NHL 24 Just Doesn’t Feel Like Hockey

NHL 24 Preview

EA Sports is preparing to drop the puck on another entry into their NHL franchise. And I can’t help but appreciate the motto on which they based this year’s iteration. “It feels like hockey” is the philosophy behind NHL 24. A few critical updates to its mechanics seem like a step in the right direction toward achieving that. Naturally, I’m skeptical. The footage shown didn’t quite capture the slow, methodical pace of an offensive zone rush where a team cycles the puck to open space – a significant mechanic yet to be seen in the series. Though, without a doubt, I saw a few things that have me excited to step back out onto the ice.

One of the new key features debuting this year is what EA has dubbed the ‘Exhaust Engine.” Now, sustaining an offensive attack will reward your team with increased momentum. EA promises that this will create authentic, high-intensity moments as the forecheck will be more challenging than ever to stop. These momentum boosts won’t last forever – only 30 seconds. But this will feel like an eternity when you’re trying to fend off a high-scoring offense with an exhausted team, much like these situations play out in real life, whether on the ice or in the bleachers.

Feel the Momentum

It’s not just the players that will feel these momentum swings in new ways, either. Revamped goalies react more appropriately to different situations. If, for example, a team has been getting peppered non-stop, the new fatigue system affects how netminders can stop pucks. For the first time, sustained pressure will tire a goaltender out. This should make scoring easier at the end of a prolonged attack. Bear in mind goalies can still make highlight reel saves even when exhausted, but undoubtedly this adds a new layer of strategy to put the puck in the net.

To complement these game changes are an updated control scheme that should be easier for newer and veteran players to master. The face buttons are now tied to specific dekes. Moves like the one-handed tuck and backhand toe drag are now possible with the tap of a button. This does away with the complicated inputs that are difficult to pull off in high-speed situations. Offensive and defensive adjustments are made on the fly with the d-pad, ensuring players can adjust at any time. And big hits are now down by pulling the right stick back and jamming it forward, much like Madden’s truck stick. A simple flick of the right stick will produce a softer hit, which is less likely to leave your skater out of position.

If tending the net is more your style, you should be happy to find that a new ‘tether’ system makes playing between the pipes easier than ever. Goalies will now get themselves back into position automatically. This gives players more of an opportunity to watch the puck and not worry about getting the tender back to the center of the crease. It’ll be interesting to see if the tether system is overpowered. If not, NHL 24 could finally break the mold of goalies being the least popular position to play.

Step Into the Spotlight

Off the ice, general improvements polish up modes like World of Chel and EASHL. It was inevitable, but World of Chel will now feature a paid season pass allowing players to earn unique applicable to their custom player. While this may sound frustrating, EA pointed out that most vanity items acquired can be transferred to NHL 25. Hopefully, this helps players not feel like the pass is worthless. Of course, I anticipate backlash whenever a new way to spend real money is implemented into a sports game.

Finally, presentation updates help make NHL 24 feel more like an NHL broadcast. I’m not convinced it will look like a game of hockey when the action occurs. Though, moments spent between whistles look better. Seventy-five new goal celebrations and a new camera alongside them make scoring feel like a more significant accomplishment. Lighting is dramatically improved, especially when a player is draped in a spotlight after a goal.

Despite the handful of updates to NHL 24, I’ll cautiously await the final release. I hope I’m wrong, and NHL 24 does “feel like hockey.” But, as of now, I’m unwilling to get my hopes up. Until the NHL series adequately mimics a broadcast camera that becomes the preferred way to play, it’ll never achieve its simulation aspirations. It will always look like an arcade representation of the sport. It’s tough to gauge how NHL 24 will turn out without getting my hands on it first. But this doesn’t look like the monumental leap forward the franchise has desperately needed.

***Preview was provided by EA Sports***