The game of field hockey is always changing. And in recent years, we’ve seen speed, skill and creativity increase as more and more bodybuilding takes the back seat. As more experienced players have had to adapt, so have the EA NHL series. Two years ago, EA Vancouver developed a skating and physics engine that added a burst of elegance, responsiveness and satisfying impact to showcase it better. This year, offers many options to highlight their opponents, trying to match the talented players in charge of the game today. It is a step this series should take, but it comes with its own set of pitfalls, never capturing the kindness and confidence you are trying to emulate.
The overall gameplay from last year remains unchanged. Don’t expect basic variations, but the flow of new skills gives you new options in the snow. My favorite is the glide deck, where you can put the puck in front of you and slide down the guard when you come up with the boards. I also like to move around on the net and reserve on the board. You can also do a flip deke to create space with tricky opponents. It has been a pleasure to see players use this to improve their game in the snow and I am grateful that they can come up with a great strategy to get close to the defenders.
However, as someone who played a simple field hockey game, the new star-inspired decks were not important to me. For example, you can now do “The Michigan,” a lacrosse-style move where you pick up the park behind the net and throw it to an unexpected goalie. Luckily for me, however, the timing is right, I can’t imagine having the time and opportunity to use it successfully in a real game. The “no-move deke” made after Nikita Kucherov is easy to complete, but it is too dangerous that only the most advanced players know it well.
Back to basics, as last year, the tests are uneven. Sometimes players are put under a lot of pressure, allowing them to reach the heavy and meaningless controls. It still amazes me that I can take down opponents with young players like Patrick Kane and sometimes a great striker like Ryan Getzlaf can be easily pushed to the post. Kick trials also have a big impact on the NHL 21. In single player and online games, the puck felt like it was constantly changing hands because of this. This happens in the real field hockey game, but here you feel a lot of power; if you don’t know them well enough to defend yourself, you don’t have much chance of winning, let alone having fun. Table battles still need to be improved, but at least AI is better at knowing when to send someone to help. I still hate how this feature of real field hockey is used in the series, because I feel that even if I’m in good shape and cook the puck successfully, I still lose more than I win.
The most developed mode is Be A Pro, where you create your own player, collaborate with colleagues and coaches, and try to make a name for yourself in the NHL. This update is outdated, but still difficult to complete. It seems low-budget, with boring still images and limited voice lines, but EA Vancouver cures it with the help of broadcasters James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro, who comment on your progress and great moments. They keep the mode from feeling too stagnant, because all your interactions with management and players are stagnant and lonely.