After NHL 22’s reveal trailer last week, it was only a matter of time before we got a proper look at how the frozen sports next-gen debut would play. Today, we get our first real glimpse at the game, with a pretty extensive gameplay trailer with commentary that highlights the new features coming to this year’s entry.
The first out of the gate is of course a talking point about NHL finally pivoting over to EA’s Frostbite engine. Some decent visual updates are discussed, like better ice surfaces, better effects for things like flares and snow, and updated models – Elias Pettersson looks especially good – as well as facial animations that can more dynamically react to what happens on the ice. It’s hard to gauge whether the animations are an improvement from such a small sample size, but surely they can’t be worse than the creepily lifeless faces of players from years past, right?
The trailer then goes on to talk about improved detail for arenas, higher-quality ice surfaces, and a more dynamic ice spray system that can coat the camera during replays. Sure it’s not a huge deal, but it’s a fun little detail that can help lend some extra authenticity to the experience. And the lighting revamp courtesy of Frostbite seems like it could be the biggest difference-maker of the lot. The boards will reflect the game in real-time, and the new lighting system sounds as if all textures and surfaces will receive and reflect light more authentically, something that underwhelmed mightily in previous outings.
The next area of focus is the X-Factor abilities, a transplant from the Madden games. Some of the biggest names in the NHL will now have special abilities during gameplay. These comprise 29 different X-Factors spread across six different focus areas, and a few are shown off. The trailer shows Panarin, McDavid, Matthews, Jones, and Vasilevsky, but there will of course be more in the final game. The abilities are also mentioned to apply to all positions and appear in all game modes, so if you’re going to be playing NHL 22, you’re probably going to want to get used to seeing them around.
The next focus area is on stick physics, something that has been sorely in need of an update for a while. Animations and actual gameplay involving your stick – especially defensively – have been abysmal for years, so the update is definitely a welcome change. Sticks will now more accurately interact with other sticks as well as other bodies on the ice, allowing hockey to feel more like, well, hockey. Previous titles in the series just hand-waved stick physics away, with a few different canned animations for trips, and beyond that, sticks could be wherever they pleased, so this is most definitely a welcome change.
The final area of focus in the trailer is on a new augmented reality UI, which honestly looks pretty cool. It mimics the fancy graphics you might see spliced into a broadcast of a real hockey game and sure beats the awkward pauses between face-offs for the same stat menus that would normally be seen game after game. This also streamlines the start-and-stop nature of the game, allowing everything to flow more fluidly, and hopefully make things more fun.
But that's it. While the trailer is pretty lengthy, and does reasonably deep dives on each of these four core areas for improvement, given how sports games work, these are likely to be the only improvements. And we don’t even know what’s being taken out yet. The changes being implemented are welcome ones, and this could well be a more extensive year-to-year overhaul for the NHL games than we’re used to, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. Either way, we’ll know soon enough as the game launches on 15th October.