NHL 16 EASHL beta impressions

Posted August 6th, 2015 at 9:30 am


The NHL 16 EA Sports Hockey League beta has now been open for a week – and it remains so through tomorrow – providing an unprecedented (for the sports gaming genre) glimpse at the game which isn’t due out until mid-September.

EASHL was a mode that I found very compelling when it launched in NHL 09, and played heavily that year and a few that followed. However beyond then interest waned as it went largely unchanged and took on a microtransaction slant in the upgrading of player ratings.

Despite that it was immediately evident the error in judgment EA made by not having the mode in NHL 15, or at least properly setting expectations it would not be there. Predictably there was a mass exodus of the consumers who had supported the game over the years, with the absence of EASHL having easily the most influence over potential purchase decisions.

The new EASHL brings back the base structure of the mode but has a fundamental new approach. Player progression has been replaced by “Player Classes”. That evens the playing field while also introducing unique strategies in forming teams to play to strengths or by counteracting an opponent’s selections. 

This is in concept a positive change for the mode. There will be those who lament the process of building up and shaping an individual character’s attributes, but that created imbalance on the ice. Now outcomes will be more about actual skill.

That brings up one other major benefit that some may gloss over when considering the change. EASHL can’t be overrun by microtransactions now, or at least they won’t have an affect on player performance. If they’re introduced they’ll be purely cosmetic – otherwise the whole reasoning for the new design of the mode would be negated.

This EASHL beta was not a replacement for a traditional demo, despite that being the spin that EA has put on the news that there won’t be a demo. It was restricted to only those who had NHL 15. Then it was restricted to those who could get together with others for club play. Beyond that, it was restricted to one game per club at any given time.

That last issue that will hopefully be different with the full release of the game, or it will absolutely need to be dealt with ASAP. In the past, clubs could have multiple games going on at the same time. That’s important, because people just want to play, and they’re limited to only being part of one club at a given time. It was necessary especially for large, active clubs. Obviously those are the primary drivers of popularity.

Instead in the beta for NHL 16’s EASHL when one game is going on, others in the club are rendered unable to play. They have to sit in the waiting room, not knowing the score or even what period the ongoing game is in. That means a possible wait of about a half hour with no guarantee they’ll even get to play after that.

It’s surprising, as it was with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, that GameFace isn’t an option in NHL. Rather it’s being held for NBA Live 16. Despite that the options in NHL are sufficient unlike the pathetic offering in McIlroy. The created pros can be male or female, many choices for faces, and plentiful facial hair options. The main area of customization comes with equipment.

As far as gameplay goes, the controls have proven troublesome, with input lag playing a significant role. That, plus AI controlled players that are generally imcompetent, adds to a general sense of sloppiness on the ice.

In a mode that is all about controlling a single player, EA needs to find a more obvious way to highlight who your player is, and where the puck is located, at all times. The neon indicators for players are alright but too often I lost a sense of where my guy was, because you’re not just staring at your player…you have to look around at the action away from them. Additionally the yellow icon, designated to right defensemen, is painful to look at. I just refuse to play that position now solely because of it.

There is of course a small indicator on-screen for where the puck is but it’s hard to spot unless you’re specifically looking for it, and it’s not obvious when you are actually controlling the puck. I’ve skated around searching for the puck, not realizing that I already have it. The inner-circle of the indicator above the players filling up is not sufficient for recognizing who controls the puck.

As far as the Player Classes go, they don’t immediately feel all that different from one another. I’m not an expert on assessing attributes and how that affects the results in the NHL series however, and those who are more accustomed to the series have expressed that the classes are doing a reasonably good job in differentiating between the player types.

The game is representing the rules and penalties fair well. It’s always a cool touch being sent to the penalty box and having to literally watch from there. Sadly the 3-on-3 overtime rules for this coming season have yet to be implemented.

The best thing about this beta, as opposed to a demo, is that EA will be able to act on consumer feedback for day one of NHL 16. They can take what they learn into consideration and apply it to a day one patch as well as later updates. The EASHL demo has proven to be fun, despite some concerns, and that makes its potential especially promising for the product going forward. Fun is what had to be present first and any adjustments can be made around that.