NHL 19 came out (pre-release) September 11th. It’s been just over one month since then and EA has already ruined the game. At least, that’s partially my opinion. I originally wanted to make this into a video, but figured I’d use this platform as a better means of hopefully getting EA’s attention to hopefully address the issues within the game. EA has released a total of 4 patches (updates) to the game within a month, which is one per week. To me, that says a few things. First, that the game wasn’t truly ready for full release, and secondly, that EA is catering more to the casual players than they are the competitive players who will be playing the game for the next year until a new NHL game is released.
NHL 19 was the first game I have pre-ordered since Halo 2 nearly 15 years ago. I had played the beta and fell in love with the way the game felt and what I thought was the direction that EA was taking the game. I spent $85 USD for the “Legends” edition, not because I would get free packs (save that for later in the blog), but rather because I wanted to have a jump start on the Ultimate Team grind. So I was happy as can be on September 11th on release day, opening the few packs I’d earned, building my team, and genuinely having a blast with the game. It felt “real”; it rewarded you for smart plays and punished you for a boneheaded one. But that feeling quickly changed when I started to see the casual players on Twitter and Youtube complaining about the poke checks and how easily they caused penalties. And it didn’t take long for EA to make a change.
Now, in my opinion the majority of penalties people were getting from these poke checks were due to factors like bad timing and the handedness of the player they were controlling. In short, it was a learning curve. I looked at the defensive side of the game as a place where skill now mattered, similar to those who can do all the dekes and string them together with ease. I watch someone like Nasher (@TheNasher61) and see what he can do on the offensive side, and am jealous cause I’ll never be able to do those moves. I simply considered myself an above-average defensive player in the game and took pride in little to no penalty minutes or goals against. To me, it was a testament to my skill. With that all said, a couple patches later and I’m no longer able to have good defensive games because they have nerfed (a term used for making things weak in video games) the way poke checks work in game.
EA has also increased the AI, or computer’s, strength in the defensive zone. While some would find that to be a good thing, many agree it’s not. Allowing the AI to be so strong in their end makes it much harder to score in the game, and when you are playing against another human it should be a game of skill, not who can exploit the computer best. Basically, if I wanted to play against a strong AI, I’d do so offline in a single player mode and increase the difficulty. But ask any online gamer and they will say they don’t like having the computer impact the outcome of games because it becomes less about player skill. Online players will use this increase in AI difficulty in a strategy called “skillzoning”. Basically they will take their center and control ONLY that player in the defensive zone, and stay right between the hashmarks while letting the 4 other AI controlled players attack the puck carrier. While this seems harmless, it is far from that. The AI doesn’t make mistakes (or not nearly as frequently as a human player would) so mistakes are so few and far between that players simply can’t do much in the offensive zone, and scoring becomes more random and less about the player.
Moving on from skillzoning, we also have changes made to the skating in game. Honestly, like I said, the skating felt amazing when the game was first released. Players felt like they were actually making cuts in the ice and a fast shifty player in real life (like Patty Kane) felt exactly that way in the game. Some of EA’s changes to the game have included how players feel when skating, and quite honestly the realism people felt when the game first released is now all but gone. The players feel sluggish and less agile. Again, a player like Kane who can be shifty and fast now feels like an average skater at best. This is probably the biggest issue players have with NHL 19, because of how good the game felt prior to the changes. As a player myself, it feels like I spent money on a re-purposed NHL 18 game and that’s what has so many of us in the community pissed off.
Other minor issues within the game are AI going offside without reason while rushing the puck up ice, “soft” shots from the blue line going in with no goalie screen or a player tipping the shot in, issues with players picking up the puck (still), and auction house and collection changes making simple tasks like adding players to a set more tedious and time consuming. Also it should be noted that while it only has happened once so far, the community didn’t take the $100 “Legend” pack very well and considered that an exploitation of its community for more money.
With all of this in consideration, I still hold out hope that EA makes further changes to bring the game back to it’s release state and stops catering to its casual player base. EA Sports wants to have the NHL franchise be the next eSport and if they were good business people, they would listen to their competitive player base because THAT is who will be competing in eSport tournaments throughout the years, NOT the casual players. On social media, EA has flat out asked for constructive criticism and has been provided with such, yet it still feels like we are being ignored. Even when players provide video evidence of issues happening, EA asks for proof. At this point, I’m not sure I’d even buy another NHL game after this year, never mind the idea of pre-ordering one. Hopefully in a month or so all these issues within the game will be addressed and I can be happy with EA, but as of now, I’m tired of recycled games being force-fed on me as a consumer with no other hockey video game option.
October 15, 2018