EA has a number of yearly-release sports titles like Madden, FIFA, and NHL. I have fond memories of booting up NHL 97 with my younger brother and hearing the iconic “EA Sports. It’s In The Game!” soundbite. Each year, we all patiently wait for the newest gameplay changes and roster updates while hoping the next version is an improvement on the previous. I recently got to spend some hands-on time with EA Sports NHL 24 at the EA Vancouver studio, and here’s what I found.
One of the biggest complaints that yearly sports titles get is that the gameplay is the same year after year. EA has taken this feedback in stride and given NHL 24 a complete gameplay overhaul.
“Gameplay is King.” That’s the tagline for EA Sports NHL 24, and it’s extremely appropriate as well as fitting. Stale gameplay is the entire reason I slowly stopped playing the NHL series of games, with the last one I purchased being NHL 2010. I returned for NHL 23 last year and thought things had improved significantly. I had so much more control, and even though I wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, I still enjoyed it. NHL 24, in the time I had with it, was even more fun.
The first thing I did was hop into a ‘Play Now’ match, select my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs (I know, I know) and promptly got hammered by the Hurricanes on Semi-Pro difficulty. It was at that point that I started to remember all the things that we were told earlier in the day by Creative Director Mike Inglehart and Senior Producer Chris Haluke. New updates to gameplay, like the Sustained Pressure system, which is powered by the Exhaust Engine, came rushing back, and soon I was finding the back of the net with greater frequency (as well as with a humbling difficulty drop to Rookie).
“NHL 24, in the time I had with it, was even more fun.”
The Sustained Pressure system is pretty much exactly as it sounds. The team on the offence maintains possession of the puck in the attacking zone for a prolonged period of time and is rewarded with a minor stat boost. Things like hits and shots on goal also contribute to this effect, and the reward is called the “Adrenaline Effect,” increasing passing speed and accuracy for up to 30 seconds.
Conversely, the team defending this onslaught experiences the “Pinned Effect” also for up to 30 seconds, which negatively affects their skating and makes the defence need to find more effective ways of protecting the net. The Pinned Effect can be removed by clearing the puck from the zone for five consecutive seconds.
One of the things I liked the most was EA Sports NHL 24‘s new physics-based contact system. Playing with a big physical presence is my bread and butter, and being able to put a satisfying body check on an opposing player was something I felt was missing from NHL 23. This year, players will be able to smash the glass with a hard hit, dump players into the bench if they try to take the outside lane, as well as lay crunching hip-checks to make your opponent think twice about trying that move next time.
Playing in goal has a new emphasis in NHL 24, with the brand-new Instinct System. This system rewards the goaltender for guessing where a shot is going, whether it be blocker high, glove-side low, etc., with a boost to make the save. Players will definitely feel like they’re between the pipes themselves when a spectacular save is pulled off, thanks to a correct ‘guess.’
“One of the things I liked the most was EA Sports NHL 24‘s new physics-based contact system.”
World of Chel gets some attention in EA Sports NHL 24 with the introduction of a Battle Pass as well as a new Creation Zone for your player. The Battle Pass will be a polarizing feature amongst the community, to be sure, but since the items in the Battle Pass will all be cosmetic, the onus falls to the player to find the value in pursuing the paid items or sticking with the free ones that are available. In addition, EA also stated that the vanity items from this year’s game would carry over to NHL 25, so fret not if you invest in some items only to fear losing them to next year’s game.
The Creation Zone is a very cool-looking menu that really simplifies the process of creating and editing the appearance of your player. Hats, jerseys, skates, etc., are all very easy to switch between without having to go through 13465 different menu screens and save the styles you like best.
World of Chel’s Hockey Bags are also making an exit in EA Sports NHL 24, with purchasable premium vanity content taking its place. Players will now be able to buy what they want without the unknown of what could show up in a Hockey Bag. In-game currency required to purchase this content is there to be grinded.
Visuals get a lot of fun new tweaks this year, with more than 75 new Flex Celebrations, dynamic boards, and an enriched crowd system. Flex Celebrations are a lot of fun, and have the potential to rile up your opponent very quickly. I quickly got FIFA Ultimate Team flashbacks to giving up a goal and my opponent dropping the ‘shush’ or the Griddy celebrations on me.
“The commentary team in NHL 24 gets a new face/voice, with Canadian Women’s legend Cheryl Pounder taking her place as the colour commentator in place of Ray Ferraro.”
Dynamic boards are one of the coolest, most underrated features I saw during my time at EA Vancouver. The boards will change in-game to show different bits of info, depending on the situation. For instance, I saw my shot counter during a powerplay in the offensive zone, and it updated in real time as well.
I can’t forget about Hockey Ultimate Team, which is getting a fun update called HUT Moments. These moments ask you to recreate a specific moment in hockey history, whether it be Gretzky eliminating the Leafs in Game 7 of the Conference Finals in the 1993 Playoffs or scoring Cale Makar’s first goal of the 2021/22 playoffs. Each moment will have a specific number of goals to complete to finish the moment, and you can take as many attempts to complete it as you like.
A good hockey game is nothing if the commentary is bland and uninteresting. The commentary team in NHL 24 gets a new face/voice, with Canadian women’s legend Cheryl Pounder taking her place as the colour commentator in place of Ray Ferraro. Her energy and passion come across magnificently, and her addition to the team is very well-deserved. When asked, the team at EA told me that she recorded hundreds of hours of commentary for NHL 24, which speaks volumes to me, as repetitive commentary takes the life out of the game (I’m looking at you, MLB The Show).
NHL 24 will be released on October 6, 2023, for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One X, and Xbox Series X|S. Crossplay will be available for players on PS4 & Xbox One and for PS5 & Xbox Series X|S. Current and previous-gen players will not be able to play against each other.
There are two different versions of NHL 24 to be made available: the Standard Edition and the X-Factor Digital Edition. Pre-ordering the X-Factor Digital Edition before September 25 will see you getting a HUT Team Building Player Choice Pack, an exclusive Cale Makar player item, Dual Entitlement, 4600 NHL Points, three days of early access and a WOC Battle Pass XP Modifier.
I’ll see you all on the ice on October 6th!