EASHL is a peculiar animal. For the overwhelming majority of gamers, it means absolutely nothing. But for those who play, and care, about EASHL, it matters. A lot. The EA Sports Hockey League is the NHL series’ online mode where you and your friends create your own team and play together against other player created teams to attempt to score goals, win games, and advance in online divisions. It can be an intense, competitive mode and it means so much to the people who play it annually, that when it was inexplicably left out of NHL 15, the hashtag “#eashl” actually trended on Twitter due to protesting fans. As I said……..it matters to people. Anyway, if you’re reading this then you most likely already know what EASHL is. Using EA Access, I’ve been playing for the past few days on the Xbox One and here are my thoughts so far.
The first thing you notice is that the menus and UI are much cleaner than 16. They are neatly organized, easy to read, and seem at least slightly faster (though, I still wish we could have an NHL game where the menus were actually snappy). Creating your player and team are largely the same though there have been small additions in areas like the number of play by play names you can assign which are welcome. In game, the intermission screens have detailed feedback on how you’ve been performing which then factors into the XP you earn post-match. EA Canada has also just added a new post game screen that breaks down the players on each team with all relevant statistics along with a new percentage rating for offense, defense, and team play. They aren’t large changes, but they create a more intimate experience than NHL 16 especially for people who enjoy statistics. Last but certainly not least, a Network Performance option has finally been added to show you and your opponents connections in detail. I’m happy to report that in nearly 20 games so far, we haven’t seen any noticeable lag outside of a couple of minor hiccups.
One of the largest features in 17 is the ability to once again customize your team’s logos, jerseys, and equipment while for the first time ever, you can now also customize your home rink. As someone who loves to spend a lot of time creating a fully customized look for me and my friends, I’ve been having a lot of fun already and it reminded me how much I’ve missed it since NHL 14. There are custom logos again, NHL team logos, and NHL classic team logos along with a few different fonts that you can customize with a full color wheel. It’s worth mentioning though, that nearly all of these options are locked behind club level requirements. Looking through all of the options, they are drip fed to you and it’s clear unlocking some of them will take a decent amount of time for you and your friends. Rink and arena customization looks fantastic and I can see I’m going to spend a large amount of time on this over the course of the next year. Again though, it’s all locked behind level requirements and some of them are likely going to take a very long time to get to.
On the ice, going back and forth between 16 and 17 is palpable. Movement in 17 feels more fluid and realistic even despite a lot of the animations being the same. Goalies in particular demonstrate more realistic movements than in the past and it creates some nice variety when the pressure amps up. An area I feel has been improved the most is with checking. Hits are much more realistic now with angles, momentum, and player class coming into play more than ever before. Line it up, time it well, and you are rewarded with crushing hits that really give the feeling that you’ve accomplished something. One of the complaints of 16 was that even when finishing a hit, the puck would often be trapped under the player and thus, diminish the return on checking. NHL 17 has corrected this and hitting can now play an important role to quickly turn a play around. A couple of other improvements worth noting have been the poke checks effectiveness being reduced and goalie interference being called whenever the goalie……is interfered with. It sounds obvious, but fans of 16 know the frustration of a goal being called when another team crashed your goalie into the net on purpose. With interference being much more common, positioning is more important in the offensive zone and the new “Net Battle” feature comes into play. Simply hold Y (or I would assume Triangle on PS4) while in the slot and your player will attempt to screen the goalie while keeping his position held against the D. It’s not game changing, but it’s another nice touch for more control over an area that has been notoriously difficult to manage.
Overall, I’m enjoying NHL 17 a lot so far (despite me and my team playing really poorly!). It feels better than NHL 16 in nearly every way, the customization options are going to keep us busy for a long time, and the new classes have added some much needed variety to the overall player mix on the ice. I look forward to spending a lot more time with the game over the coming weeks and I’ll post a full review of EASHL in the near future. To close, here are some of my favorite hits I’ve landed so far!