In my initial look at EA Sports NHL 20, I said that the small differences to the gameplay made a major difference. After more time, I can say that it’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing the NHL series in a long time.
The broadcast crew of James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro works and it’s clear they developed some chemistry. Cybulski may be a little too excited at times but that’s when I remember I’m playing a video game. It’s supposed to be fun. If I wanted calm announcers I’d watch a game on TV. This makes you feel what you’re doing in the game matters.
Ferraro is just as good as he is in real life. The first few times he talked I almost rolled my eyes because I was so used to his iffy commentary as the third man in the booth. But what he says actually works with what is going on in the game.
I clipped a goal from my Seattle Metropolitans expansion franchise which really showcases a lot of the improvements. From the backhand goal, to the really cool and exciting replay angles, to some of the Cybulski and Ferraro commentary.
This obviously wasn’t Kuraly’s first NHL goal as the display says but what I think happened is it saw it was the first goal in franchise history and wanted the animations of the puck being kept. Later in the game, a cut scene showed Kuraly on the bench with “First goal in Franchise history” as a banner.
What I also like about the clip above is the crowd reacting to the close hit early on. It just feels authentic.
The changes to shooting also change the way you play. I find myself looking for open players at the circles and slot where before those players wouldn’t be as dangerous.
Similarly, when defending, I always am looking for opposing players who are unmarked because otherwise a one-timer will find the net more often than not.
I haven’t had the chance to go years ahead in franchise mode, but I did make sure to simulate a few seasons. The good news is that I didn’t notice any glaring issues. The expansion draft went smoothly. There were some good players available (probably the best ones were Brent Burns and Samuel Girard) but when I used CapFriendly’s expansion draft tool I could see the thought process in which players were protected.
In Burns’ case, I can see why San Jose saw a 34 year old signed for seven seasons to be expendable when you have some other guys on that blue line.
You can’t make trades to secure certain players, so I felt it was realistic to get some quality players. You also have to remember that scouting is a major part of the game and cap management is also important. What I may see as an 80 overall player the team protecting may see worse. Coaching is a new part of the game as well and scheme fits matter as well.
In my first expansion season, I finished with 87 points (all simulated) which was just out of the playoffs. I feel that’s realistic for an expansion team, Vegas not withstanding. I also swayed young in my roster, focusing on players 25 or younger. As an example, my goaltending tandem was Eric Comrie and Charlie Lindgren.
The trade model, especially the find trade feature, is really good. When I ran a test franchise as Montreal, I had to add a second-round pick to Karl Alzner to get any trade offers, and even then I was only offered a low draft pick. But that’s realistic. Teams will offer you picks with overpaid players to entice you to make a trade. Again, realistic.
There’s a new feature where blockbuster trades give you an alert and it was nice to see that all of the trades just seemed to work. You had contending teams loading up, rebuilding teams collecting picks and while there were a bit more trades than in real life, I felt the trades were perfectly justified.
The contract model has also been reworked. Players with the same overall won’t just default to the same demands. Anthony Cirelli, who was my top line centre, asked for $2 million more and more term than fellow RFA Nikolay Goldobin who had a similar overall and potential, but was between the AHL and NHL playing in the bottom six and struggled to put up points.
I can honestly see myself playing this game more than I have an NHL series game in the past. With coaching and scouting changes every time you fire up franchise mode, it’s a completely new experience and the replay value is sky high. It’s no longer simply about collecting high overalls.
It’s not perfect, but it’s fun. And after all, that’s the whole point.