Last season, while watching NHL hockey, I heard the term “edges” used more than ever before. Having good edges means making quick cuts that often drastically change the direction you’re going in an instant, quickly shifting momentum. In previous installments of the EA Sports NHL franchise, edges weren’t a factor and momentum was hard to shift, but that appears to be a thing of the past. During EA Play I was treated to hands-on time with NHL 19 that included some NHL Ones action against developers, and the RPM Tech that is being used to redefine movement could end up being the biggest core change the NHL series has seen in years.
NHL Ones and RPM Tech
My entire time playing NHL 19 was in the NHL Ones game mode, new to the franchise this year. Players can access NHL Ones through the World of CHEL progression hub that also includes EA Sports Hockey League, NHL Threes Drop In, and Pro-Am.
My NHL 18 review spoke about how much I enjoyed NHL Threes, and after a brief time with NHL Ones I think I might enjoy it even more than last year’s new mode. The 1v1v1 format is fresh, with all three players shooting on the same goaltender, and playing on various outdoor rinks gave it that authentic pond hockey feel. There are no rules, so mash your friend’s face into the boards at will and steal the puck away. If you do score, don’t bother taking time to gloat or celebrate, because the puck is in play immediately and the action is back on.
As fun as the concept of NHL Ones is, the biggest takeaway for me was the RPM Tech that is coming with NHL 19. EA says that it enables explosive-edge skating, better acceleration, and more responsiveness. I’m going to reserve final judgement for my review, but both myself and my colleague felt the difference in movement over previous iterations of the NHL franchise. It will take some time to fully dissect the impact this will have on gameplay, but I left the hands-on session with optimism.
Celebrating Legends and Expression
It’s clear that the NHL series has been targeting a younger audience recently, and that makes sense. The game is younger and faster than it’s ever been, but with NHL 19 there looks to be a balance between youthful expression and paying tribute to yesterday’s stars.
NHL 19 will include Legends, featuring over 200 of hockey’s greatest players from all eras. Of course, you’ll find Wayne on that list, and likely a few other automatics, but so far Gretzky is the only one confirmed. These Legends can compete as Hero Teams, combining the best players from all eras with today’s stars in the ultimate fantasy matchups. Ever wonder what an elite shooter like Auston Matthews could do if Gretzky was dishing him the puck? Now you can find out in both single player and multiplayer modes.
Don’t think that NHL 19 will be all about the past, though. Youthful expression is very much a focus with this year’s game. While showcasing the World of CHEL, it was revealed that NHL 19 will feature over 900 customization options, and these were on display during my hands-on time in NHL Ones. Expect to add hoodies, jackets, parkas, and more to your created character. I was stuck in a hoodie that I wouldn’t be caught dead in, but luckily there are 899 more options for me to browse through. There are even new player classes and traits to use that will have an impact on your play style, allowing for the most unique looking and feeling created characters the series has ever featured. I didn’t get a chance to see the full list of modes that the customizations will apply to, but I believe it’s the collection of modes found in the World of CHEL hub.
I love to tell people about how my first taste of video game hockey was NHL 93, where I scored my first goal with a Jamie Macoun point shot. Clearly the game has evolved since then and will continue to do so in the years to come, and it’s important that the NHL franchise keeps pace. While I love seeing new modes and new ways to express yourself, it’s the core gameplay that I care about the most. With the RPM Tech in NHL 19, EA Canada is clearly trying to push the envelope in the regard, and I can’t wait to try it out when NHL 19 releases later this year. Here’s to hoping I can find a hoodie to wear that’s befitting of an old-timer like myself.