Hot off the heels of its reveal trailer, NHL 23 has showcased a proper look at some of the gameplay changes we can look forward to. In a surprisingly meaty video, we get a glimpse at some of the upcoming improvements to expect with the latest iteration of the lone NHL game on the market. Let’s dive in!
The first chunk of the trailer is dedicated to a suite of new animations tied to desperation plays. By sports title standards, the amount of work that EA Vancouver put into this is downright robust. Touted as a collection of over 500 new animations, desperation plays look set to allow players to retain control of the puck for an extra move after being hit. You can take shots or whip no-look passes behind you while falling, a fairly common occurrence in a real hockey game. You can also manually activate it by double-tapping shoot or pass when near a loose puck.
The next change pertains to strategy implementation. The strategies have gone largely untouched for years now, so NHL 23 improving on these is unexpected and surprisingly major. A new powerplay setup (1-3-1) and a new penalty kill setup (1-1-2) join the previous setups. Additionally, you’ll now be able to change player positions during a faceoff, something that was wholly automated, and often frustrating. Nothing was worse than winning a draw on the powerplay, only to watch the puck skitter out of the zone because there was no one there to receive it. But perhaps the most interesting change to strategies is that you can now assign powerplay roles to individual players, allowing you to select a Distributor, Finisher, and Puck Carrier. High-flying d-men like Cale Makar are often referred to as “powerplay quarterbacks” and these role assignments should allow things like that to actually be reflected on your digital rink. Further evolution in strategies is an “assist” mode, where coaches recommend changes and you can choose to accept the new strategy on the fly or stick with what you had.
X-Factors see changes as well, with Trevor Zegras getting a dedicated X-Factor for his incredible flip pass. Sarah Nurse also gets a new X-Factor that massively improves passing and playmaking while using desperation plays. Beyond that, the rest of the pre-existing X-Factors are receiving vague “improvements”.
AI also gets a slew of changes, starting with goalies receiving 300 new animations. Described as “previously only available to human goalies”, these new animations should hopefully improve AI puck tracking and positioning, as AI goalies year-to-year tend to be, well, stupid. Bizarrely, the suite of animations was previously only available to player-controlled goalies, so they’re not technically new. A couple of new quality-of-life improvements were shown off as well. Skaters will now gesture with sticks to wide-open players much like they do in real hockey, as well as raise their sticks when near the bench to indicate line changes. Not terribly impactful on playing the game, sure, but they definitely add to authenticity.
While a smaller change, one of the most exciting alteration is an improvement to pass assist. Pass assist in NHL 22 was abysmal, going in the complete opposite direction of what you probably intended on a given play. The trailer says extra attention was drawn to power and out-of-vision passes, which were definitely the biggest culprits last year. To help balance that out, defensive play is also receiving some changes, with defensive positioning being more highly rewarded. Poke checking was far too easy when in poor position last year, so your speed will now be severely hampered while trying to steal the puck.
All in all, the lineup of changes is welcome. Being an annual sports title, don’t expect NHL 23 to be a wildly different experience from last year’s title. Or the year before. But the changes outlined here do paint the picture of a game that should – hopefully – be a slight improvement. EA’s NHL titles are in better shape than Madden at least, but that’s not a very high bar.
What do you think about the changes NHL 23 has lined up? Are you interested? Are you going to wait for a sale? Throw a drop-pass in the comments section below.