NHL 18 is a game that really focused on injecting some high-octane fun into the NHL series.

Game modes like Hockey Ultimate Team, EASHL and Franchise Mode are all great in their own right, but have definitely taken a more straightforward approach with gameplay in recent years. It’s all been about trying to create the most realistic physics and player control, which isn’t always best for the casual fan.

The game still improves on its physics (Players’ leg, body and stick interference with puck movement is especially accurate), but it offers more options than ever for casual and Hardcore gamers.

Casual Gamers: Hockey Canada tutorials and NHL Threes make the game easier than ever to understand and play quickly. The arcade style can keep you entertained in short spurts.

Hardcore Gamers: The game doesn’t feel that different on the surface, but as you get deeper in to game modes and gameplay, you’ll see what the EA team has been working on. EASHL 3-on-3 is our favourite addition with Be a Pro being the biggest let down.

If you followed any of our coverage up until the release, you’ve probably seen a couple promos for the NHL Threes game mode. Threes, along with additions made to the EASHL, HUT and Franchise modes have were clearly the biggest focuses aside from gameplay. We’ll breakdown the changes in each of them and what they mean for every level of gamer.


NHL Threes: Good Time, Not a Long Time

As mentioned above, this is the most heavily promoted addition to NHL 18.

It can definitely be a blast, but if you play a lot of NHL, it probably won’t last. It’s especially good for people gaming on the same system, challenging their buddies or crushing out a quick couple games before work, but won’t appeal to gamers who get through hundreds of games a year.

It’s played on a mini-rink with arcade-style speed and hits, so it amplifies the action and allows you to play as your team’s mascots. Still, there’s not a lot of depth to the mode so these features can grow stale quickly – the best side effect of this might be the one it had on EASHL (Read below).

Casual Gamers: If you’re putting in NHL 18 once or twice a week, this game mode will be a lot of fun. Just playing some quick games with friends can be a lot of fun and is great for some goofy highlights.

Hardcore gamers: Try it out for sure, but if you’re going to invest any real time into the game, it’s kind of wasted in Threes.


EASHL: 3-on-3s

The gameplay is obviously going to have a big impact on EASHL, but outside of that (Which will be covered in more detail below), the addition of 3-on-3 is the biggest change.

While it isn’t technically in the “NHL Threes” game mode, this is certainly our favourite thing to come out of the 3-on-3 direction of this year’s game. Not only does it put less emphasis on needing a full team to play a regular EASHL game, but much like in the NHL the action is non-stop. Unlike NHL Threes, it’s played on a full sized rink so there is a lot more open ice – you’ll want to have a reliable teammate to play D because it’s easy to get caught in a 3-on-0 for your goalie.

This is a great wrinkle into this mode for both casual and hardcore NHL players. It offers more variety in game style and strategy and can really let you try out some new dekes (Backhand toe drags for the win).

Casual Gamers: In a less rigid game mode, even if you can’t keep up with some of the better players in EASHL, this game mode allows you to have some open ice and keep things interesting.

Hardcore Gamers: This is a win-win for all gamers, the variety between styles and convenience of playing with a smaller group will benefit everybody who tries this style.


HUT: Buddies All Day

While Hockey Ultimate Team did add HUT Challenges and competitive seasons, the biggest difference to us in this mode was the ability to play co-op.

This actually applies to all modes, but because EASHL was already so co-op based already, we’ve noticed in more in HUT. You can invite friends to complete the challenges or just play with you throughout your time in the game. It’s a lot of fun being able to build your HUT team while still playing with your friends, but it is a little frustrating that only the host receives the benefits.

Still, rotate between hosts and it can be a lot of fun. The challenges, which can add a lot of variety to the game mode (Click here to see more on them), are probably the best parts to do with a friend, because you can help each other get through the difficult ones. We’re all for any additions to make it easier to play with friends, so this seems like the right move from EA.

Casual Gamers: Being able to play with your friends more often is always better. EA has made that easier and we’re sure it will make the casual gamer happier.

Hardcore Gamers: Playing by yourself is just more rewarding, which might have more dedicated players ignoring the co-op addition, but the challenges do add some depth. Realistically, HUT remains somewhat similar to the NHL 17 game mode.


Franchise Mode

We asked for this in last year’s game, but you had to know the expansion draft was going to be a big addition to this year’s iteration.

There are three options in this year’s Franchise Mode, just a regular season, expanding to a 31-team league or expanding to a 32-team league. Out of the two expansion drafts, we would say the 32-team version is slightly more enjoyable, but we’ll break them into two:

31 Team Expansion Draft – Either you can't take some of their deals back or your can't make any of your own when doing the draft as Vegas and most of the appeal to being that team would be to try and show how you would have done the draft differently. Without the ability to steal one of Anaheim’s top D or Ryan Murray from the Blue Jackets, it doesn’t feel like you can really build the team your way.

32 Team Expansion Draft – Building your own team while understanding how the expansion draft works is fun, but be ready to tank. Your team will not be good for a little while, so hopefully you’re not playing over your head in game difficulty. Still, you can spend hours in this mode building your arena, choosing your mascot (a new addition) and hundreds of other little details that make running the team feel more realistic.

Casual Gamer: Going through the expansion draft is fun, but it takes a lot of time and there will likely be some roster players you don’t care about. Try it once and go back to the regular game mode.

Hardcore Gamer: Trying to build a genuinely good team through the expansion is a serious challenge and one that takes a serious time commitment. If you’re willing to put in the hours, you can get lost in this game mode and get more than your money’s worth.

Gameplay: More Creativity, Less Room

In their promotion of the game, EA hit on three topics for gameplay: Creative attack dekes, defensive skill stick and creative AI.

Gameplay is honestly something that will develop as users get a better handle on the controls, strengths and weaknesses in the games, but our early impressions are mixed. The creative dekes are awesome. It’s rare to see the kind of photo-realistic moves they’re able to give these players – it really looks like you can pull off datsyukian dangles. Still, we’re not sure if it’s the addition of the defensive skill sick or a buff of the poke check.

Poke checks are very strong this year which leads to a lot of loose pucks and makes pulling off any of the dekes pretty difficult. It does seem like interactions with the puck are more authentic (Basically any part of a player can disrupt an attack), but it can be frustrating in the early going.

Because of the difficulty we’ve had in close quarters, we’ll lean on the 3-on-3 EASHL early and a better understanding should help players in 5-on-5.

Casual Gamer: Defense is definitely easier, so a lockdown D can help keep you in any game. Still, good luck pulling off that backhand toe drag you were admiring in the commercial.

Hardcore Gamer: The poke checks can get frustrating, but there may just be an adjustment period. It seems like puck protection with the A/X button is much more important this year than holding the puck to the side with the right stick. The AI seems improved which gives us the most optimism.

Overall, we’re giving the game an 8.5 out of 10. We were hoping the game would move to Frostbite, which is when we assume most major game mode overhauls will come, but the few changes this year seemed strategically focused. NHL has become a more accessible game for casual gamers while giving hardcore gamers more variety in their favourite game modes, adding many hours of gameplay.


NHL 18 – 8.5/10