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NHL 24 preview: the best-feeling game in the series’ history

The biggest improvements are found on the ice

It’s not every season a sports game gets a new meta. The rules are the rules, and they don’t tend to change. But in NHL 24, that’s exactly what’s happened: EA has introduced a fresh system with the potential to completely change the game.

This system is called Sustained Pressure. With it, time spent attacking your opponent’s goal temporarily boosts your attributes and reduces theirs, resulting in epic momentum swings that give matches a dramatic arc.

According to NHL 24 Senior Producer Chris Haluke, it’s the “headline feature,” one that led to “many different instances where we're playing upstairs on the couches and we've had to rethink and redefine how we play the game. We can't play like we have in the past because we're constantly adjusting to the way that the game and the gameplay changes have essentially changed the meta and the way that we play overall.”

NHL 24 Matthew Tkachuk

Sustained Pressure is represented by a big red circle on the ice that fills and depletes in line with your actions. Effects last up to 30 seconds, and end when the defenders either clear the puck, or there’s a timeout.

Keeping possession in the final third builds Sustained Pressure, as do checks on opponents and shots on goal. Your rewards for doing so are increased passing speed and accuracy as the potency of your goalmouth siege mounts.

Sustained Pressure is NHL 24’s marquee addition, adding a tactical new layer without overly gamifying the sport. In fact, it makes the hockey more hockey-like. There’s a build-up to goals as attackers edge closer to glory through successive attempts. Commentators whip themselves into delirium with shouts of “and again!” as crowds roar in rapture. Attacks are an assault, and defending is survival. The more effort expended in chasing the goal, the better it feels when the puck hits the net.

Correspondingly, when your defenders finally clear the zone there’s marked relief, like you can breathe again. That’s especially true given the extra pressure on goalies this year. EA has added a dedicated goalie fatigue system that changes their behavior the more you run them ragged. Pass across the crease or pepper them with shots and they’ll start to wilt.

NHL 24 bench hit

50 new animations reflect their tiredness. Where a fresh goalie would effortlessly bat away the puck, an exhausted one might desperately raise a glove from a weary sprawled position. It’s not lost on the AI either. They’ll use Sustained Pressure against you, buzzing in your zone like persistent flies, bombarding your goal like an attritional artillery campaign. It gives greater importance to protecting your zone. Defense, as they say, wins championships - it’s no accident the cover athlete for NHL 24 is star defenceman Cale Makar.

So deep-rooted is this new meta, goalies are now a uniform difficulty level. Instead of EA tinkering with their attributes when you play on, say, rookie or world class, it’s the defenders around them that determine their effectiveness. This leads to a game that plays more organically. Your shot was saved because the goalie was mentally alert with a clear line of sight, not because their handling stats were bumped up.

It took the team a lot of balance to get right. “I know in the early iterations,” says Haluke, “it probably was overly gamified, but an incredible amount of balancing and tuning has gone into it, and we do want to remain authentic to the sport, to the feel, and we believe that where we have the product right now is in a place of authenticity, and that's something that we'll continue to chase.”

Cale Makar NHL 24

There’s greater physicality in this year’s game too. Overhauled checking technology emphasizes impactful body checks. You can execute a small check with the flick of the right stick, or a big check by pulling back on the stick and pushing it forward, resulting in both ragdoll and animated reactions. Make contact with the legs and they’ll land on their head. Smash them against the plexiglass and there’s a chance it’ll shatter. You can even send opponents tumbling over the advertising board and into the laps of players on the bench. And yes, you can fight. After a particularly hefty challenge there’s a chance your opponent throws down their stick and starts a brawl. It’s a simplistic, three-button affair, and doesn’t mean much since both players are ejected after, but hey, it’s tradition.

Presentation-wise, EA have added intelligent improvements - detail not merely for detail’s sake. For example, dynamic rink boards display useful stats without interrupting the game flow. They’ll show a team’s total shots or the number of hits a player’s made, all at eye level so you don’t have to keep glancing at the UI. Intelligent crowds, meanwhile, inform how you play: they’ll urge you to “shoot!” when the timer nears zero, lessening your need to constantly watch the clock.

Previously, the crowd was part of a chain: your actions triggered commentary, and commentary then triggered the crowd. It resulted in a slight but noticeable delay, and gave the action a level of artificiality. Now, though, crowds are independent. They’re a living entity, rising to their feet in appreciation of a brave goalkeeping display or growing louder the farther you advance up the ice, sometimes even before the commentator has managed to summon the words. Speaking of which, there’s a new figure in the booth, eight-time gold medal winner Cheryl Pounder. She brings extra energy to an already more frenetic game.


In terms of modes, World of Chel is a more empowering player journey. You’ve now got options in over a thousand pieces of legendary gear, from ‘90s grunge skates and leather jackets, to light-up jerseys emblazoned with giant spiders, and flex celebrations where the scorer pretends his stick is a bazooka. Anything you buy carries over to next year.

“With the Creation Zone and the improvements that we've made to Creation Zone, it's much more, I would say, responsive and you can actually get in and customize at a much faster rate than you would before,” says Haluke. “I'm a goalie, so I want to make sure that my goalie looks exactly how I want, and I can go into creation zone now and execute a flawless version of what I would like my character and my avatar to look like, and it would have taken me a lot longer to do that in previous iterations of the game.”

HUT, meanwhile, introduces unlockable hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Mario Lemeux. Play as them in scenarios from hockey history, where you’ll use Gretzky to reach 50 goals in 39 games, or help Cale Makar score his first goal. Nothing monumental, but welcome all the same. Just like the added crossplay between same-gen consoles. PS4 players can play with Xbox One, PS5 can play with Xbox Series X|S.

The biggest improvements though are found on the ice, with matches now ebbing and flowing with flair and ferocity. EA’s Exhaust Engine adds a meta layer to master, one that invites experimentation and strategy as attackers battle to sustain the pressure and defenders fight to weather the storm.