NHL 21 Preview: More To Love For Current-Gen Hockey

NHL 21 Preview: More To Love For Current-Gen Hockey

Hockey is back with EA’s NHL 21, which will bring some changes to gameplay and mechanics that players new and old will definitely be interested in.

NHL 21 is the latest iteration of EA’s long-standing series for hockey lovers. With the NHL playoffs in full swing, gamers will finally see the newest version of the franchise side-by-side with the current NHL season. While NHL 21 is the return of a favorite, there is a new mode, twists on some current ones, and some additions to current options that help set it apart from previous entries in the series. These and more will be a part of NHL 21, along with some surprises to keep NHL fans engaged.

Having NHL 21 come out at the same time as the playoffs is a bit different than the usual pattern, but EA took the time to take some of the highlights of the 2019-2020 season and put them into the game. Great examples of new gameplay features are where players can now pull of moves like “The Michigan” and Kucherov’s no-deke move.  These are just a taste of the new features that will come with NHL 21.

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The most noticeable change for fans – and a time-honored tradition for any EA sports title – will see Ovechkin grace the cover of NHL 21. This marks Ovechkin’s second appearance after being given the honor on the NHL 07 cover, too. The developers wanted to center the game around him and his individuality, and that is apparent in the many upgrades the game has versus NHL 20. In the Be A Player mode, players will have more interactivity with coaches, agents, and other players. One example given during the preview session was that players can choose to stay in their hotel to recover or go out with the team for some bonding during the course of a season. Players will be able to handle things like media scrums while even making requests for additional ice time to their coach, giving them a wider range of options for their season. There is more focus on building a personal brand, too, which the devs likened to Ovechkin and his player profile – and closely follows superstar modes for other series like FIFA and NBA 2K, both of which have highlighted brand-building for players in recent iterations.

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There are a few changes to the modes in NHL 21 beyond new looks at Be A Player. A new mode for HUT is coming in NHL 21 that will be called HUT Rush. In HUT Rush players will be able to play quick HUT style games using players in a draft-style format. Playing games in HUT Rush allows players to gain points for creativity on the ice that goes towards getting packs and other rewards to help with players’ regular HUT teams. As for the World of Chel, there will be seasons that are 6-8 weeks in length. Winners of each season, where ranked leaderboards will be available for ones, threes, drop-in, and clubs, will get banners they can add to their custom arena. More rewards are going to be available based on player rank for cosmetics. Players will be able to see the ranks of each player they face off against as well, and players can have different ranks for all the different formats.

For NHL 21 gameplay, the goalie controls have gone through some new changes where they’re more intuitive with some extra animations to make the position more fluid. Player controls now come with some subtle moves like quick chips off the boards, slip checks, and dekes from a standing position. These new features give a lot more mobility for plays along the blue line for power plays or zone entries, which will appeal to competitive players or couch coaches. The AI in NHL 21 has gotten an upgrade too, with teammate behaviors being more predictable and plays executed more easily as a result. During gameplay, James Cybulski is back as the play-by-play commentator but an extra in this year’s game is if players have a line that is doing well, commentary will give that line a nickname and stick with it for the season, adding a more unique feel to each player’s carefully-built team.

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NHL 20 Screenshot Vancouver Canucks

With all the new features awaiting players in NHL 21, players should expect some changes geared towards what fans wanted, too. One change is the ability to have a practice mode to give players access to trying out moves, plays, and more before doing anything online. The ability to customize players and loadouts will be available in a free skate mode to try out different styles to let players feel more comfortable with the features being added this year prior to taking them online. The NHL 21 team also made a point that with all the extras, fans come first, with hockey being available for everyone. The NHL 21 team upped the ante on behavior that could be banned with their abuse reporting so everyone could play safely, which will make the online experience more palatable for everyone.

It’s a fair number of changes to an already established formula in NHL 21, but that kind of forward thinking is exactly what the series needs to stay fresh. While it remains to be seen if all of the new customization and in-game mechanical options add more depth to the series, NHL 21, at least at first glance, appears to be a great shot at improving an already well-loved -albeit more niche than many competitors – sports simulation experience.

More: NHL 20 Review: Smooth As Ice

NHL 21 will be available in October 2020 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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