NHL 23 Review: A Disaster
As we sit here on launch day for Electronic Arts’ NHL 23, the latest installment in the NHL franchise. Several short promotional teasers have been released and they would leave you with several impressions that are completely false. This game not only does not deliver, but many of the claims are wildly misleading and perhaps illegally so.
My perspective is that of an offline player of the series – I have never enjoyed online competitive play and never will. Certainly the opinion of players who seek to play mainly online may differ from mine – but I also have not explored the online modes to see how the advertising holds up. I am reviewing the offline modes.
What Was Advertised
Here is EA’s reveal trailer.
About 45 seconds in they announce women in HUT. Of course that doesn’t mean the women would be in the other modes, but it did reveal something you can see at the 48 second mark. Hair flowing out the back of the helmet, something requested before and for which EA had already done all the hard leg work in establishing for HUT. A reasonable person would conclude that these hair meshes – and perhaps face meshes if they were created for these female HUT players, would be present in creation zone. After all, it is only adding them to the preexisting index to make them available, a single programmer maybe spending part of an hour to add them all in, then you just had to play test them. It would be reasonable to assume that if EA is willing to do the complicated, time consuming task, they would do the simple task that meets a long standing demand. After all, women are a central point to the advertising in this trailer.
At about 1:15 you see a goal celebration, something you’ve seen before in many editions.
Now, let’s move onto the presentation deep dive trailer.
We see about the Stanley Cup celebration and the confetti and fireworks, and then we see about the hat tricks with the readdition of the hat throwing and even improvement upon that. You get the idea that the game is going toward an immersive presentation, especially after last year stripped much of that presentation away where you could no longer see the hats thrown in hat tricks, you lost the bumpers where you see people prepare and perhaps a shot that had happened in the last stretch of play or a hit that was particularly big, you lost the introductions into the game where they at least showed the starting goalies on each side, and you saw goal celebrations simplified and often not work as you’d watch the goal scorer just skate slowly back to the bench about 10% of the time. This was done, according to the lore on Answers HQ, due to HUT players who wanted to rush through games to get HUT coins, and cutting them short gave all sorts of issues with synching where you’d be blind (and your players would stand still according to Be A Pro’s report) until a whistle, not only online, but in offline modes where it was unclear what you had a synching issue with since you are not synching with a server – if you hit the x button at the wrong point. There were tons of complaints, and I am only now learning that there was an option put in for NHL 22 to switch to full presentation again.
At the 2 minute mark we go into game day atmosphere. At 2:38 it talks about how intros were in need of maintenance and talks about on ice projections on and the national anthems. At 3:30 we get to how the face off is being used to improve graphics for statistics. At 3:50 it talks about how the models were updated to give proper shading and such – also adding to the assumption that meshes already made would be accessible in the game. They also mention this coming from other sports titles giving the impression that this presentation is moving toward the full lives used in other EA sports titles. About 5:15 they mention updating the generic head pool, with video featuring female players.
Now let’s move onto the game modes deep dive:
At 0:10 we hear right away that we can have “any number of teams; any number of games played.” Of course, this cannot be literally true, we can expect some maximum number and reason tells us the numbers will be whole numbers since 231.5834 teams would make no sense. But that is the limit of what we can say a reasonable person would conclude, limiting their expectations. At 0:29 they contradict and say 6-48 teams, which isn’t “any number of teams” but a fair range. Previous editions allowed for editing of at least a real world expansion team’s AHL team and your own new expansion team’s AHL team. A reasonable person would assume you could do the same when you add in an extra 16 teams – edit their AHL teams and substitute in custom teams for those AHL teams. About 3:15 it talks about how cross platform matchmaking is an option that players can turn on and off. At 3:40 it talks about how you can edit strategies. At 3:45 it is already talking about how there is a wide range of new customization for teams and for players at a fast speed to suggest there is more than is flipped through in those few seconds. At 4:20 it is talking about how they are adding the option for online players to save strategies for online versus mode. A reasonable person sees a trend of adding things, not removing them.
What Was Delivered
EA delivered a product quite different from what is depicted in these advertisements. Much of the problem stems from things that it implies – a reasonable person would conclude that the game will have features that it does not based upon the advertisement. However, there are certain aspects where the advertisements explicitly stated things that absolutely were not there in the game. In both cases, this would generally be considered to be false advertisement.
Despite the promise of national anthems and on ice projections, these just are barely there. After having started three home games, one of them showed the on ice projection and one other showed the national anthem I selected for my team. Neither of these are very long, as stated in the advertisement you only see the last few cords of the national anthem and the on ice projection is just a short. Nothing happens during this time – you don’t see the players take the ice – you can still choose the prop that players skate through when taking the ice despite the fact that they do not ever show this prop in the game because the players never take the ice. I had seen it hanging from the rafters in bumper shots a handful of times in NHL 22, last year’s version, but it is just wasted code. Long gone are the introductions of the starting goalies or any commentary on the teams. EA could have done a lot with this as expansion teams took to the ice for the first time, but they never bothered. Most of the time you just go directly to the opening faceoff.
Some minor things were restored – when you get sent to the penalty box there is, once again, a short clip of the infraction being committed. Nothing major. When scoring a goal there is generally not a celebration, but you don’t watch the scoring player slowly skate back to the bench either.
My play time was short, and hurried, to check out a few specifics and this review needs to go out before too many people spend their money on this game. However, I did not notice the announcers at any point in my playthrough – so I had to go back in and start yet another game (a generic introduction began that time for the preseason) in order to verify that the announcers are there. They are still there, but the atmosphere provided is so drab that I didn’t even notice them in my rush to test out how the season ran. That is a shame, because the current slate of announcers were getting pretty good overall and the atmosphere just obscures their performance.
For the goals, the celebrations are even faster than last year. You rush to the cut to see the team celebrating on the ice, then quickly go to a single replay, and boom, faceoff bumper. This involved much more pomp in previous iterations and it is streamlined to get you on and off the ice as fast as possible. At this rate, NHL 24 will have you score the goal and immediately be warped back to the faceoff circle as if nothing happened. There is a distinct absence of music – despite generic music normally playing after the visitor’s goal in previous games. Previous years had issues with some music not being very audible because it was not well adapted to the ice, but it is just gone now for the visitors.
However, the loading time to start the game is much quicker on the PS5 than it was, on the PS5, for the previous edition suggesting the game is finally primed for the current generation of consoles. You cannot complain about the improvement in overall graphical quality, but you just don’t get to see the players’ faces nearly as much. I have yet to get off a goal celebration in time.
Post whistle play is also greatly shortened – which creates gameplay issues. Do you want to select a different line so that your player sitting on 49 goals can cross the line to 50? Too bad – you lack the time to do this in favor of getting you out of the game. Do you want to start a fight? You better do that at the faceoff because there isn’t enough time to show you players’ frustration.
What we lack is the game day atmosphere promised by the advertisements. It not only does not have an atmosphere of game day, but it is less so than it was last year. The presentation is horrible and shameful enough after it was degraded in NHL 22 to a symphony of complaints they have only made things worse. I learned through the complaints this year that they ended up putting in an option in NHL 22 to turn on full presentation – that is missing from this year’s game. The specific improvements they promised do not work – players report playing many more games than I have without seeing them trigger even once – and they degraded the presentation in ways which they did not advertise.
The overall direction of this was apparently to design everything for online HUT players. Because it is a competitive mode and players are able to improve their teams by playing games faster, the degradation of the presentation allows for them to earn more HUT points by quickly jumping into games and completing them, squeezing more games in a play period. The game is designed for grinding online points, not for actually enjoying the hockey experience. If you are a HUT player you very well may love this new version – but players who want to feel like they’re actually in the game are bound to be disappointed, as will EA’s legal department.
It is not a bug, by the way, as many fans had thought. However, EA did not simply mess something up that they intend to fix; they did this by intention, despite advertising suggesting just the opposite. We know this thanks to comment #99 on this thread, a comment we should refer to as the great one, from an EA community manager.
We appreciate you reaching out about this.
I wanted to jump in here and let everyone know that this is intentional. There is no option to change the presentation between Full and Condensed in NHL 23.
I also wanted to say that we see your feedback on this. We will continue sharing your thoughts with the NHL team. Thank you for sharing your feedback with us here.@EA_Kent
One concept that the EA Vancouver team just does not seem to get is that there doesn’t need to be a one size fits all approach to this game. HUT makes billions for EA across its titles and it makes sense that EA wants to make sure that those players are happy so that they continue buying virtual Pokémon cards that become useless in a year’s time. In the recap of their advertisements, I noted the option to turn on and off crossplay for an online mode – I did so not because it was false, but because it means that they know they can offer options and allow a different experience for offline players than their online players. Given that they are still charging $100 USD for a copy of the game, they have plenty of money to make this happen – they can use a small fraction of the billions made from HUT transactions to provide the experience for HUT. In the end, this means simply that there is no excuse for taking money from the offline mode development to produce the online modes.
Advancements to female players are mentioned several times throughout the promotions. The first one mentioned how female players were coming to HUT and showed off some new hairstyles EA meshed for them. The second one they talk about all the improved shading and speak about new face meshes that represent more diversity while female face meshes cover the screen. In the third they speak about all the increased customization for players. All of this leads us to believe that female players were going to be improved immensely. Sure, the professionals may be limited to HUT, but they were showing up all over the place.
The truth is that there is not one new thing for female players offline. No new face meshes as promised, the hairs they so painstakingly meshed are not available for your own female characters, and and there is absolutely nothing new provided for female characters at all. There didn’t seem to be any new face meshes for male players either. Everything was already available in NHL 22 when they did add female face meshes and we have very explicit false advertisement – it is not only a matter of what a rational person would conclude – but what they directly promised in words is nowhere to be seen.
Personally, this was devastating for me – as this was the sole reason that I purchased the game. I didn’t care about what you could do in CHEL or HUT and I didn’t believe they would deliver something functional for franchise mode. I spent $100 solely for female hairstyles. However, after doing the extensive work for creating these hairstyles that even introduce new motion EA didn’t seem to find it worthwhile to do the simple tidy work of making this accessible.
Their much touted addition to the offline modes is the ability to customize your league like never before. However, it is not nearly as good as you would infer from what they advertise. You must create every team and have them enter the league from the beginning – you cannot have them enter as expansion teams at any point. That means you must have a full roster of players for those teams – which will either be randomly generated useless players with a random European-sounding team (and I admit it is possible that these are actual European players on real European teams, but it really isn’t worth looking into). There aren’t real names – but rather you get teams with names such as “IS.” Is that the team that you’re looking forward to playing against? Playing as?
This inevitably means a lot of work to do in the creation zone to create teams and create players to fill those teams – and this could be streamlined. You could have player templates and you could have ways of placing them directly onto your custom team. But, as I suspected, EA did nothing to make that work.
So, you must create at least 20 players: 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies, per team that you are adding. You must assign these players to a team that does not feed into the NHL. No AHL teams, no European teams, no CHL teams – you are sticking them on International teams and alumni teams pretty much. You must then remember where you placed them so that when you create the team you can add those players onto the correct team. If you are adding 16 teams – the most you can add without removing NHL teams – that is a lot of work.
EA could have made it so that we can add teams as expansion teams, as they already have programmed into the game. It would be problematic doing 16 at once, but you could be able to set the entry year for each team so they are staggered out. You could also mix and match. EA could have played with different expansion strategies, such as when teams used to be able to get the first few draft picks and hold tryouts. But you must hand create it all. Note that being the 33rd team is still an alternate franchise mode so the ability is literally in this game, just not in this feature.
So, you have put in hours upon hours creating teams, players, and putting them all into the game. Guess what, you cannot edit the AHL teams like you could for years prior – and presumably still can with the 33rd expansion team mode. You are given random European sounding teams full of players that will never make it out of the AHL and you are stuck with that team. There is no changing it.
You do get a whole lot of options for customizing the league, however, so the mode is not a total flop – EA just did not think it through to make it a smooth transition. Hell, they could have used it as a springboard to create a Universe Mode where you have a bunch of custom teams and you could play all the modes with them, along with periodic expansions, such as be-a-pro. Who wouldn’t want to play that on their custom team if they were into custom teams?
You are able to do all the things that they show in the video, very specifically. Literally nothing more. You can alter the number of teams from 6 – 48 and set the number of games as high as 84… two more than currently. You can edit the playoff rounds and you can edit the AHL season length – despite not being able to edit the AHL teams. However, it is odd that you can set a round robin for the regular season, but not for the playoffs given that round robins are generally done in tournaments, not regular seasons.
However, this is where false advertisement creeps in – they do not advertise what you lost despite it being material. They advertised how there are new team strategies and they are even allowing online players to save their strategies so that they can get in and out of games faster. Yet, you cannot edit strategies in franchise mode. The reason given by EA – after the fact – is that you are not the coach and the coach handles strategies. Whereas the change from Be-A-GM to Franchise for the name of the mode seems to suggest a move away from being a GM and toward controlling your own franchise as a whole, EA justified this change as intentional, not a bug, because you are the GM, not a coach. What’s more is that firing your coach and hiring a different one will not alter the strategies.
This mode was created for those players that love recreating older leagues – they advertised it as you being able to recreate the NHL from any point from the Original 6 to the 1980s. Yet you cannot turn off retired jerseys like you could in previous years. Wayne Gretzky cannot wear 99 on any team, Gordie Howe cannot wear 9 on the Red Wings, and you just cannot recreate the league as promised. It would have also been an ideal time to reintroduce helmetless players offline, as repeatedly requested by their fan base – this option is, for some reason, available online. So many players went helmetless and no one, not even goalies, wore masks before the 1950s. That is something you cannot recreate. EA’s reason, only a few months ago, was that the focus was on today’s NHL not previous eras – despite it only having an effect on anyone but the user utilizing it online – where it is allowed.
What is New for Offline Players
What we are left with is a few new team logos. They are crisper than normal, but several are just new versions of logos we already had. There is another knights one in the chess style, another two shark ones (despite the existence of the San Jose Sharks in the league already), another shield and crossed swords. There is a flying saucer finally which meshes with the laser flare for goal horns. You also can finally edit team owners for custom teams, so you don’t automatically get stuck with a stingy owner who doesn’t let your team succeed. As far as I’ve seen, that is all that is new.
They did substantially change the gameplay so that goalies are much better at getting to the harder shots, though they will let really easy ones in without a fight. The gameplay seems a lot more simulated than in prior editions, which may be something that would only take getting used to. However, they also added rumble pack technology for the first time, and to the point that they clearly went back to 1998 and got a 10 year old to design that function, because it vibrates a disturbing amount. Simply skating made me feel like there was a rubber ball in my hand violently shaking back and forth. Thankfully, there is an option to reduce or entirely turn off this rumble technology.
They also opted to fix passing, not seemingly through any better pass assistance, but by having the camera zoom out after the faceoff to show more of the ice and see you teammates. It can help you know when those passes can get across, but it will also make movement around players much more difficult.
Unless you are looking for a lot of online play, which will require a new version of the game, you are best off not purchasing this game. It was misleadingly advertised and the offline community is up in arms while the EA Vancouver team is ready to move on. According to Daily Faceoff, EA has already shifted its focus to NHL 24 so things are unlikely to be rectified.
For myself, I have sworn to never purchase another product, for myself or as a gift, from Electronic Arts again. If you read my other stuff, you may have come across my ideas for the Sims 5 – the NHL series is not the only EA title that I have invested in both financially and emotionally – I am done with it all. The NHL series is a disappointment year after year and even The Sims has bugs that haven’t been fixed since its inception. I do not find EA a trustworthy company to do business with.
With that said, after I filed a report with the Better Business Bureau, I was contacted by an EA executive asking for clarification. The first section of this article is copy/pasted from my reply and the rest is designed around that reply. I did say that there was a way to get me to reconsider:
You may be able to save my future business, but that would mean making things right with this product – not with a refund to me, but with delivering what was advertised and implied. It would also mean doing that as a priority to be patched in early this same year. It would also mean next year putting real elbow grease into offfline modes to make the product worthwhile. Frankly, I don’t think EA would be willing to deliver what it would take for me to buy one of their products ever again.
I am not holding my breath. I would suggest you follow in a boycott as well unless this is rectified.
I did notify them of my intent to publish this article as well. I also invited them to give a statement this morning; I have not heard back.
All Images Fair Use
Having lived for the most extended periods I spent anywhere in Johnstown and Detroit I know embarrassingly little about hockey, I must be in the minority among Tranners in that I don’t play computer games, All that said, It sounds like EA is engaged in a classic bait and switch. That is both illegal as theft by false promise, and tortious, Of course, it is unethical. Give them hell, Veronica.