*NOTE: This is a beta and we are listing what we hope is fixed for the final release. This is by no means a final assesment of the game. We will have the review when it releases later this year!*
What was offered was a quick glimpse of the extremely in-depth customization right from the get go. You are tasked with creating a player and you can fine tune pretty much every aspect of this player. You want his socks in or out of the skate? What brand of stick do you want? Almost everything is covered making your player pretty unique to you.
This depth then leads into EASHL where you can create a team, and of course an arena. The customization options are limited for the beta, but they allow you to glimpse into the possibilities from the final game. You could easily spend a few hours just looking through the options here, and it’s neat.
Basically the entire beta was all online modes and no single player modes, which is both good and bad.
The Bad, online connections are still a disaster.
The first thing I wanted to try out was, of course, the new skating features they have been hyping for some time. According to the developers there is a level of finesse when skating around the ice now, with more in-depth zone coverage. The bad news is there is no real way to test this online because jittery online connections make the game sporadic with flaws all over. The AI can’t really compute what you are doing in finesse moments making a frustrating experience. There are plenty of times when your player will skate right over the puck and not gain possession, or passes that deflect off them. Other times when you dump the puck in, your team will still quickly bolt out of the zone instead of giving chase. This makes it hard for when someone is lagging and utilizing the new tricks, while you can’t even keep possession due to lag compensation.
The Good, When it works it makes you hate NHL 16.
When NHL 17 functions right you can see the mechanics shine through so beautifully. There is a level of finesse truly put into the game with more direct precision than NHL 16, making quick stops and turns all the more fun. In NHL 16 I could never accomplish squeezing through two defenders, but in NHL 17 I did it! It was an amazing goal deking through the two defenders, then bolting to the side pulling the goalie out of position, and scoring a high corner shot. This makes EASHL enjoyable too as you play a specific position and needs this level of control.
There are a lot of players that don’t see the new mechanics and try to play like NHL 16 though. This leads to a lot of off sides when playing with others on the same team, or a lot of missed hits.
The good, EASHL is awesome.
Speaking of EASHL (EA Sports Hockey League) this is a wonderful tool that is so fun to use. When playing on a team you can specify your particular position. For example, if you choose to be a forward, the game will throw you on a team that needs forwards. From there you can specify what type of forward you want to be, for example a two-way forward, sniper, or power forward. From there the game will modify the character’s statistics to suit that play style. Similar to the core game if you are a forward, then your defensive skills might take a dip meaning you can’t poke check as well, or struggle lifting sticks which end up being hooking penalties. This really pushes you into a role and you need to learn it, but many players choose not to. In the few games I’ve played almost everyone picks “sniper” and then they all chase the puck like monkey. Meanwhile I was trying to play zone coverage for when they got schooled, allowing me to have break away plays and early zone exits. If the other players were playing as a team they would be able to pass up the ice to me. Other players would try the same, then skate all the way over, again leading to off-sides calls because they are not playing the game like an actual position. If you can find people that will play their positions properly, the mode is extremely fun to get into.
The bad, everyone wants to score.
The bad part is finding that team that plays together well. Everyone wants to be a forward, and everyone wants to be a scoring forward. Rarely do players fall into position, get into passing lines, or protect the front of the net. It gets frustrating when just one person is out of position all the time, but when the whole team is doing it you feel just as useless as them. This by no means is the games fault, but it’s just something to expect when playing with strangers online.
The Good, defense is worth playing.
There is a clear dynamic between forwards and defenders. Defenders are a lot more precise when it comes to sticking in lanes, lifting sticks, and poke checking. They are a lot less likely to get a penalty when doing any of these actions making them extremely valuable. Their positioning within your own zone is a lot more dynamic than they are when they race into the offensive zone. “Dancing the blue line” is also fun to do with them.
The Bad, Skill level restarts all over again.
The thing I truly hate about NHL online is the fact I suck at it. I play the normal game on the hardest difficulty and that hardly gives me a problem until the game handicaps me after so many wins. Yet I jump online and I can’t compete with the lag issues, or exploits. Every player that has spent time in the past few games knows how to exploit teams the right way. They know how to pull AI skaters out of position. They know what they can get away with when you try to defend them. It leads to the same play over, and over, until they accomplish their task. (Remember old NHL games when people would just skate behind the net, then around, and score EVERY time? Same concept, different exploits.) I played several games and you can tell who these people are because they try the same plays. NHL 17 is no different. Either you jump in early and try to learn with people of similar skill level, with random experts here or there. Or you wait, and get stuck playing people better than you all the time. There isn’t an ability to learn while online.
Overall I wasn’t too excited for the beta because I truly don’t play NHL online. I prefer single player. I prefer creating franchises and having offline experiences when it comes to this series. That being said I did find enjoyment in EASHL and will be playing that when the final game releases. Everything else I will still poke with a stick here and there, but otherwise ignore. The few mechanics we got a taste of truly change the game dynamics, but without tasting the single player aspects of the game it is impossible to judge it.