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Game review: EA Sports NHL 21

27 Oct 2020

The NHL series from EA Sports has been going on for a long time now. Much like FIFA and Madden, the series has been released annually for nearly the past three decades and it has no sign of slowing down. 

Despite the long history of the series, NHL 21 is actually only the second time I have played the franchise. The last time I played a game from the franchise was NHL 13 back on the Xbox 360. 

I remember NHL 13 being fun at the time even though I was a newbie to the series. I even managed to beat my brother several times in the game, despite not knowing many of the rules about ice hockey at the time. 

NHL 21 does not feel like a stale entry for a player like me mainly because I didn’t play a hockey game for PS4 and Xbox One before. For a person like me, NHL 21 offers a lot of new content that wasn’t available when NHL 13 came out. 

That being said, gamers that have played the series annually for the past few years might feel some franchise fatigue. If you’re one of these players, you might be better off waiting until NHL 22 comes out for the newer PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles next year. 

Even though NHL 21 is only on PS4 and Xbox One, I thought the graphics of the game on Xbox One X looked pretty good on my 4KTV. If the graphics look good this year, I cannot believe what they will look like next year. 

One other great thing about NHL 21 is the fact that the game caters for gamers of all skills. The first thing you can customise the controller to suit your own playing preference. You can map the controls so you can shoot using the face buttons, or you can strike the puck using the right analogue stick instead. 

I first tried to play the game using the right analogue stick, but my aiming was well off. I remember playing using the analogue sticks wasn’t as difficult when I played NHL 13 all those years ago. I opted to choose the ‘hybrid’ setting that makes shooting via the face buttons much easier. 

There are two ways you can shoot the puck in NHL 21. First, you can press the blue X button (on Xbox One) to shoot softly if you’re really close to the goal. If you’re farther away, you can press the red B button to do a more powerful shot from long range. 

What I like most about the game is that it shows an indicator on where you might be able to score a goal. A green circle target appears that gives you an idea when the best time to shoot is. Without this target, I wouldn’t have been able to score as many goals. 

However, the target being green isn’t always an indication that you will score a goal. Another admirable thing about the game is that the goalies are really good. You got to have good precision and power in order to make sure the puck stays away from the goalie’s hands. 

Scoring goals isn’t as easy as confronting the goalie only. You really have to dodge and weave around many defenders as well. Defenders are usually persistent because they are usually blocking your way to the goal as well. This is when you may need to pass the puck to an open man in order to get a clearer view of the goal. 

If you don’t have the puck, defending and stealing from the opponents can be very fun too. One thing you can do in this game is pretty much tackle opposing teammates and make them fall down. Tackling is quite fun since you cannot do this type of attack in other sports like basketball or soccer. 

Another unique aspect of ice hockey is that you can literally fight with your opponents too. I do not condone violence in real life, but I have to admit that fighting in NHL 21 is very fun to witness and participate in. 

In terms of game modes, there is a lot you can see and do in NHL 21. Franchise and Season modes are where you pick a team and try to make your way through to the Stanley Finals. While ‘Be a Pro’ mode is when you take control of one player and see their NHL journey unfold. 

‘Be a Pro’ is arguably the best mode in the entire game as it was satisfying to see my player improve his hockey skills as the season progressed. You can even be lazy and skip straight to the NHL Draft if you’re too impatient to play in the minor leagues first. 

Some other game modes I liked in NHL 21 are ‘Threes’ and ‘Ones’. ‘Threes’ only has three strikers and one goalie in your team. It’s like playing street hockey as there are fewer players on the ice rink. It can be fun and frantic having fewer people blocking the goalie area. 

‘Ones’ is where you compete by yourself against two other opponents. I never played this version of ice hockey before, and I thought it was very fun and unique. You can even unlock cool costumes and more when you play in this particular game mode. 

The only major game mode that I tried to avoid was ‘Hockey Ultimate Team’. This mode is where you build your own team, but you can only acquire players by opening blind card packs. I didn’t feel like grinding it out in order to unlock players that I’ve never even heard of. 

Anyway, NHL 21 was pretty enjoyable for me because I have not played an ice hockey game since NHL 13. However if you played NHL 20, you might not think NHL 21 offers too many new features for you to come back. If you’re the latter, you’re better off waiting for the next-gen version of NHL 22 in 2021 instead.  

Verdict: 7.5/10