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NHL 24 review: Small, uneven steps forward

On ice

Fall is here, and with it comes the usual new NHL game from EA Sports. NHL 24 never promised anything big for the long-running sports game franchise, and it lives up to that promise. EA Sports added a handful of new features, some more welcome than others, and shuffled around the NHL 24 player ratings as expected. That's about it, though. While NHL 24 plays fine, it’s hard not to see it as just a refined version of more of the same.

NHL 24’s biggest new addition is the Exhaust Engine, which encompasses two features: Sustained Pressure and Goalie Fatigue. I’m a bit torn on these. Sustained Pressure gives an attacking team a boost when they’re in the opponent’s pressure zone – near the goal, basically – while the defending team responds to the pressure by performing poorly. Goalie Fatigue sees a goalie quickly become less efficient as they fend off multiple shots in a short period of time.

They’re nice ideas, in theory, but they would benefit from balance changes. The attacking team can overwhelm defenders too easily in the pressure zone, and the corresponding buffs and debuffs mean the goalie almost inevitably wears down and leaves the goal vulnerable. 

A hockey player in a blue jersey is pushing one in a green-and-white jersey onto the ice.

The hits are (sometimes) harder this year.

NHL 24 improves Goalie Instinct and makes it easier to block more shots, but even still, defending goalies wore down pretty quickly. The meter builds slowly, but there were still more frustrating moments than I would have liked when I was just playing against AI opponents. I’m guessing it’ll be even more annoying in online matches against players who manage to exploit the system to their advantage.

The logic is questionable as well. Sure, a goalie would get tired and sloppy after fending off five shots in a row or more. Unless another factor demoralizes the defending team, though, it seems odd to assume all defenders would perform poorly under pressure – and that the attacking team wouldn’t get fatigued or suffer from frustration after spending time in the pressure zone with no result. The whole system would benefit from more nuance – different timers, for example, or a more varied selection of buffs, debuffs, and the conditions that trigger them.

Another key change in this year’s EA NHL game is the physics system, though the effect is mixed for me. Pulling off the checks successfully feels like it takes better timing and more skill, and while they rarely result in players flying and glass smashing as some of the trailers suggest, it does make checking a little more satisfying. Stamina and momentum play a more significant role in your success or failure, and I appreciated the additional layer of strategy involved, even if it wasn’t exceptionally deep.

A Colorado Avalanche player is skating down the ice, aiming a puck shot.

Activating Pass Vision.

The emphasis on paying for HUT cards and monetizing online play remains the same. That’s not likely to change, but it still feels distasteful. It’s not entirely pay-to-win, but just like in FIFA and Madden, if you go up against a player with exceptional luck or deep pockets, you’re at a distinct disadvantage.

Hockey bags are out, and in their place is the World of Chel Battle Pass. I play too many live-service games and am firmly in the midst of battle pass burnout. I can’t say the prospect of grinding dozens more tiers appeals to me, but replacing randomized loot grabs with transparent rewards and a flat fee is an improvement.. NHL 24 also gives you more ways to earn rewards from the battle pass and other challenges.

HUT Moments are one of those ways, a refreshing change of pace from the usual career mode and quickplay matches. HUT Moments drop you into key games from NHL history and even let you recreate headline scenes from more recent matches. The idea is essentially what Visual Concepts and 2K have done for years in the NBA 2K series, more recently with the Kobe Bryant-themed Mamba Moments. Including modern NHL matches and moments makes it feel a little bit deeper, though, and builds a stronger tie between the game, you, and the sport in its current state.

There’s the usual minor improvements in visuals, and EA Sports finally implemented full crossplay. Vision passing sometimes makes passing easier, though most matches move so fast that you don't benefit from the player tags and icons anyway. You can fire coaches in franchise mode, too. That’s about it for new additions, though. Franchise mode and other existing modes remain largely unchanged, and HUT Moments is the only new mode this year. NHL 24 is a solid new entry, despite some balance issues, though it feels like it’s time for a bigger, more ambitious refresh.

A hockey player is shoving an opposing player over the wall, into the benches beyond.

Making an unintentional exit.

Score: 7/10

Visuals: 8/10

Story: N/A

Mechanics: 7/10

Sound: 7/10

Version tested: Xbox Series X|S