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Game Review: Is NHL 20 fun to play?

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I have half an hour to play, at night. I don’t care about shooting mechanics or other doo-dads

EA Sports

For 30 years I’ve been playing video game hockey. Blades of Steel was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, and it taught me everything I needed to know about hockey: If you bump someone long enough they’ll fight you.

When I got my Super Nintendo, I also got $50 in Blockbuster Video gift certificates - this was well before ‘cards’ became a thing. I spent all of them renting NHL 96, instead of just buying a copy for some reason. I wouldn’t even become a hockey fan for another five years, but I’ve always had a hockey video game on hand to play. With my SNES I was running my own Franchise Mode in a spiral bound notebook, where I tracked awards winners and trades (I made those trades myself).

When I finally caught up with the rest of the world (kinda) and got a GameCube and NHL06, I was in heaven. I can decorate my GM’s office? Set hot dog prices? Make the Tampa Bay Lightning wear this jersey every single game? How great is this? Then NHL14 introduced “Live the Life” and the clouds parted and offline hockey reached it’s peak. We’ll talk about where you go from the peak in a bit.

Having spent just over a week with NHL20, I wanted to answer the question: Is it still fun to play?

Franchise Mode

This is my bread and butter here. When there’s a podcast I want to listen to, I’ll put it on then play Franchise Mode for something to do since I can’t sit still. Not a lot has changed from NHL18/19 - They’ve tweaked the Fog of War when it comes to scouting to make things a little harder if you’re using that option, and instead of morale checks you’ll get texts from players or coaches and have conversations with them.

EA Sports

Two new features both add and detract from the game however.

The new “Find a Trade” feature allows you to pick a player and have teams court you - or at least offer you something, anything, for a guy you don’t want anymore. If you want Cody Ceci off the Maple Leafs, he’s gone in the click of a button. No more searching for for offers that work. It’s a great time-saving feature.

However, one item that I thought would be a lot of fun turned into a nightmare. You can now decide how your NHL and AHL coaching staffs look, and what direction you want to go. Once you hire a coach, you can match your lines to their style with the line chemistry increasing or decreasing based on the players at each position.

It sounds great, but when you fire a coach, the nightmare begins. Every coach has a market size preference that they strictly adhere to, unless you overpay drastically, and there’s only one way to find out: Job interviews.

Yes, they have introduced a SimHR feature.

Each interview takes about few minutes, and lord help you if you don’t find a coach who matches your style AND market size quickly. You’ll need to spend 15-20 minutes clicking through robotic text conversations until you find someone who either doesn’t mind playing in the biggest market in the league, or is willing to coach an AHL team that is based on development and not winning a championship (what world do these coaches live in?)

Luckily, you can turn this feature off, which I recommend to keep Franchise Mode fun.

Rating: Fun! Whether you’re a nerd who’d rather manage a team than play a lot of games or someone who wants to play every game in a season while managing the hot dog prices. We all think we’re smarter than the actual GM’s and this is where we prove it.

Create a Team

Has not changed since NHL19.

Rating: Fun if that’s your thing, but give me all the NHL/AHL/CHL/European logos to play with or some new custom logos. If I want to make the IceDogs an NHL team, dammit, I should have that ability!

Be A Player

Hasn’t been worth playing since they took out “Live the Life”.

Rating: Not Fun, not worth your time.

HUT

I’ve never played this mode much before, but opening the packs is fun and finding a player from the Leafs or your favourite minor league/junior team is excellent, however one big flaw keeps me from bothering with it too much.

The single player challenges are interesting and helps keep things interesting, but its online play is where the bread and butter of the game lives - micro-transactions!

I can see the appeal of HUT, but it’s not for me. If you can just pay real world money to get good cards, why bother trying to succeed when you can’t/won’t do it that way?

Rating: Not fun unless you’re rich or you have your parents’ credit card info.

World of Chel

First of all, I hate the word ‘chel’. I hate it as much as I hate the Winnipeg Jets*, as much as a Yost food tweet, as much as the movie The Monuments Men. In other words I hate it a lot.

But, I’m not a young hip streamer, and that’s what this mode was made for, so excuse me as I complain about things in the background to your fun. Which you’ll hear me doing a lot because this mode has me hooked.

World of Chel is basically hockey Fortnite, and now I know why my kid spent a year and all of his allowance on that game (I should add he’s done with Fortnite and is back to Minecraft). Playing elimination tournaments and getting new customization options, with weekly challenges to get rare items pushed me into playing online for the first time ever.

So, you have four options to choose from: Ones, Threes, EASHL and Pro-Am.

Ones is a three player versus game on a half rink introduced last year, but now it’s a four game tournament called Ones Eliminator, where every level you win you get a bigger reward and move on until the fourth round for one final game. In two days I’ve made it past round two once, but man, it feels good. The quality of play is based on who you get in your game - some are one goal defense-fests, others have one jerk who hogs the puck, some are just mashing each other into the boards for three minutes, and some are goal-fests.

Threes is a 3-on-3 game on a smaller rink with virtually no rules. Tripping seems to be the only one that’s enforced regularly. Threes Eliminator follows the same four-round format as Ones, and offers more and more prizes as it goes along.

EASHL has you create or join an existing club team, and play games with others. Best done if you have plenty of people on your friends list who play NHL, otherwise you’re a bit out of luck. You play seasons and move up and down rankings as a club. It’s fine, but not as much of a drop in feature as Ones or Threes.

Pro-Am drops you on a team with two NHL players in a 3-on-3 game against another team of NHL stars. There are several levels of play from ‘Young Stars’ to ‘Legends’.

All of these modes are available to play as you wish, but each week World of Chel offers you challenges to win special gear for your WoC avatar. All four modes have specific tasks, such as ‘Complete two games as a defender’ or Score five goals’, and also has tasks for 3-on-3 or 6-on-6 drop in games as well.

The only big downsides I’ve come across with World of Chel, besides the name, are server quality and the need to join an EASHL club to complete all of the weekly tasks. The latter is just a matter of more people playing, which should happen now with the public launch of the game.

Hopefully the servers are fully online today, as before launch I would be kicked out of a Ones or Threes tournament in round two because it couldn’t find an opponent, or the game would freeze as players marked themselves ready to play, forcing me to hard restart my Xbox to get out of the menu. It would also take about ten minutes to get a drop-in game going, and Threes would also suffer from a lack of players and opponents.

Rating: Fun....if you can get into the games.


So, would I buy NHL 20? If I was solely looking for Franchise Mode or offline play, it’s not a huge upgrade over NHL 19 (or 17 or 18 for that matter). However, with the addition of World of Chel, if you’re up for some online play that’s rewarding and easy to jump in and go, I would buy this one, especially if you skipped 19 - I know the lack of roster updates would drive me a bit batty.

Overall, NHL 20 has some great new modes, reliable old stalwarts, and is a lot of fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some young people that need to get off my ice.