The NHL series from EA Sports has been one of the most highly regarded this generation. With NHL 09 in particular the franchise had a resurgence and became more mainstream than many would have anticipated possible. The game began to reach those not necessarily fans of the NHL. It captured the #2 spot with NHL 09 but then didn’t make the list with NHL 10 due to a push towards milking consumers through downloadable content and a lack of intriguing upgrades. NHL 11 is still hampered by the focus on DLC but made enough advancements to deserve placement this year.
The ranking of games in the best of 2010 list is based on the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered on, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take on the games and not a recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those which I had the most fun with while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.
The big addition came with the implementation of real-time physics. That made the game quite buzzworthy prior to the demo and release of the game. The RTP may not have resulted in a revolution, or even been as significant as many had anticipated, but it was a step in the right direction. It is going to take a few iterations before the effects of such a system are fully realized. I also liked some of the more minor improvements such as the new face-off mechanics, better board play, and the occasional broken sticks.
EA Sports Hockey League was what really captured my interest with 09 and that remains a great mode at least in its implementation and options as some connection related issues have cropped up. With the success of Ultimate Team in Madden and FIFA the mode was brought over for NHL 11 and that has added more depth and variety to what the game offers. Ultimate Team Hockey League doesn’t fall into my wheelhouse but the appeal is understandable. Franchise mode and Be a Pro continue to be strengths for NHL and bringing in the CHL this year was a good move to expand them even further.
The nagging deterrent though continues to be the prevalence of microtransactions as well as their influence on the various online play modes. Obviously Ultimate Team is built around the very concept, however boosts that are usable within EASHL are still discouraging to deal with and that creates a sense of competitive imbalance. NHL 11 also had a myraid of exploits and glitches and didn’t receive a roster update until November.
NHL 11 is a quality offering but the series seems to have lost some steam in its appeal beyond hardcore hockey fans. The technical improvements are being made, and the depth and value is being provided, but it may have already peaked in terms of popularity even as it faces no competition in the marketplace.