The game of hockey is constantly evolving. And in recent years we’ve seen speed, skill, and creativity soar as more physical and grindy play takes a backseat. Just as veteran players have had to adapt, so too has EA’s NHL Series. Two years ago, EA Vancouver upgraded the skating and physics engine by adding a blast of agility, responsiveness and satisfying impact to better reflect that. This year it offers more inventive options to wow your opponents, trying to match the skillful players who dominate the game today. It’s a step the series needs to take, but it comes with its fair share of stumbles, never capturing the grace and poise it tries to emulate. The overall gameplay from last year remains intact. Don’t expect fundamental differences, but new skill moves give you new options on the ice. My favorite is the slip deke, where you can scrape the puck in front of you and walk past a defender as you step onto the boards. I also like to do auto-passes on the net and bank them to myself off the board. You can also flip deke to create space and simulate opponents. It has been interesting to see the players use them to improve their game on the ice and I appreciate that they add more strategy to get around defenders. However, as someone who plays a simpler game of hockey, the new super-star inspired dekes weren’t as valuable to me. For example, you can now do “Michigan,” a lacrosse type dexterity move, where you pick up the puck from behind the net and simply throw it at an unsuspecting goalie. Good luck pulling it out, however; the timing is so precise that I can’t imagine ever having the space and time to use it successfully in a real game. The Nikita Kucherov-inspired motionless deke is easier to complete, but they’re all so risky that only the most advanced players will master them. To get back to basics, like last year, controls are patchy. Sometimes players get a surge of momentum, which allows them to write some towering and unrealistic checks. I’m always amazed that I can bring down opponents to the ground with smaller players like Patrick Kane and sometimes a more powerful forward like Ryan Getzlaf can easily be knocked out of the puck. Checking is also very powerful in the 21 NHL. In single-player and online games, the puck felt like it was constantly changing hands because of it. It happens in a real hockey game, but it seems under control here; if you don’t master it and master your ability to protect yourself from it, you don’t have much chance of winning, let alone having fun. Plateau battles need some improvement, but at least the AI recognizes better when to send someone to help. I still hate how this aspect of real hockey is used in the series because I feel like even when I’m in a favorable position and pushing the puck effectively, I still lose more than win. The AI is also exceptionally good at checking shots and removing men from the puck. This is an improvement over last year, but they still struggle to recognize situations and take effective action. I was tired of their reluctance to take the puck out of the defensive zone, or the defenders acting like they were forwards in EASHL. That being said, the goalkeeper AI has made some headway as I’ve seen them make more big saves than in previous entries. However, players are already discovering that sharp angle shots are likely to get them. The mode that has received the most improvement is Be A Pro, where you build your player, interact with your teammates and coaches, and try to make a name for yourself in the NHL. This update is long overdue, but it’s still tough around the edges. It seems low-budget, with boring static images and limited vocal lines, but EA Vancouver brings it to life with help from broadcasters James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro, who comment on your progress and big moments. They keep the mode from feeling too stale, as all of your interactions with management and players are dry and all in one note. You get dialogue options that usually fall into the “star” or “team” categories, but they feel too extreme. To play the role of a star you basically have to be a jerk. For example, a teammate might ask you to attend their wedding, and the star option tells you that you will go if there is nothing better. The problem is choosing the star options that give you branded bonuses, which is what you want as this opens up recommendations (the team option improves the chemistry of the line). I see a promise here and something for EA Vancouver from the next generation. It brought me back to a fad I had long abandoned, and it’s still a mix of good ideas and bad execution. For example, I thought it was cool when they gave my rookie striker a rival and told me I had to beat him in the next game. The problem? My rival was goaltender Collin Delia. Of course, I upgraded it. The other big addition is HUT Rush, which features fast-paced, small-sized games and rewards your prowess in making sophisticated and elegant moves. When you score with a fancy roster quickly crafted from Ultimate Team cards, you get multipliers up to 5x on the last three skills you used, so it’s all about finding the best combos to get the highest score. . This mode is more suitable for advanced players, who like to land difficult shots and can do it easily. It’s a nifty way to get players into games quickly and craft a fantastic roster, but it heavily favors gamers who want to play in a sophisticated way. Smaller additions have come to other modes as well, such as Franchise getting a trade deadline minigame. Again, great idea as it is supposed to capture the frenzy of the day and get you to see the top players and the price the teams are asking for. But it never captures the chaos or intensity, as you just wait for the Ice Clock to subside without many events or trades happening, even if you brand yourself as a salesperson with big names on the block. I love that World of CHEL has added Ranked Seasons across all of its modes, so you can get unique items based on your achievements. While it adds new elements to the mix, it still feels lagging behind in variety, style expression, and amount of cosmetic items compared to other sports games. NHL 21 is a playoff prospect. It’s not about shooting for the cut, it’s about making an effort. He tries to determine if his parts match before an inevitable rebuild. As has been the case in recent years, the strategy and ideas are in place for EA Vancouver to take their game to the next level, but they need work and adjustments. As we move on to the next generation, this will be critical to getting it right. For now, NHL 21 gets the job done, especially if you want to play a more posh, flashier game. I’ve always had a lot of fun, and when you consider that it’s the only way to experience the NHL until the real league comes back on the ice in January, it’s not a bad way to get your fix. hockey.