NHL 21 Review
The last time I really loved a hockey game, Patrick Roy was tending the net for the Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets — my de facto hometown team — was in its infancy, led by a guy with the last name of Tugnutt.
Like many gamers my age (mid-30s), NHL ’94 will forever hold a special place in my heart. My go-to team back then, with Jaromir Jagr my favorite player. Add in the Mighty Ducks movie franchise, and 10-year-old Seth saw himself as a future star on the ice. (The only problem being that I couldn’t skate. Though I did have a stint on a winless broomball team in college.)
Fast forward many years. My hockey knowledge can still basically be covered by the exploits of Gordon Bombay, but I’ve always enjoyed going to games in-person, and the HDTV era has made it a far easier game to follow on TV.
All of that to say — this year, I decided to jump in with EA Sports’ NHL 21. The work the team has done in the Be a Pro and Franchise modes made me interested, while the upcoming NHL 94-style retro mode made me push the preorder button. And, let me tell you, I am absolutely LOVING the game.
I can’t make any judgments about how well it represents the game of hockey, or the NHL experience. The last EA Sports hockey game I played at all was on the PS3, so I don’t know if this year is merely an evolution of past games. But, as a lapsed fan, NHL 21 is a delight and one of the freshest sports gaming experiences I’ve had in years.
I’ve primarily experienced the game in 3 areas, though I still want to dive into franchise, CHEL and the core HUT experience.
NHL 21 does a great job onboarding new players with its tutorials. As an old-school player, I was a bit nervous about the analog stick controls — rather than the face buttons — but the tutorials were great at getting me comfortable with the stick. In-game prompts also help by getting players to try different moves to gain experience.
I also love how customizable the game is, from in-game sliders, difficulty, controls and more, to even customizing the main menu to your most-used modes. As a noob, I put Franchise, Be a Pro and HUT Rush on the front page, and it’s really each to swap things out if needed.
Wanting to dive right into some on-ice action, I fired up the HUT Rush mode. It’s a pick-up-and play mode that gets players to try different HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) cards, meet certain objectives and ultimately stockpile resources for the core HUT experience, which I have yet to try.
HUT Rush tosses you right into the action after selecting a team of 3-to-5 players and a goalie. You choose to play either the computer or against human opponents in short games, ranging from “first to 3 goals” to short, timed experiences. The more successful and stylish you are, the more points you rack up. The points add up to unlock Ultimate Team currency and packs, with new “seasons” resetting each week.
The other core mode I’m playing is Be A Pro, which has been touched up this year. I started my career in the Canadian Hockey League as a top prospect Center with a mullet. After dropping game 1, my Rouyn-Noranda Huskies ran the table and took the championship behind 5 goals and 4 assists by the young rookie. Drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Kings, I was excited to get into the regular season.
Be A Pro is one of my favorite single-player career modes, full-stop. The mode does a great job of showing where the created character fits within the scope of the league, through constant radio chatter, commentary updates and in-game highlights. I love the customization in the mode, plus the way the mode actually provides an outlet for player salaries. So far, I’ve bought an exercise bike and a home gym.
The goal for the rookie season is clear: Chase the Calder Cup (yes, I had to look up what that was), and lead your team to the Stanley Cup (no, I didn’t have to look that one up). So far, my Kings are 12-2-1 behind their Rookie star’s 11 goals and 8 assists.
Like all of the major sports games now, NHL 21 is brimming with modes. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into franchise mode — either as the 32nd team or the Blue Jackets — and also dipping my toes further into HUT. But, for now, this year’s hockey game is an easy recommend, especially if you’ve been away from the franchise for a few years.
NHL 21 Review written by GamesReviews Contributor Seth Roy.