NHL 19 Beta Review

EA Sports’ NHL 19 Beta was launched on July 26 and officially came off the market on Aug 3. This free, stripped-down version of what is to be NHL 19, which drops on Sept. 14, gives fans of the video game series a glimpse of what is to come. The Beta featured two game modes: Online Versus, which pins you against an online opponent in a regular 5-on-5 style of hockey, and the all-new World of Chel mode.

EA Sports announced that P.K. Subban as the cover-athlete of this year’s installment of the long-running hockey game series. Other NHL stars to grace the video game’s cover include Connor McDavid (NHL 18), Vladamir Tarasenko (NHL 17), Jonathan Toews (NHL 16), and Patrice Bergeron (NHL 15). In other words, this decision places Subban among other outstanding superstars in today’s game.

NHL 19 Beta Gameplay

This is a review of the NHL 19 Beta, after all, and it feels right to cover the good first — and there’s lots of it. The Beta gave hockey fans their first look at the brand-new skating engine inspired by none other than McDavid. It makes the game look more realistic as your player can now stop on a dime, stay on the edges of his skate blades, and gallop before moving into his full stride.

The skating engine also feels great when you find the controller resting in your own two hands. Gone are the days when you have to wait patiently as your player takes a turn spanning half the rink’s width when initiated at full speed. It also evaporates the fantasy that you can seamlessly switch from skating forward to skating backward while maintaining the same velocity.

Also installed in the gameplay is a much-needed stick-checking update. While the controls and feel of stick-checking have remained the same as recent installments of the game, it now has a touch of realism. Before NHL 19, you could get away with poke checks that warp through your opposition’s legs without getting a tripping minor. This allowed you to thwart a breakaway even if you found yourself a couple feet behind the opportunist.

Those days are done. Early on in the Beta, however, it seemed like every poke check resulted in a penalty. Thanks to a patch installed mid-Beta, trips are less likely when your defenseman is positioned in front of the puck holder. Still, you need to time your poke checks appropriately. Spacing is a must, as if you find yourself too close to the oncoming forward, you still stand a good chance of tripping him up. It may take some time in the penalty box before you learn not to tap that poke-check button when you’re behind your opponent, but it is, overall, a great addition to the game.

World of Chel

The World of Chel game mode transformed the most-played facet of EA Sports’ NHL series. The EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) allows you start up a hockey club with your friends, hitting the ice as you earn experience points for your player and your team as in pursuit of division titles and championships. New in the World of Chel mode is the “Ones” game mode. This features a 1 vs 1 vs 1 version of pond hockey with one three-minute period to see who comes out on top. This mode includes multiple tiers just like the regular EASHL mode and allows you to earn experience for your player.

Another improvement wrapped in the World of Chel package is what has become known as ‘hockey bling’. As your player gains experience, you unlock hockey bags containing multiple items including hockey gear. In the “Threes” and “Ones” modes, your player isn’t dressed up in an NHL jersey, but instead sweatshirts, jackets, jeans, cargo pants, and knitted hats. The options seem to be infinite as you can dress your player however you see fit, including merchandise from your favorite NHL team as you unlock it.

NHL 19 Beta
NHL 19 will let you customize your online player’s appearance. (EA Sports NHL 19 Beta / PS4)

The hockey bags you earn also include player traits, celebrations, and audio components. You can now queue up chirps such as “Sit down!” for when you dish out a bone-crush hit. The player traits finally found a comprise of two polar directions EA Sports has taken in pass renditions of their game.

It seems like forever ago that you unlocked experience points for your player used to upgrade his or her attributes. This made it so the more you played, the better you were; thus when pinned against a newer team, the game was almost decided from the time the puck hit the ice. More recently, you were able to select a particular class for your players such as sniper, power forward, or two-way defenseman. These classes were all different from each other attributes-wise, but if your sniper was pinned against an opponents’ sniper, it meant you were playing with the same exact player.

Player traits changed this. While you still choose a base, universal class, you can now equip up to three traits to your player that you unlock as you move your way through the mode. These traits include upgrades to your shot, dekes, one-timer capabilities, stamina, physicality — and that’s just a handful of the dozens of options at hand. This makes it so all players in the World of Chel mode are equal on the surface, but have different strengths and weakness that make them feel unique.

NHL 19 Improvements

Of course, with the good, there is always the bad. When playing alongside artificial-intelligence (AI) controlled players, you can become easily frustrated. It still seems difficult for them to play with just two or three human-controlled players on the ice, forcing you to call for a pass even when you’re wide open and should have already received a pass.

NHL 19 Beta
The AI in NHL 19 still needs some improvement. (EA Sports NHL 19 Beta / PS4)

The online servers were also spotty at best. One night, I spent a half hour with my friends trying to find a game that didn’t disconnect one of us, leading me to drop the controller in exchange for another activity until the following morning. While this can be expected from a Beta, this spottiness has had a tendency to leak into the full game in recent years and needs to be fleshed out before release.

In the EASHL mode, there are now multiple dressing rooms for 6-on-6, 3-on-3, 6-on-6 playoffs, and 3-on-3 playoffs. In past games, it was all condensed where you could select one of those four options from a single menu. Now it takes communication in order for teammates to find which dressing room you should be selecting — that or combing through each room until you find your friends.

Expanding on that is the menu navigation in general. After dropping into the World of Chel mode, it seemed as if I had to go through three or four loading screens before I even got the chance to step onto the ice. This has long plagued EA Sports’ NHL series, and one would think that there is some way to avoid all of this navigating and waiting before getting to the actual gameplay.

All-In-All NHL 19 Beta Was a Success

In the end, the NHL 19 Beta was a success. Recently it seems that fans of the hockey-simulation series have been hopping off the bandwagon, reluctant to spend $60 on a game with just a few updates. However, you might want to think twice before passing on NHL 19. It has multiple new features that change the way the video game is played and is a possibly the biggest step EA Sports has taken with this series in some time.