NHL 20 is finally out and fans are anxious to get their hands on the latest installment of one of the most iconic titles in gaming. Before they do, however, it isn’t uncommon for people to wait for others to reveal their own thoughts on the latest game to see if it’s worth upgrading from the previous year’s title.
With the game releasing for early access on Sept. 5, 2019 and officially dropping on Sept. 13, 2019, it’s finally time for fans to get an idea of exactly what NHL 20 is and whether or not it’s something they deem worthy of purchasing.
Related: NHL 20 Player Ratings: Top 10
Because there are various things to consider in a review such as this, we evaluated the game on five different categories. Those categories include Mechanics, Gameplay, Presentation, Game Modes and Replay Value. Each category will be scored from 1-10 with 10 being the best grade. The combination of the grades will culminate in a total score on 100.
The mechanics rating is based on facets such as skating, hitting, and the overall physics of the game.
EA Sports made a huge leap with NHL 19 when they introduced RPM Tech 1.0. In NHL 20, they stepped it up a notch with RPM Tech 2.0.
RPM Tech 2.0 introduced a new shooting and goalie mechanics that make NHL 20 feel very realistic. Unlike in past games, the shooting feels very fluid and less robotic. It is also more effective: players will chip one-timers in when they’re receiving a cross-crease pass and wheel around to take a forehand shot even if they are out of position.
Goalies are also more effective when it comes to cutting off angles and preventing rebounds. You will see the occasional juicy rebound if you force a goaltender into desperation mode but, more often then, netminders will direct rebounds to the boards or smother them completely.
We’ve become skeptical about the idea of sports games improving each year because they’ve led us into a state of false optimism so many times in the past. With that said, though, NHL 20 is the perfect step forward from the foundation that NHL 19 created.
The feel in-game in NHL 20 is as good as it’s ever been. The game feels smoother than previous iterations of EA’s NHL franchise and because of this, it inherently feels faster. This is a very big plus for NHL 20 and any future sports title as it means that EA is starting to hone in on their RPM (Real Player Motion) technology in a way that feels authentic to hockey’s real-life counterpart.
Whether it’s the way skating feels, passing and shooting works compared to past years and even goaltender tendencies, NHL 20 hit the mark in just about every conceivable way this time around.
The rating for gameplay is based on the overall feel of the game.
With the introduction of RPM Tech 2.0, NHL 20 feels like a very realistic game. The skating looks and feels good much like NHL 19, but the shooting and puck pickups make for a very invigorating experience.
Gone are the days when your player throws a dribbling backhand shot on goal when you intended for them to take a wrist shot. Gone are the days when your player gets locked into an animation when picking up a loose puck or receiving a pass.
Related: NHL 20 Player Ratings: Boston Bruins
In addition to the new goalie mechanics EA introduced, the goalies also seem to make more realistic saves. Goalies do a better job of freezing up the puck – whether it is a shot into their chest or a loose puck in the crease, much like they do in the real NHL.
All of this makes NHL 20 feel almost identical to real-life hockey. There is still some work to be done, but EA Sports can rest on these gameplay mechanics in NHL 21 and focus their efforts on improving other facets of their game.
It’s hard to really pinpoint how gameplay in NHL 20 feels because there are various factors to consider here. In the menus, the game feels as clunky as ever and there’s still clear lag when maneuvering through various settings, game modes and the like.
As mentioned, NHL 20 feels incredible when on the ice and outside of the menus themselves. For that reason alone, the gameplay rating can be salvaged. Having said that, however, the feel of every other aspect in NHL 20 is still lacking.
In contrast to the on-ice product, the menus in NHL 20 (the main menu, the menus in franchise mode and the like), all feel slow, delayed and choppy. It’s important to create a smoother feel on-ice and EA did exactly that this year. For whatever reason, though, nobody has addressed the bad menu system that’s existed for years.
Related: NHL 19 Game Review
Last year, I gave NHL 19 an 8/10 in this category with a note that there’s still room for improvement in the future. EA definitely improved their in-game product enough to merit an increased grade in this category, even if just barely. While the next step will be faster menus and loading times across game modes, this was a positive step forward.
Ratings of NHL 19’s presentation are based on how realistic the game looks as well as the atmosphere the simulation places you in.
Between the new commentary team, new scoreboard, and new replay packages, NHL 20 creates a very immersive experience. If you simulate a game and set the camera mode to “broadcast” and don’t touch your controller, it almost feels as though you’re watching a real game.
The only improvements I can suggest would be in the commentary section. The new team is great, and they have recorded many more hours of commentary than the former NBC crew was able to. However, I’ve still heard many repeating lines – even in the first three games I played.
I was a little thrown off by this, knowing how many more lines this new commentary team was able to record than it’s predecessor. I expected to hear repeats here and there, but hearing them within the first hour of playing was frustrating.
This may be the most controversial part of NHL 20 for fans who have gotten used to a certain style of presentation. This is because NHL 20 features a major broadcast and presentation overhaul.
Gone is the NBC theme. Gone are Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk calling the action. Gone is the old scoreboard and post-goal and game screens.
With a new announce crew, a new scoreboard and ticker-like system at the bottom of the screen that feels less intrusive (even if less familiar at the beginning), new post-goal animations and graphics and celebrations such as the Carolina Hurricanes’ Storm Surge, NHL 20 feels fresh.
As it stands, the new announce-team sounds great, though still more repetitive than you’d like early on in the game’s cycle. The good news in this regard is that both James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro are supposed to be brought into the EA’s studio in Vancouver regularly throughout the season to record new lines for NHL 20.
Rather than scripting out their conversations, though, the duo is allowed to vamp off of each other and create an authentic dialogue that feels real and not manufactured in the slightest. The frequency of these recordings should also keep the most up-to-date happenings in the NHL at the forefront of the discussion in NHL 20.
Another neat feature added to NHL 20 is the new Play of the Game highlights that mimick other popular gaming titles such as Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege.
The ratings of NHL 20’s Game Modes is based on the variety of game modes provided as well as their depth.
I’ll start this off by admitting that I am a huge fan of Franchise Mode. It’s the first game mode I hop into when an NHL game is released. The updates they made in this regard are superb.EA finally added a coaching staff to the mode, which has been a staple in other sports games such as Madden NFL. They also added pre-draft interviews that can unlock crucial information about a player before you draft them, including personality traits, their skillset, and NHL readiness.
Other than that, it feels like nothing has changed. The World of Chel mode is virtually the same, and the Be a Pro mode is still in need of a huge overhaul.
Nearly every other sports game on the market has a highly detailed Be a Pro mode, including interactive conversations with teammates in coaches and cut scenes. In NHL 20, you might as well create a player and play exhibition games with player lock.
There are also gamers who are seeking the return of GM Connected which was an Online Franchise Mode back when the franchise was on PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360. The Madden NFL series has had its own Online Franchise Mode for years now, and it’s about time that the NHL series gets one as well.
To EA’s credit, NHL 20 built on some of the most popular game modes from NHL 19 and continued to grow from there. Included in that list of game modes is ONES (and THREES) Eliminator which introduces a battle-royale type game mode reimagined from a hockey perspective.
For all of the positives that NHL 20 brought with their new game modes, however, there was still a distinct absence of a story mode and a very stale Be a Pro mode that hasn’t grown in any way that’s made it worth even touching in NHL 20.
As far as a story mode is concerned, NHL 20 creative director William Ho gave me a well-explained response when I asked about this absence during my second consecutive year of visiting EA to play the game early.
Ho explained that a story mode isn’t absent due to it being a low priority, but due simply to the NHL team at EA wanting to make sure the story is done correctly when it finally gets released.
It may seem like a cop-out to say something like this, but I’d personally rather companies be honest and transparent in this regard rather than releasing a game (or game mode in this context) early even if it isn’t entirely ready to go.
The lack of improvements in the Be a Pro mode can potentially be explained in the same way, but it still leaves a lot to be desired for fans who want to truly immerse themselves with their own created player.
Be a GM did show improvements with the new coaching implementations and a trade finder (which is far from optimized as of right now), but there’s still room for improvement in that regard as well, especially with franchise mode being so popular among fans of sports titles.
The Replay Value ratings are based on how likely someone is to continue playing the game after the first handful of playthroughs.
Amongst the combination of praise and critiques, I expect to be playing this game for a long time.
Every game I play is different, whether I make a huge comeback, get absolutely demolished, or break my opponent’s heart in overtime. In Franchise Mode, the playoff hockey is addicting. You can feel the pressure to perform at your best, knowing each win is one step closer to the Stanley Cup.
I primarily play Franchise Mode and World of Chel, but I plan to log more hours into Hockey Ultimate Team, Online Versus, and some of the other game modes NHL 20 has to offer. I expect to be playing NHL 20 consistently throughout the hockey season and all the way up to the release of the next addition to the franchise.
At the end of the day, fans of sports titles will always come back and play their favorite titles from the beginning of a game’s cycle to the very end. NHL 20 should be no exception, especially with so much incentive to play the variety of unique game modes that take place in all-new settings and offer exclusive rewards for putting in the work.
Would an improved franchise mode, a new story mode and a better Be a Pro mode have made a difference and added to the replayability? Of course. Are they the be-all, end-all of the discussion? Not even close.
NHL 20 is a good video game and hit the nail on the head in just about every way for the implementation and improvements they intended on bringing to the table this year. While they lose points for lacking in certain areas, they gain points in spades for taking such a serious step forward in other ways.
Overall Grade: 87.5/100
With Drew rating the game 45 out of 50 (up from 42.5 in 2019) and BSC giving the game a rating of 42.5 out of 50 (up from 41 a year ago), NHL 20 has earned itself a grade of 87.5 out of 100 (up from 83.5 a year ago).
While the replay value, mechanics, gameplay and presentation all scored well, it’s clear that NHL 21 will need to improve on game modes to earn a higher grade this time next year. All things considered, though, an 87.5 is a very good grade and was distinctly better than its 2019 counterpart.
If you’re a fan of the NHL franchise, this is definitely worth the pick-up as it is certainly the best title in the series to date.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.