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NHL 18: A review from a casual gamer

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If you have limited time to play, should you try NHL18?

[Note: Welcome to the third installment of ‘el-sellout’. Where seldo gets free stuff and writes about it. Wait until Deadspin finds out SB Nation writers can be bribed!]

Hello gamers and other people who thought they were going to get a professional review of the latest NHL game from EA Sports. My name is elseldo and I’m a Dad.

Back in my child-free years, I’d buy video games willy nilly because when I wasn’t at work, I had all the free time in the world. I would plow through games like a hot knife through butter but now...now I can grab an hour or so a night before bed. Ugh, these kids just want to spend time with me, and I just want to try and make the Maple Leafs win 5 cups in a row.

Okay, so is NHL 18 good for a casual to moderate game player like myself? It has strong points and has some downsides, so let’s take a look at each mode.

Disclaimer right off the bat: Up until last week I was playing NHL Legacy on my Xbox 360, and the only reason I bought that was because the optical drive in my 360 died and wouldn’t read NHL 13 anymore. So all of my observations come from playing that version, and not NHL 17. Things that I think are shiny and new may just be rehashed from there. Hey, we can’t all be fancy pants people and buy new things every year.

Game play

Starting with how the game handles is the obvious way to go. With the skill stick still being used, I haven’t found any huge difference in how to play the game. Adjusting the sliders until you get what you want is an option, and I found the skaters a little too slow for my liking. There’s an option for a speed boost but that isn’t anything too dramatic.

One really cool option that I like and my kid loves, are the suggestions that pop up over your character. He loves to use it for shooting especially. The net goes colour coded where blue is open and white is covered, and a target appears where you’re aiming. We’ve gotten a lot better at manual aiming with the help of this feature. Faceoffs are a lot easier in this game as well, which for me is amazing as I never won a faceoff in any mode other than super easy before.

If you’ve played an NHL game in the past five years you know the controls. Nothing’s really changed. I haven’t found any weird glitches or bugs yet, and game play has been really smooth and I have no complaints.

Interface

I’m playing on the Xbox One (gamer tag used for this is elseldo ppp if you wish to beat me online). I assume the interface is the same for everyone, but I thought I’d give that disclaimer. You have a main page where you can pin your three favourite playing options: Quick play, Threes, Franchise mode, etc... Once in a mode everything is pretty clean and straightforward to get to.

Downsides:

You can’t easily flip through standings, points, waivers, etc. in season/franchise mode anymore, everything is a couple menus deep. It’s also slower to load things like stats, lines, etc. so you have to be careful of how quickly you press buttons. I’ve simmed games I didn’t mean to because I tapped ‘A’ too fast.

Expansion options

This is one of the modes that I’ve been really excited about. I’m a nerd and franchise mode is the way I play the game the most, simming most of the games just to get to contract negotiations and the trade deadline.

Now, you have the option to do the regular franchise mode (more on that below), start at the Vegas expansion draft in the 31 team expansion mode, or expand to 32 teams with a custom made team.

In 31 team expansion you pick any NHL team, and if you pick the Golden Knights you start by choosing from the other teams’ exposed lists. It’s a neat exercise and really points out how much backstage maneuvering happened because you can make a pretty good VGK team.

If you don’t choose the Knights, you have the option of creating your own protected list or using a default. I made my own for the Maple Leafs - exposed Martin, protected Leipsic - and lost Leo Komarov in the expansion draft.

After the expansion draft you move on to the NHL draft and continue on from there.

My favourite expansion is 32 team expansion mode where you custom design an NHL team AND you have the option to custom design the AHL affiliate as well (I’ll go deep into that under ‘Create a team’). The 32nd team gets short changed as they have to pick after the Knights, when a lot of the best players are gone. However my created teams have generally done much better than the Knights.

Again, afterwards you play franchise mode as normal.

Downside: Your 32nd expansion team is forced into the Central division.

This was fixed in an update a couple days ago, and a ‘Division re-alignment’ screen was added.

Franchise Mode

My favourite option here gets into a deep dive once again. I’ve missed the options you were given in some of the older franchise modes where you controlled everything about the team, from hot dog prices, seasons tickets, etc..

Fan happiness comes back to the game and adds another level of difficulty to keeping your owner happy, aside from just winning games.

Some may find it annoying and tedious, but again, I’m a nerd and have spent more time working out pricing in this mode than playing regular season games.

My favourite part of this new franchise mode is dropping the phones from everything. On draft day you get a new menu, listing picks that gives you the chance to trade in between picks, rather than between rounds. It’s great.

Downsides: The interface loading is a bit slow, as mentioned above but it has affected me more in franchise mode than anywhere else.

Create a Team

Man, this can take a really long time. You manually type your team name now, which is excellent because you can bring back the Whalers and Nordiques if you wish and not have to use filler names.

There’s a lot to do in here, you can design the arena as well if you want to — stair colours, railing, fire, smoke, lightning effects. This is the deepest create a team I’ve ever seen. There are secondary and tertiary logos to make and colour and even alternate jerseys to design. You can get lost in here for an hour before you even play a game.

Downside: You can’t colour the gloves anymore, which has lead me to a few teams having white gloves. First thing you should do after setting your team colours is to check the gloves. It’s silly, but I hate white gloves.

Also, I can’t pick the old Ducks logo, I wanted to put them back in Maroon and Teal and now I can't and it’s garbage,

Also, the mascots are all terrifying.

Be A Player

Be a player is back to basics from ‘Live the Life’. Play your game, be your best, and get drafted. Role goes up and down with team depending on how well you play.

You can make the periods short again so you’re not playing a full game if you don’t have the time to play 82 60 minute games.

Downsides: I miss “Live the Life” for nothing but the post game questions - which did get repetitive - but it added a bit more to the game.

NHL Threes

If I had to choose whether to upgrade or not, this mode would have swung it to “buy” for me. 3-on-3 nonsense hockey made for the most laughs and fun that I had with the kids while playing, and the most fights I’ll have with my brothers playing on game nights.

The game play is crazy, and I lose track of things quickly. If you have kids or will be playing with them, going for two 3-on-3 teams of mascots is the best thing we’ve ever seen.

The circuit mode is really long, but you can unlock more jerseys, logos, players, and mascots this way and offers you co-op modes on and offline.

Downside: I’m easily confused and lose track of who I’m playing as really fast, especially when all 6 players are at the net. I know, I know.

Is anything else big missing?

EA if you’re reading this, I still have my copy of NHL 06 for the GameCube and one thing it has that you never brought back was the option to pick from EVERY JERSEY EVER. I want to make the Ducks wear the ‘Wild Wing’ jersey! I want to see the Lightning ‘Storm’ jersey! I want a ‘Mooterus’ in Dallas!

Seriously, if the only change in NHL 19 is that we can pick from 97 different Canadiens jerseys that are all slightly different from each other, I’ll pre-order the super dooper edition or whatever it’s called next year.

So, to buy or not to buy?

If you’re just getting caught up on consoles, buy it right away. I just got an xbox one and this has taken over my life for the past week.

Should you upgrade from NHL 17 though? Well, that’s a personal choice for you. I always hated being behind on changes to the league: playoff format, new teams, etc.. so I’d upgrade to 18 to get the expansion mode.

If you’re not big at upgrading every time then I would wait a bit for some used copies to pop up. To me this version if well worth upgrading for, no matter what version you have right now.

Hey, where’s the review of online play?

Well, I don’t want to pay $70 a year to play online (I’m unemployed and cheap), so if you want to see about EASHL and HUT then you can check out the review at Stanley Cup of Chowder or IGN.