NHL 17 Beta Impresses With Synergy-Based Team Play

At a recent press event, EA gave a number of players an opportunity to get their hands on a beta version of the upcoming NHL 17. It goes without saying there is still a lot of work to be finished, but so far, those who have had the chance to peak at what’s behind the curtain shouldn’t be surprised to see new features in the works.

There’s no doubt that the list of playable modes, come release time, will have a more full-bodied menu. For now, the beta focused on EA Sports Hockey League, Hockey Ultimate Team, and online versus—all having their own distinctive style and flavor of play. Simply jumping between the three, each imparts a different experience, emphasizing the uniqueness of their respective mode.

Hockey Ultimate Team makes its yearly return but incorporates a new “synergy” system. The core basics of the mode are still intact, focusing on building the “ultimate team” as you fight and claw your way through the competition on your way to becoming the greatest team of all time. Everything featured in the mode in the past has been well and good, but EA felt it needed a slight change. Now, synergy will be about putting together a team that better fits your personal style of play or at least the style you are attempting to achieve.

It’s about pairing similarly skilled players together. All players are given different skill sets such as strong defensemen, snipers, speedsters, tough forechecks, etc. Should you get enough players with the same synergy together, team-skill boosts will be made available for either specific players or the whole team. It provides a fun and strategically focus-based style of preparation, made for the fantasy nuts who really want to tweak and tune their teams to the perfect note.

The other popular but now reworked mode, Hockey League, is taking on the challenge of getting online team play to the next level. Those familiar to EA’s NBA Live series will notice that Hockey League gives much of the same feel: You take your player into a lobby of other players from around the world and form a complete team to compete against other randomly-formed squads.

Tking away the past player-controlled rating progression, NHL 17 will have style classes to make way for more balanced teams. After selecting to play as a forward, defenseman, or goalie, you are taken into the lobby where you can further choose where you will play on the ice: center, right/left wing, defensive sides, and again goalie. Once those options have been chosen, the most important aspect follows: your style of play. There are a number of classes to choose from, 18 in total throughout all positions and with 4 of them being new. While players will still earn points after games depending on how well they play, which will dictate the progression of further leveling, the idea is still about offering well-rounded teams for competition.

I found that while using the different classes helped my game, especially when I made a conscious effort to play specific to the class’s strengths, it was apparent my true potential wasn’t reached unless my teammates played along with me and used their traits to their highest potential as well. This is where strategy plays a large role in team success. Now while there is a quick play selection option, most of your games will play more like a Little League soccer game, with players skating around like chickens with their heads cut off; that is, unless you find a bunch of guys who actually know how to position themselves and work the puck. With time though, I’m sure players will learn and games will actually be dynamic contests.

On ice, trainers are available, giving players a chance to learn while they play. Mechanics and interactions of players have some minor touches to be fixed, but once again this was the beta, yet it still was able to delivery a strong showing. There are plenty of things to look forward to but for now we all have to sit patiently. Be on the look out come September 13th when NHL 17 releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.