Sports games are a tried and true annual tradition for many consumers. Being a Canadian myself, EA Sports’ NHL has always been the bread and butter of the people around me. Whether casual or core gamers, the install base of the Great White North is surely something of an anomaly when stacked up against other sport fandoms that purchase and play relevant video games.
Without missing a beat, the latest numeric hockey entry has arrived from Electronic Arts – say hello to NHL 19. Many hopeful customers tend to ask themselves the same question every year at this time: Is it worth picking up immediately if you’re as gung-ho about hockey as most of Canada? The answer to this is “obviously,” and those thinking about waiting until Christmas will miss out on the excitement that makes the real-life season and corresponding game so much fun in the first place.
Now, the implication here is not that you need the game to enjoy the NHL season, nor is it to knock those that would rather wait for a price drop. Hockey is fun and budgets are admirable. I simply say this because the “Season of Giving” is an easy out to get in with a video game: It’s a no-brainer gift for loved ones that expect it every year; the individual doesn’t have to spend money on what equates to a similar experience from the season prior; etc.. But there’s something pretty damn boring about waking up on Christmas morning to the exact same gift-wrapped box under your tree every single holiday break.
This is the year of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Change it up a bit, people. There are a lot of other blockbuster one-offs you could be taking a risk on and putting in asks for outside of an annual title that provides a familiar experience that you already know you enjoy.
This is all assuming that you celebrate Christmas in the first place – so if you don’t then feel free to sub in your own celebration here in which you would receive NHL – but the point remains the same. Try something new, because a large portion of the fun of NHL 19 (and every other iteration beforehand) is that your experiences coincides with the ups and downs of the actual NHL season.
We’ve waited through the off-season, white-knuckled through trade speculation, and now we can simulate an experience where the team we have supported unconditionally (and critiqued with surface-level knowledge more times than we’ll ever admit) wins the big one. We want that Stanley Cup run leading to a parade in the streets of Toronto, dammit, and this is how we can have it – with an updated Toronto Maple Leafs roster featuring Tavares to boot.
My own personal Leafs bias aside, NHL 19 has a number of things worth looking into for fans of the franchise. Whether it be the updated motion tracking technology that leads to some of the gnarliest hits ever seen in the series or the vastly enhanced Create-A-Player options, there’s a lot to dig into here. It would have been possible to coast by on past work here, but the team at EA Vancouver always refines the experience in a way that both improves the gameplay and broadens the horizon for a property that often gets overlooked when it comes to massive mechanical overhauls and gameplay modes.
I’m referring to the lack of a story mode in NHL 19, which is becoming increasingly odd given the prominence the Madden NFL‘s Longshot and FIFA‘s The Journey cinematic single-player experiences. Presumably this decision is budget-related, as NHL is likely to sell far fewer copies than either of the aforementioned sports titles, but at this point the lack of this type of mode is noticeable and fans are right to want something similar.
Admittedly, it can be silly to judge a game on what it doesn’t do, especially when what is included is so refined and, simply put, fun. Meanwhile, cutting up the ice on a stunning rink like Carter Lake is an experience that harkens back to the vistas that many rural Canadians first became acquainted to the sport of hockey with. Glamorized in its design? Certainly, but relatable nonetheless. In that sense, it’s long overdue and feels right at home.
NHL 19 isn’t a drastically different take, and I’m not convinced that that would even be what fans want at this point. Instead, it successfully and gracefully builds upon the existing base in which the franchise constantly pulls from and gives hockey fans another means of investing their time into the teams and players that they truly adore – albeit in a virtual capacity. Although, according to Elon Musk, life is probably just a simulation anyway, and who am I to argue with the CEO of a car company worth billions of bucks.
Anyway, go ahead and buy NHL 19 ahead of your longstanding Holiday schedule. You won’t regret it.
NHL 19 is currently available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Okay, Cool was provided with a code for the game on Xbox One for coverage purposes.
You can find Riley on Twitter at @TheRileyLittle if you ever want to chat about hockey or video games.