense, this makes players with zone or superstar ability seem a bit more powerful and scary while they’re attacking.
Meanwhile, goalies and defenders with these X-Factors are better prepared to stop rushes in one manner or another and prevent pucks from crossing the goal line. The fact that there are a variety of zone and superstar powers helps to replicate all of the various ways in which players may set themselves out from the pack.
Having said that, it would be great to see more of these in the future to offer even more difference amongst players. The NHL series is known for having a relatively narrow rating window, which causes most NHL players to “feel” the same on the whole. While they may fall into archetypal roles, it may be difficult to distinguish fourth liners from first liners at times. X-Factors doesn’t solve the problem, but given that X-Factors might have gone wrong (as they often do in Madden), it’s a decent first step in making more players feel unique.
Aside from bridging the gap between the best and worst real-life players in the sport, these X-Factors now play a key role in NHL 22’s World of Chel mode, which enables you to play one-on-one, three-on-three, or full 6-on-6 action against others online with players you create. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to state that the NHL series shines best in online settings (much to the dismay of those who desire more AI and franchise mode), and this year is no exception.
As you go through the games, you’ll get access to additional zone and superstar skills, as well as boosts that may help you enhance certain aspects of your game. You can’t have a speedy forward who excels at body checks or a hulking defenseman who can dangle with the best of them because the available zone abilities are thankfully tied to the familiar archetypes from previous editions of the mode (with labels like sniper, grinder, or 2-way defenseman), so you can’t have a speedy forward who excels at body checks or a hulking defenseman who can dangle with the best of them.
However, you may now change the different characteristics that your player’s archetype has been granted for the first time to further personalize strengths (and weaknesses). This allows each player to seem more distinct than in the past, when all players with the same archetype might wind up looking like clones of one another.
Mode of Operation
If you’re wondering why this item appears so far down the list on the positive side of things, right close to the game’s bad aspects, it’s not by chance. For instance, the GM Connected mode, which was part of the series years ago and let players to participate in an online franchise with friends, is still absent from NHL 22. That said, when compared to other sports games’ franchise modes, this one isn’t half terrible, albeit not much has changed since last year.
In some ways, it’s weak praise since this series still doesn’t do nearly enough to immerse you in a “live” environment of your franchise that makes you feel like you’re a member of a 30-team league, but most franchise modes do as well. On the plus side, we’ll be getting a Roster Share feature in December, which could help expand our franchise options.
In terms of the mode itself, you may play with both your AHL and NHL teams. The mode’s scouting system’s Fog of War element makes evaluating young players delightfully unexpected, and there’s much to fiddle with financially if you’re interested in that sort of detail. It’s not flawless, but it’s entertaining and intriguing enough to appeal to casual gamers. And if the more serious franchise mode gamers like the gameplay, there’s plenty here for at least a few seasons of pleasure.
NHL 22 Review: What I Don’t Like
HUT LIKE A PRO
Some game types have suffered as a result of NHL 22’s obvious emphasis on making gameplay a primary priority (and moving to a new engine on a new set of consoles). The offline Be A Pro career mode (which was a major emphasis last year) and the card-collecting Hockey Ultimate Team are the two areas where this is most apparent.
In the case of Be A Pro, you’d be hard-pressed to find many changes between this year’s mode and last year’s, making it about as close to a copy-paste job as a series can go. That isn’t to say there isn’t some pleasure to be had, but anybody who spent the most of their time with NHL 21 playing Be A Pro will be disappointed by how little has changed this time around.
The situation is similar in Hockey Ultimate Team, where you would anticipate a bit more effort from a card-collecting game that produces revenue for EA due to the potential of microtransactions. There are new synergies and the additional interest of controlling your team’s different X-Factors to keep under a cap, but there aren’t many new ways to play unless you include HUT Rush’s ever-evolving plethora of variants. There are also some vexing design problems that have plagued the mode for years, such as why do they have a page that displays your logo and jerseys, but you can’t alter them straight from that page?
There are no cross-generational issues.
Those who play NHL 22 on next-gen consoles will be faced with a difficult decision if they prefer the game’s online features. The fact that many people still don’t have next-gen consoles, along with the unfortunate reality that NHL games have a lower player population than other AAA sports games, has resulted in lengthy wait periods for games in certain modes (at least to this point). This is particularly true in the World of Chel, where finding a drop-in game with six people on both sides before the two-minute timer runs out and the game starts with a lot of CPU players filling up the squads seems like a small miracle.
There have already been rumblings among the community that some may play HUT on next gen but World of Chel on current gen, particularly if they have pals on current gen with whom they’ve previously played as partners. Obviously, feeling compelled to purchase the more costly version of the game to cycle between the current and next generation in order to feel like you’re getting the best experience is never a good thing.
We do want to draw attention to one problem that seems to be affecting users of next-gen consoles (or at least the PS5 from our testing), in which the frame rate drops and stutters. This seems to happen just when you change the game’s pace, so it’s not affecting “normal” online/offline settings or anything, but it’s still an annoyance. EA is aware of the problem and is currently investigating it.
Other than that, the transfer to a new engine has gone reasonably well, with some minor problems such as obsolete venue names or the Islanders’ new arena not being in the game at all. Because of the delays caused by Covid-19, it’s possible that’s why it didn’t make it into the game this year.
The NHL series had made some small strides on the rink in recent years, but it had been hampered by certain physics issues on the ice (among other things). EA has managed to build a game that celebrates some of the sport’s loose and sometimes dirty aspects while also cleaning up many of the instances of pucks passing through sticks and body parts by resolving many of those problems in NHL 22. This does not imply the AI is flawless or even where we would expect it to be, but it is the most significant improvement in ice quality in years.
More of the modes may need some love in the future, and online play would be great if cross-play was available, but the quality of the game on the ice has vastly improved. It’s become cliché to claim that sports games are taking “steps in the right direction,” but NHL 22 as a series did just that, and it may have already gotten us someplace useful.
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