The NHL 18 Beta dropped in July has fans of EA Sports’ ice hockey video game series ready for the full game’s official release on Sept. 15.
A main feature of the game is the new defensive skill stick. The update gives players more control of their stick defensively. In past editions, gamers would need to position their skater’s body in the lane to block a pass. Now you can maintain a good position while soaking up the passing lane with your stick.
The defensive skill stick is joined by other updates such as the “Threes” game mode, improved AI, and the ability to create the NHL’s 32nd team in the “Franchise” mode.
The Beta confirms rumors that the new game would have a focus on three-on-three hockey. While the arcade-style “Threes” is slightly repetitive, the three-on-three addition to the franchise’s most popular game mode—the EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL)—is a game-changer.
EASHL 6v6 in NHL 18
The six-on-six option in NHL 18’s EASHL is the same hockey players know and love. The game mode forces players to use real hockey strategy such as the dump-and-chase tactic. Teams must work the puck around the zone to find good shots and rely on every player to contribute both offensively and defensively.
For new players to the game, the EASHL allows players to make a team with their friends and play against other teams around the globe. Each player takes control of a position on the ice from center to defense to goalie. It takes the “Team Play” mode from other EA Sports video games and forms a hockey league around it. Much like soccer, the league features a number of divisions that a team can be promoted and demoted to based on how many points they accumulate in a 10-game period.
In past editions of the video game, the EASHL has been strictly six-on-six hockey. If you have four or more players on your club, then this is a very entertaining mode. However, when only two or three human players are on each team, the game is flooded with players controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
While the AI performs well in other game modes such as “Versus” or “Franchise,” it tends to have a tough time when there are multiple human players on a team. This is because the AI’s performance is mostly based on predictions. When a player is locked to the skater with the puck, the AI is simply focused on predicting that one player’s movements. This involves steering clear of the human player, getting open for them, and finding a good position in the offensive zone.
When there are multiple human players on the team, the AI has another player to predict the actions of. This causes them to, at times, get caught out of position, and that can jeopardize your team when it occurs at your end of the rink.
After being reinvented for NHL 17, the EASHL is getting a new makeover. While the traditional six-on-six option is still available, the new three-on-three mode is set to make its debut in the game mode.
This option allows gamers to play more creatively. The open ice and lack of AI-controlled players make for an incredibly different experience than the six-on-six counterpart.
Cycling has become an even more important part of the game. Three-on-three teams feature just one defenseman who is better off sagging towards the opposing goal than staying glued to the blue line. This is intricate to keeping a triangle and thus the ability to work the puck around the zone quickly.
The bright side is that while cycling is more challenging, you’ll only need to connect one or two passes to get a quality scoring chance. This is due to all that open ice. The game quickly becomes all about finding those odd-man situations, making backchecking and positioning essential if you don’t want to see the puck in your net.
If two players rush toward the puck carrier, a two-on-one is opened up. In past editions, defenders had to get their bodies in the passing lane to block a pass. In NHL 18, the new defensive skill stick gives players the ability to control the exact angle of their hockey stick. Never have the passing lanes been so effectively defended in a video game.
The three-on-three option also makes for more casual gameplay. Throwing the puck up ice has a 50-50 success rate while deking and stick work is plentiful. It is by far the best stage to show off your skills.
Brand New League
Critics of the franchise will likely color the three-on-three update as a downgrade. Many will claim that EA Sports simply took four skaters off the ice and called this a new video game. Don’t let them fool you—this was a much-needed update.
As an EASHL player for the past eight years, this writer can tell you that the three-on-three option is going to make him play more. Oftentimes, if I can’t get four or more friends together for a game, I won’t even pop the disk in the console. However, with this three-on-three option, I feel confident that even with just two human players the experience will be enjoyable. Not to mention I’ll have a better shot at winning than I would with three AI teammates.
The best part of this update, by far, is the fact that your team’s records are tracked individually across the game modes. While you have an overall record that appears on your club’s home page, the standings track three-on-three and six-on-six records individually. If your small team is at the bottom of the food chain in six-on-six play, you can rise to the top of the three-on-three standings.
The three-on-three option available in NHL 18 will allow casual and hardcore gamers alike to find success and enjoyment in the EASHL.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.