Electronic Arts' long-running hockey series has lagged behind the far more popular FIFA and Madden for years.
NHL 22 is under pressure to be the most impressive NHL game yet.
While it’s undoubtedly the best hockey simulator out there, it doesn’t make the same significant innovations that FIFA or Madden do on a yearly basis. The series is still recovering from the disastrous NHL 15, which stripped away many beloved modes. NHL 21 didn’t even jump to next-gen in 2020 when its sports brethren did. It’s arriving on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S for the first time this year.
The developers hope to make NHL 22 stand out with two significant updates: X-Factors and the Frostbite Engine. These welcome upgrades, however, have already been in Madden for years.
If you feel like the NHL series has been underserved and needs to craft a more significant identity for itself, this year’s entry might disappoint you.
NHL 22’s big new gameplay addition has the benefit of being felt across every mode in the game. Superstar X-Factors, which debuted in Madden NFL 20, are special abilities that certain famous players have. In NHL 22, this is realized through Zone abilities and Superstar abilities that can activate in critical situations and exist to make players feel more individually distinct from each other.
For example, Tampa Bay Lightning Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has an ability called Contortionist that allows him to stretch his body and make saves other goals couldn’t. These are supposed to make him stand out from a nameless rookie by highlighting what he does best. This system has been refined in Madden over the years, so hopefully, X-Factors will feel more impactful from the start.
The system does seem like a better fit for a sport like hockey, where fewer players are involved. These abilities will come up more often in a fast-paced game with 12 players on the ice instead of a slow and strategic experience like football, where 22 players are on the field at all times.
NHL 22 is also upgrading to the Frostbite Engine without losing any modes or features. EA’s proprietary game engine is best known for games like Battlefield 2042 and Anthem, but the FIFA and Madden franchises also adopted the engine several years ago. NHL 22 is finally making the jump as well, and the results are promising.
Leave it to an engine called Frostbite to simulate ice reflections more clearly than ever. It doesn’t look like players are just skating across white concrete anymore. On next-gen consoles, NHL 22 also benefits from improved animations, physics, and lighting.
Why has it taken so long for the series to get here? Ultimately, it feels behind the times as a result.
Die-hard hockey game fans will buy the game no matter what, and they’ll find the best one yet. For everyone else, particularly sports buffs who played Madden NFL 21 and/or FIFA 21, these “innovations” are bound to feel like old news.
NHL hasn’t even had the chance to go through the growing pains that come with those features.
Madden NFL 18 and FIFA 17, those series’ first entries on Frostbite, were full of glitches, so EA needs to polish this game to ensure the same isn’t the case with NHL 22. X-Factors have the potential to spice up matches, but they run the risk of feeling overpowered in their first outing in the franchise.
Madden’s also moved on and introduced gameday momentum, so while NHL plays catch-up, its competition is already moving forward.
NHL games will only improve as EA iterates on these new features and addresses fan requests like GM Connected. Sadly, NHL 22 lacks the wow factor needed to entice a wide audience. If you want a sports game on the Frostbite Engine that uses X-Factors well, play Madden NFL 22 and leave the NHL series where it currently belongs: the bench.
NHL 22 will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on October 15.