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The hockey community is proud of its sport, close-knit, and devoted to it. The latest edition of EA’s long-running hockey sports game simulation NHL 17 puts a lot of effort into satisfying the audience, and it mostly succeeds, but not by much. NHL 17’s best modes and features reflect a willingness to cater to the game’s core audience, including the excellent online multiplayer mode EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) and a completely realised World Cup of Hockey. The biggest issue facing the game now and in the future is whether it would be enough to cater to a larger audience of sports video game players in a crowded and highly competitive release schedule.

The World Cup of Hockey is a big deal in sports.

With EASHL, NHL 17 seizes its biggest advantage over other sports games on the market and rides it hard. This season, the best mode of its kind available is bigger than ever. The feeling of having a few friends on the ice to step up the rankings and then being rewarded by unlocking amazing team design and arena customization choices based on that performance (though limited to presets with no opportunity to make your own) is intriguing and enjoyable in NHL 17.

Even better, winning in EASHL is all about making good decisions and growing organically rather than buying upgrades. The well-designed player options allow you to craft a team based on individual strengths as you learn how to play with your mates. Of course, being able to arrange time with those friends is essential to having fun in EASHL. So if that’s not easy for someone, they’ll be missing out on some of NHL 17’s best features.

The World Cup of Hockey kicks off on September 17th, and NHL 17 features it heavily. For years, international play has been under-represented in the series, so being able to play as one of the eight authentic teams in the tournament is a welcome addition. From the right groupings to the championship match, the entire World Cup tournament is covered. Unfortunately, there is no way to complete a tournament online, and the WCOH is likely to be overlooked once the regular NHL season begins.

Hockey’s World Cup is held every four years.

After debuting in Madden and FIFA last year, the Draft Champions mode makes its way into the game. The draught is well-presented, even though the “legend” cards are difficult to read and figure out who they are, and it’s a pleasant process to complete. The issue becomes one that has troubled the series in recent years: insufficient differentiation between lower-tier and very-good-to-elite player scores. When the games begin, it doesn’t feel particularly satisfying because the players, for the most part, feel and perform similarly. Many who don’t play the team-building mode Ultimate Team will also have no reason to play Draft Champions since the incentives received only apply to Ultimate Team.

This year, Franchise introduces ownership responsibilities. The factors such as setting ticket and concession rates are usually unsatisfactory, but the opportunity to move franchises is a major selling point. Las Vegas (the new team won’t be in until NHL 18), Seattle, and Quebec City are among the 19 cities available. Franchise, unfortunately, does not have an online component, so players will be forced to play their seasons alone, without the social aspect of playing with others.

NHL 17 arrives as a well-oiled machine, following the series’ strong comeback year in 2015. Although it relies on tried-and-true modes and features, it excels at the most crucial aspects of a modern sports video game simulation. Veterans enjoy mature on-ice gameplay that tackles several problems that were present in previous instalments while also leaving the all-too-familiar feeling that not much has changed. Newcomers to the series will appreciate the range and scope of choices it provides, despite the fact that it’s an incredibly difficult game to understand at its launch.

The game’s biggest problems are often beyond its influence, such as making a name for itself in a crowded sports video game release calendar. It will struggle to compete for publicity with the other big-name titles releasing around it if it lacks a ‘jumping off the shelf’ new feature. NHL 17 will have to hope that hockey fans have the budget and inclination to buy it this fall, as it lacks a huge new feature like FIFA 17’s all-new storey mode, Madden 17’s massive popularity of the NFL, or NBA 2K17’s recent history of impressive quality and insane level of content.