An abundance of modes and great gameplay make NHL 19 a real winner.
After spending time with NHL 19, exploring its different modes and customization options, I think it might be my favorite hockey game. Scratch that — I think NHL 19 is one of my favorite sports games, period. It uses the same animation engine as Madden and FIFA, has excellent presentation and atmosphere, and the players look like who they’re supposed to look like.
Part of NHL 19’s appeal is its accessibility. You don’t need to keep up with every iteration of the series to immediately jump in and have a good time. One of the first things it asks you to do is choose a play style based on your personal skill level. Are you a complete EA NHL rookie? NHL 19’s got your back with the option to play with a simplified rule set and NHL ‘94 controls. A seasoned vet looking to show off your puck-handling skills? The skill stick option lets you flex your muscles on the ice. Hybrid controls meet somewhere in the middle. It’s awesome how NHL 19 can be played by anyone at any skill level.
Commentary is improved over last year, too, so it doesn’t repeat as often. It feels like television commentary, responding well to the on-ice action. A great menu system allowing you to pin your favorite modes lets you drop into games quickly, and a decent soundtrack all add up to something wonderful.
Ice to Meet You
It’s also overflowing with choice, from a generous number of modes (both online and offline) to a dizzying number of create-a-player options. It’s disappointing that you can only choose from premade faces, but I’m impressed at how thoroughly you can personalize your custom players, especially the different options for authentic hockey-player mullets. But it gets way more granular than that, right down to the color of the laces on your skates and the tape on your stick, which can be independently set for the shaft and the blade. Many of the customization options are locked behind tasks and challenges, but they’re not prohibitively difficult so unlocking them is a satisfying treat rather than a chore. The sheer amount of options is staggering, to the point where it’s pretty much guaranteed no two players will look the same. Somewhat confusingly, there’s more than one mode requiring a custom created hockey player, but annoyingly, you can’t use the same guy for both for some reason.
EA Sports Ones is far and away my favorite of the excellent online modes.
EA Sports Ones is far and away my favorite of the excellent online modes, beating out Drop-in Threes and EASHL league mode for that title. It’s an absolute free-for-all on a frozen pond, with three players pitted against one another and all of them battling the CPU-controlled goalie. It’s a fast, arcade-style online mode where you can play as dirty as you want. I found myself waiting for my opponents to tie up so I could skate at them, top-speed, to throw the kind of body check that would get me thrown off the ice in any other mode. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had in a hockey game, and I was smiling the entire length of every match up. Ones mode seems like it would be incredibly well suited to local game matchups, so it’s a bummer that it’s limited to online play only.
NHL Threes has a similar arcade style but, thankfully, can be played in single-player as well as local co-op or online. Threes retains the same ridiculousness as last year, thanks to arcade-style gameplay and the opportunity to unlock and play as mascots. But even when it looks delightfully absurd, it retains the solid, fast, and fun gameplay at the core of NHL 19.
Once again, NHL 19 has a thorough training mode, showing you how to pull off every move, from basic passing and shooting to advanced, ridiculous through-the-legs tricks. The training mode doesn’t cover all the possibilities, but an adaptive hint system will fill you in during gameplay, showing how and when to execute certain moves. After playing online, I know I need to spend some serious time in training if I hope to break my losing streak in Ones.
The cost of new packs are out of whack with the denominations of points offered.
Hockey Ultimate Team is here once again, and it’s par for the course. I’m not a fan of its microtransactions, nor am I a fan of how its pricing scheme is laid out. Similarly to NBA Live 19, the cost of new packs are out of whack with the denominations of points offered. Just let me spend my real money buying the packs, not points to redeem for packs. That being said, I’m glad that the damage they do is limited strictly to this mode. To EA’s credit, Ultimate Team is at least pretty generous with letting you earn card packs, especially if you’ve played an EA NHL game in the past – you get a pretty sweet collection of packs right off the bat as a reward for loyalty. It’s a nice touch, and I was even able to pull a Tim Horton from one of my free packs.
Over in Franchise mode, I spent WAY too much time creating an NHL expansion rebirth for the Hartford Whalers. The management options are hugely robust, to the point where I was afraid to go any further without building a spreadsheet to keep track of anything. Setting stadium parking for the NHL expansion franchise, along with seating, salary caps, and tons more is part of the experience. I definitely appreciate the fantastic and intimidating depth here, even if I won’t spend the majority of my NHL 19 time playing it.
Be a Pro career mode is my favorite “straight-hockey” way to play. Starting off as a mulleted 17-year-old from Augusta, Maine, NHL 19 gave me the choice to start in the Canadian Hockey League and work my way up or skip it entirely and go immediately to the NHL Draft. Shortcuts like that and the ability to simulate games based on team and player attributes if you don’t feel like running through the motions of a lopsided match keep things moving along nicely, and I still felt like I earned my spot in the rookie class by playing the contentious games.