The NHL 17 beta has officially come and gone, as we now await for the game’s release. A lot of players, myself included, have been skeptical about the latest iteration of the series. Its transition into the current gen has not exactly been a pleasant one, with a lot of major issues leaving both casual and diehard fans of the franchise frustrated. After having invested many hours into the beta, however, I feel like the development team has finally turned the corner. Here’s my thoughts on my experience of the beta.
Hockey Ultimate Team
Sets and synergy, both new to the game mode, were available for testing. I was very much impressed with how both of these features worked.
With synergy, you no longer have to worry about having players in the right positions, and spending coins on change team cards to get “perfect chemistry.” I personally felt that the whole chemistry system was a bit silly in the first place, so this is a welcome change. While I didn’t get to mess around with all the different synergies, I do feel that this will allow for some creative teambuilding, as players now have to pick different synergies to match their playstyle. I believe that this is the right way to go, instead of just stacking your team with superstars. I get that that’s what the whole game mode is technically about, but a little realism here and there wouldn’t hurt either, would it?
The other new feature, sets, left me extremely excited to play HUT when the game officially launches. As a player who doesn’t spend money on packs, nor has time to grind the market for coins, I’ve always felt a bit behind when facing those stacked 5-star teams with Steven Stamkos on their third or fourth line. With sets, however, this will hopefully close that gap a bit, as I can now use those cards that I no longer need or want, and hopefully get an upgrade if luck is on my side. Definitely a welcome addition.
Unfortunately, the draft champions mode that is slated to be in NHL 17 was not in the beta, but that is also something to be giddy about. All in all, some great changes to HUT.
Not a lot of major changes were made to this mode, but there were a few minor ones that should make the drop-in experience a bit easier. Now, players will have to choose what position they want to play as beforehand – forward, defenseman, or goalie. This makes matchmaking so much easier, as it cuts down on those players who play D as a fourth forward, simply because all the other forward positions are already taken. In my beta experience, it also led to less lobbies timing out as people scramble to get to their preferred positions. Another change they’ve made is the addition of the “dressing room,” which everyone on your team gets sent to after the game. This allows you to queue up with your same teammates if you so wish to. A nice little touch, especially if you found your experience with them to be pleasant.
The new goal celebrations that can be unlocked are pretty nice. My only concern is that the milestones that you have to hit to unlock some of them are perhaps a bit unreasonable. For example, one requires that you score 800 goals, which is definitely going to turn off a lot of casual players who simply don’t have the time to hit that milestone.
Player progression received a minor tweak as well. In addition to earning experience for milestones, you will now receive experience based on your game performance, as well as completing a game. This will make leveling quite a bit easier.
All in all, some solid changes to what is already an awesome mode.
Wow. Just wow. Team customization is back, and boy is it ever. As someone who has never really experienced this mode in past games, I was taken aback at all the different options there were, especially when it came to the arena customization. Everything from the player & team introductions, to even how you want your stanchions and arena seats to look, it’s literally heaven for those that love to spend some time prettying things up to their heart’s content.
The amount of custom logos are a bit lacking, but I think that can be excused for what essentially is a reboot of this mode. Furthermore, I found the colour wheel a bit too sensitive when trying to find that perfect colour. Nothing major, but some quality of life changes in that regard would be nice, in order to make the whole process a bit smoother.
In the end, I had fun creating my own team. I’m not the greatest designer by any means, but I was still pretty into it, and was surprised by how much of a time sink it was. This is most definitely something I will be doing when I’m looking to just sit down and mess around.
Gameplay, presentation, etc.
Alright, onto the good stuff. I’ve neatly broken this down into a few subsections, since there’s so much I want to talk about.
Improved poke checking: Yes, yes, yes! As someone who has always prided himself on being in good position while poke checking, this is a godsend. Defense now feels great, and I get rewarded for those perfectly timed pokes. Spammers, on the other hand, will get sent to the box. Thumbs up from me here.
Skating: There’s the good, and then there’s the bad. While it definitely feels a bit more realistic, there were some instances where I was left puzzled. For instance, a slow defenseman skating backwards should not be matching the speed of Carl Hagelin skating at top speed. As well, there were times where it felt as though my whole team was skating in mud. Definitely some work to be done in this department.
Better AI?: In their own end, I’d say they’re as good as it gets. Positionally sound, and are rather disciplined. Still a bit iffy when they’re in the offensive zone, however. Defensemen still seem to skate pretty much wherever they want, instead of where you want them to be. A bit of tinkering in that regard would be nice, especially for someone who utilizes their blueliners in their offensive flow quite a bit.
Seamless puck pick-ups: This is probably the biggest gripe I had with the beta from a gameplay perspective. I did not feel this at all. Too many times, my player would completely miss what should be the easiest pick-up. I get that it shouldn’t be 100% accuracy, since even the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world can have their blunders as well, but this is completely overkill. It felt like RNG more than anything else, and that is not how it should be approached.
Net battles: Didn’t really get too much of an opportunity to test this, since I don’t play D in EASHL that much. However, I did get tied up as a forward multiple times, and it seemed to work just fine. Definitely a nice addition to further aid all those defensemen out there.
Goalies: New goalie stances are cool and all, but my bigger concern is that the same, boring high-percentage shots are still beating the AI goalies all day (especially everyone’s favourite forehand-backhand or the reverse). I get that these are high-percentage for a reason, and would beat most goaltenders in a real hockey game, but their reactions still need to be greatly improved upon.
Slow menus: For the love of god, please speed up the menus! This continues to be a problem, and while it may seem minor, it quickly takes it toll, especially you have to navigate multiple menus just to get to where you want. An issue that really needs to be looked at.
The UI: I’m seriously hoping that the UI in the beta is not what we’ll be seeing in the final product, because it is way too bright. Seriously, whose bright idea was it to have the UI a bright white, when we’re already spending enough time staring at the white ice?
Commentary: I picked up a few new lines, but overall, it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s going to get old real fast once again, to the point where I’ll either just zone it out or outright mute it.
Overall, I still think they have a ways to go, especially when it comes to gameplay. Is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely! However, a number of issues, both old and new, still need to be looked at. Regardless, this is easily the best NHL game to come out for PS4/Xbox One(pre order link). And hey, remember, it’s a beta. Here’s to hoping that some of these issues are hammered out by the time September 13th hits.
The Canadian Amazon link to pre-order can be found here.