TUCSON, Ariz. — Hockey season never truly ends. Even as a team hoists the Stanley Cup, bitter competitors are only weeks away from readjusting rosters and starting training camp.
"EA Sports NHL 23" respects the grind with a retooled skill set that revamps the annual contender for another run at the title.
The game plays like a rejuvenated roster boosted by new free-agent additions and a coaching staff with a refreshed vision.
Boasting more than 500 new playmaking animations powered by the game's Frostbite engine, expanded franchise mode customization, and new celebration moves culled from highlight reels.
While the more pronounced changes only come to light after hours of play, there's a certain comfort in returning what the game has traditionally done well, including a callback to a feature dropped in recent editions.
Back is Superstar X-Factors, which grant top players abilities that make them stand back from the pack and allow them to turn the tide in close contests. The boosts put a premium on stars, making them key components for championship runs. There is also a smattering of updated team intros, which will hopefully be updated as the season plays on.
Like in the most recent FIFA release, developers make a concerted effort at gender equity, adding IIHF Women's National Team members to the card-based Hockey Ultimate Team mode. The ability to pair up the players with their male counterparts on the ice helps the game make considerable strides in the traditionally male-dominated culture of the sport.
World of Chel — the game's nod to the street hockey scene that's an essential facet to the sports making inroads in the urban scene — plays with an exaggerated arcade flair, emphasizing style on equal footing with scoring.
The advent of cross-play among same-generation platforms — meaning PS5 players can take on Xbox Series S or X owners — will be a boon to the multiplayer scene once the feature is fully integrated in November.
If the component is blended well, it's only a matter of time until other sports franchises follow suit, melting the layers of ice between players on various consoles.
A thoroughly satisfying package for hockey gamers, "EA Sports NHL 23" is more of a reloading effort than a rebuilding program. It's an exciting glimpse at what's in store for players as current-generation development continues to mature.