NHL 19 review: Top corner, five hole, off the post and in

EA Sports
EA Sports /

By focusing on a revamped, community-oriented online experience, NHL 19 continues to build momentum as one of the premier EA Sports experiences.

Title: NHL 19
Developer: EA Vancouver
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: September 14, 2018

Hockey is one of the more rapidly evolving pro sports in North America when it comes to developing its metagame. You can offer four of a starting five max contracts in the NBA in order to skate to, at least, the Conference Finals. In baseball, you can tank a season, trade key parts to build up a farm and make a run (if you’re competent). In football, you can build a team around a great quarterback if you have a strong system.

Nobody has figured out the meta. Last year, an expansion team almost beat 30 other teams en route to the Stanley Cup in its first year but instead fell to Washington, who won for the first time in over 30 years. As I’m writing this review, the Sharks stole the best defenseman in the game from the Senators for spare parts and draft picks.

One thing remains a constant for fans league-wide; the love of the game. NHL 19 taps into the heart of the hardcore hockey fan by honing in on all aspects of how people play hockey. From making up one-on-one-on-one games, adding drop-in modes and dynamic offline and online modes with the World of CHEL, this game speaks to the creative people ready to showcase their skills.

NHL 19 CHEL Docks
EA Sports /

EA Sports has been trying to figure out what the fans want out of their hockey franchise for what seems like a console generation. Whereas previous titles feel like relics of the past, NHL 19’s World of CHEL is a giant leap towards the communal approach of sports multiplayer games. The hub serves as an online gathering of the fans free to express themselves through casual and competitive multiplayer modes.

Once you create a character through a large number of feature options, you can play in one of four modes to unlock progression traits, bonus loadout slots, and bags of hockey gear. Playing in NHL Threes and EASHL (both are drop-in enabled), as well as brand new modes like NHL Ones and the offline-oriented Pro-Am mode (drop in on pick-up CPU hockey games with NHL pros).

…World of CHEL allows NHL 19 for its gameplay to do the talking.

The three of those non-EASHL modes originate now in the great outdoors, as EA Vancouver modeled a series of rink arenas for the World of CHEL similar to what you can see in the coldest of mountainous regions of British Columbian winter. Similar to street games seen in basketball titles, this relaxed arctic setting bring a simpler, familiar view of hockey that millions of Canadians and Americans alike are familiar with.

By making NHL 19’s newest online focus on these settings, alongside local fans cheering on, arcade-style rules that allow more open ice hits and dirty dangles, World of CHEL allows NHL 19 for its gameplay to do the talking. The reward feedback loop is brilliant, as well, focusing on providing bonus traits with pros and cons to certain stats, randomized cosmetics in hockey bags and the ability to tailor one of 15 skater and goalie loadouts to your preferences.

NHL 19 CHEL player
EA Sports /

The new Pro-Am effectively serves as a 3v3 challenge mode against AI, producing many increasingly difficult quick hockey games against AI playing as NHL players and past legends. Here is where having a multitude of skater/goalie profiles bears fruit, as you can pick and choose which parts of your hockey team matchups you want to swap in with. It’s the quickest way to test your new traits, earn XP and progress to unlock more custom gear and loadout profile slots in the World of CHEL.

NHL Ones is the most creative of new gameplay modes due to the fact you need to score against two other online players within two minutes while each wants to score on a CPU goalie themselves. Playing in a half-rink similar to playing 21 in street ball, it’s up to you to grab a loose puck, deke between defenders, score, rinse and repeat.

NHL 19’s Ones mode proves that there are plenty of exciting new ways to experience hockey in video games…

It becomes a game of chess hockey, requiring you to think and play two steps ahead and think of what you need to do before getting the puck while having the puck and chasing it afterward. EA Sports learned last year that less is more, and NHL 19’s Ones mode proves that there are plenty of exciting new ways to experience hockey in video games, including at the purest of skill levels.

NHL Ones is the ultimate single-player online experience, and as you get better and progress, you earn rewards, play on bigger stages and compete in daily leaderboards, earning more unlocks. The best part of the World of CHEL; absolutely none of it is tarnished by microtransactions. In a video game medium where the worst abusers are putting pay-to-win incentives in single-player games, building a hub where you look more stylish only by investing more game time is a sight for sore eyes.

NHL 19 CHEL rinks
EA Sports /

The World of CHEL, as a hub, is marvelous in its freedom for users to look and play as silly, serious or dynamic as possible. Want to suit up like Don Cherry on Christmas morning and snipe top celly from the point? That’s an option. Want to make a punishing enforcer defenseman that will knock out most of a player’s energy bar, dressed all in black? That’s an option, with unlocks and time.

My only complaints with this online hub, however, is in its structure. NHL 19’s popular online modes are accessible by selecting it on the main menu, but progressing through each stage becomes a slog of loading screen after loading screen.

light. Related Story. Madden NFL 19: Our 2018 NFL season simulation

One loading screen to pick the hub, another to play, another to select the game mode, another to pick your loadout, another to select your preferred position, another to ready up; another to search for players after already readying up; it doubles the length of an arduous process, resulting in a frustrating user experience at the worst of times.

Plus, Ones is online-only, and you can’t play against your friends due to the leaderboard reward system, which is very disappointing for party play. Also, give me those BC maps in practice mode!

NHL 19 Connor McDavid skate
EA Sports /

NHL 19 is much more than its online multiplayer modes, though, as its basic gameplay modes have been provided tinkering here and there. Franchise mode now adds more depth for the most hardcore of armchair hockey GMs, as a new Fog of War toggle allows for more difficulty in scouting prospects. You can also start with 31 teams or expand to an even 32.

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  • No matter how you play this game, the core mechanics of skating, shooting, dekes, hitting and everything to do with hockey has been dramatically improved with the new real player motion technology. Part and parcel with EA Sports advancements across their lineup, players skate like actual human beings now! It’s a huge improvement over the gameplay seen last year across the board.

    If you slow down replays, you can see players brace for hits they see coming, ragdoll on huge blind hits, use different parts of their body for different hip checks and look downright goofy when small players (rarely) take out the Brent Burns’ of the hockey world. Skaters act and react as naturally as possible, with key differences in animations from turning on a dime or slowly turning around with a stick on the ice across the blue line.

    EA Sports has honed their craft in NHL 19 with their efforts to make skaters not feel like sludge, revitalize stick checks after a poor beta showing, and to keep the pace of play fast and thrilling. The result is perhaps the most authentic gameplay feel in years.

    NHL 19 Gretzky
    EA Sports /

    The expansion of NHL legends added to the game is a double-edged sword. Though it’s great to see Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Mats Sundin and Tim Horton in Franchise and Hockey Ultimate Team modes, NHL 19 wouldn’t be complete without some level of microtransaction shenanigans.

    Early adopters of NHL 19 at those base game plus editions get a heap of extra HUT rewards, including packs that provide some of the best players of all time on loan and guaranteed greats to start. It’s not uncommon in HUT to see Wayne Gretzky, Trevor Lindon, Luc Robitaille, and Tim Horton line up in opposition, turning a fun mode of constant upwards progression into a pay-to-win model for those who pay $20 or $40 extra at launch.

    If you’re a standard user, it has to become an exhausting time just to keep afloat without diving into a myriad of paid microtransaction options. It’s not an uncommon issue among EA Sports’ Ultimate Team modes, but the increased expansion of alumni players’ involvement in the game feels cheapened by its obvious angle towards driving mini-buys.

    Next. Madden NFL 19 review: Rumblin’, Bumblin’, Stumblin’. dark

    It shouldn’t completely sour someone interested in NHL 19, as there are countless little improvements throughout all modes that make this entry a worthwhile (like a new traits progression system in Be a Pro). For the first time in a while, it seems like the franchise is headed towards the right direction, showing marked year-over-year improvement.

    EA Vancouver. . NHL 19. 8.5. By revamping its multiplayer efforts and focusing it in a hub that promotes creative expression (both cosmetically and through gameplay preferences), NHL 19 marks the best representation of simulation hockey video games this generation. It still stumbles a bit with its user experiences, and HUT microtransaction efforts mitigate the non-paid World of CHEL gameplay advances, but technological advancements serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats.

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.