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NHL 18: Venom's Thoughts

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Okay, so it's been over a month and I feel I can talk a little bit about my experience (so far) with NHL 18. Now, I was going to make a video about it, but my mic is broken and I won't be able to get a new one until around my birthday in November, so I decided not to wait any longer and do it by writing. So if any of you don't like LONG posts, well... sorry. Also I feel like 1 month is enough time to really experience all the nuances of the game. If you're one of those peopel that don't wanna read a brick of text, head to the last paragraph for my concluding thoughts where I'll summarize what I've said.

So... Let's cut to the chase right away: Is NHL 18 a good hockey game? Yes... And no. It's definitely BETTER than I expected. But, IMO, this is not a game that's worth the AAA game price tag. Some might say that it does as the amount of enjoyment they get out of it greatly outdistances anything else worth the same price, and that's certainly true. However, the amount of frustration you get from it in the form of bugs, glitches and problems that have been appearing in this series since NHL 07 and are STILL present in this game, 11 years later, to me, greatly lowers the value. Imagine you buying a car in 2007 that had a bad transmission system back in the day. And then you buy the new 2017 version at the same price as other cars of its category, but it STILL has the SAME bad transmission system of the original.

But rather than lament over everything wrong, let's start with talking about what this game does right. And first on the list is a number of tweaks on the side of defenders that finally allows them to be almost on par with the offense (I'll get to the almost part in a bit). The defensive skill stick is one of the better function to be implemented in this series in quite some time. It takes a bit to get used to the clunky control scheme (hold the Shoulder button then move the RS in the direction you want to hold your stick out), but it works really well. Taking away passing or shooting lanes and knocking the puck off an attacking player is very satisfying this year as you no longer need to go prone or take a knee which would put you out of position more often than not. Now you can simply remain skating and if the puck gets knocked away you can easily skate towards it and recover it. Now, I said "almost" above because after the patch, stick on stick collisions don't seem to be knocking the puck away anymore. That, and the poke check is a little overpowered from bad angles or from behind. Why would anyone want to use the DSS which takes SKILL to use effectively when you can just mash RB and poke 10 times in a row, without any kind of penalty to speed or accuracy. The other reason why d-men are still not on par with the offense is the offensive rebounds are still nearly impossible for d-men to pick up over the offensive player. Game after game, I've seen sometimes 2 defensemen standing right in front of a loose puck in front of the crease, and they won't even pick it up! And then a forward who just happened to be skating by, swoops in, picks up the puck (while holding up on the RS) and takes an instant shot that no one has a chance of doing anything about. If the puck is bouncing and the d-men have a hard time picking up while standing still, shouldn't a forward skating at full tilt have an even HARDER time doing the same and even harder time still taking such an accurate shot on net?

Since we're talking about offense, nothing has changed much on that front. Offense is still very much PREFERRED over every other function in this series, although both defense and goalies have caught up a bit. The one thing that was added to offense is the new Advanced Creative Dekes which let you do all kinds of neat stick and puck movements to try and fool the defense and/or goalies. But like on defense, there's really no point in using this new function because simply wiggling left to right on a swivel works much more effectively. Why try breaking your thumbs holding the RS, LS and shoulder buttons in odd combinations when you can just let go of LS to initiate a slide and then swing the LS back and forth for an easy goal?

Last but not least, the goaltending. I'm glad to say that after the lackluster BETA, the human goalies have gotten a lot better in the final product. I can safely say that this is the first time since NHL 14 that I felt like I actually have a say in whether my team wins or loses a game due to my play. There are still a few tweaks to be made, especially in the game's save animation logic. We are no longer punished for tracking a shooter. If you're in position to make a save, most of the times you will. My biggest gripe at the moment are the auto-saves... Once an auto-save kicks in, you are locked in place, even if you hit your inputs the instant the auto-save kicks in, it will take over the human inputs and make the animation play out no matter what. It's mostly frustrating when you know you're out of position and want to make a desperation save towards the open side of the net, only to have the game drop your goalie immediately on the spot and do a butterfly save while the puck is completely out of reach. I appreciate the fact that the auto-saves are there to assist the human with reactions online, but it shouldn't take over and lock me out of my inputs. If an auto-save kicks in and I make an input request within the startup frames of the animation, it should cancel out of the auto-save and do the save I requested.

That's mostly it for the gameplay. Things have tightened up a bit and this year, more than any other year I can remember, the offense, defense and goaltending are nearly on par with each other. The one caveat comes from the offense being slightly favoured and the game still allowing for easy (cheesy?) exploits to have the upper hand over skill.

One of the biggest changes touted by EA was the "improved" AI and while it's certainly "improved" it's also just as exploitable as ever. The only thing that makes it capable of standing up to a human is its ability to read your inputs. And boy, does it ever READ them! The higher in difficulty you face them, the higher sampling rate they go. At the Superstar level it's almost like trying to outrun your shadow. It's one of the biggest gripes right now in the online HUT community; the AI is too good at reading your inputs, making it too easy for human opponents of less skill to just be idle and allow his AI teammates to chase you all over the ice without missing a beat. I'm all for a challenge and having the AI be BETTER at the higher difficulty levels, but to also allow it to read my inputs is a little too much like cheating for my tastes. I think the higher in difficulty the AI is, the less it should need to read my inputs and the better it should be at things like positioning, pressuring the open man, taking away lanes and forcing me to turn over the puck. Your best bet against the AI at any level is to just keep the puck moving as it's not really good at off-the-puck play, often leaving one of your teammates wide open for a quick chance. As long as you don't hold on to the puck for too long at the higher levels and thus avoid the CPU sticking on you like glue, you'll do fine.

The rest of the game has seen very little in the way of new mechanics or major improvements. HUT has seen the most changes with having challenges you can try to beat for rewards of either coins or packs or collectibles. It's certainly fun, but on the harder difficulties, it can become a little frustrating because of the AI (more on that later). There's a new practice mode that's fairly useful to learn some of the mechanics of the game. Aside from that, the old stand-by modes are still in here: Offline Franchise, EASHL, Shootout, VS, etc.

EASHL is still the same, still having to choose from the same tired cookie-cutter builds no one really likes. I'm still waiting for the day EA finally realizes that having preset builds is killing the EASHL eco-system. Drop-ins used to be the place people went to level up while clubs were the place you took your avatar at its maximum and really showcase what you could do. Now everything is homogenized. Builds don't really matter, pick whatever you want, it really doesn't make any difference. Drop-ins are all but obsolete now and are filled with the worst elements from the online community. No one cares, because it doesn't change anything if you win or lose. It doesn't' matter if you play your position or not. You're not really building towards anything. Just play the game, which would be fine if you didn't get hit with glitches, bugs and general nonsense every other game... Instead of making EASHL something fun to look forward to, it's more like a chore.

I still think the best course of action for EA going forward is to have both the preset builds, were you initially pick from a few player archetypes, and customization where you can level up your player by reaching a goal or rank and receiving a perk or modifier you can activate to slightly boost your archetypes attributes in unique areas for THAT archetype selected. If some are worried that it would bring back having to "grind" to get higher ranks, then make it so that performance determines how fast you rank up. This way a Defenseman (for example) who plays 10 games, but always plays his position well has a higher chance of leveling up than a same Defenseman who plays 100 games but is constantly out of position, chases the puck and generally is a bad teammate. This would help to bring back some purpose to playing Drop-ins and maybe lessening having to deal with the trolls who have nothing better to do since drop-ins don't matter.

The big "new" mode in the game is NHL Threes. And while it was certainly a novelty at first, it quickly wore off (as I had predicted). Arcade games, by their very nature, are best enjoyed in small dozes every now and then. But Threes tries to make you settle in for the long haul by having you grind out game after game trying to unlock jerseys, star players and mascots to play with. There's just not enough substance in the gameplay of this mode to sustain very long interest in the player base. It should've just been a simple Three vs. Three affair, with NHL teams, each having 1 superstar and unlocking mascots via secret codes or something similar, like NBA Jam or 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge. Even a straight up remake of EA's own 3 on 3 NHL Arcade would've probably been more interesting than what NHL Threes is.

All in all, I think NHL 18 is a good effort, but it's still not where this game should be. There should be more innovation on the gameplay side of things. Advanced Dekes and Defensive Stick are a good step in the right direction, but they are rendered almost obsolete by archaic mechanics that are much easier to execute successfully (gliding wiggle and machine gun poke check, respectively). Standard game modes are all there, but nothing's really improved or even changed all that much. Sure, the presentation aspect in some modes is better, like the selection screen before matchmaking, but it's still pretty much the same game modes. HUT has seen the most changes out of all the standard modes, but it's still HUT. Challenges bring a new dimension to building your team without needing to empty your wallet, but the frustrating Cheating AI that reads your inputs and shadows even your slightest moves makes some of the more difficult challenges rage inducing and not fun at all. It's 2017; it's time for lazy programming like that to take a backseat in place of more challenging and rewarding ways to make the AI harder to beat. EASHL is back. Cookie-cutter builds are back. The EASHL playerbase however is dwindling. Drop-ins are becoming a cesspool of people that don't really care, because there's no incentive to playing in drop-ins other than to waste everyone else's time. Clubs are growing more scarce, except for LG clubs. You don't really find many 6s during the day. At night, most of the LG clubs are active looking for warmup matches. And then when you do find a match, you have to hope that you don't get hit with one of the dozen or so bugs/glitches and exploits during a game. Looping, people desynching from games at random, short side exploit, people ramming into the net and goalie, goals still counting (thank you for REMOVING the nets coming off the moorings in the last patch... Real GENIUS move that was!), goalies still getting frozen when hit while making a save and remaining frozen, wonky puck physics, erratic save commands (RS stick save giving you blocking save animations, LT butterfly saves giving you wild desperation slides, etc), pucks going through the goalies, puck cover animations causing pucks to be kicked into the net, pucks deflecting off the goalies and into the net, fatman lag, lost inputs when shooting, etc. It goes on an on.

NHL 18 has a lot of work left to be a really good game. It's not a terrible game, but it's not a great game either. It's fun in small dozes if you can somehow avoid all the problems. I'm glad I got to play it, even though I wasn't going to at the onset. But there's an urgent need to visit and fix the larger problems and quickly. LG Season has started already and the biggest glitch, the "Looping" bug, is still not fixed.

NHL 18 gets a C for effort and a D for execution. There's still time to clean things up though... Let's see if the dev team is up to the task.

Replies

  • B_Bunny
    888 posts Moderator
    edited October 2017
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.
    PSN: B-Bunny
  • B-Bunny wrote: »
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.

    Is that their usual operating procedure? I don't recall getting many patches after November in the past.
  • B-Bunny wrote: »
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.

    Please don't nerf pokechecks. IRL the best defence is to play the body but it is quite the opposite in NHL 18. Poke is by far the best option.

  • Good read, as always ;)
  • They need to roll the game back to before this last patch and just leave it alone. It was much better.
  • B_Bunny
    888 posts Moderator
    Santini3 wrote: »
    B-Bunny wrote: »
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.

    Is that their usual operating procedure? I don't recall getting many patches after November in the past.

    I think there's been two or so after the launch day patch.
    PSN: B-Bunny
  • VeNOM2099
    3178 posts Member
    edited October 2017
    B-Bunny wrote: »
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.

    Please don't nerf pokechecks. IRL the best defence is to play the body but it is quite the opposite in NHL 18. Poke is by far the best option.

    Actually, the Defensive stick is the best option to control the flow of the game around you, closing passing and shooting lanes and keeping your opponent at a distance you can handle, if you've mastered the DSS. But, as I said, since the poke check is an all-in-one solution that takes less skill to use successfully, why use DSS??

    Maybe not "nerf" the poke check so much as change how it interacts with the puck. Right now it just pushes the puck away (or towards you). It should be causing more pucks to chip up.
    B-Bunny wrote: »
    Santini3 wrote: »
    B-Bunny wrote: »
    I'd rather they not clean things up and just get to work early on 19. The games okay. Nerf poke checking and it'll satisfy me more.

    Is that their usual operating procedure? I don't recall getting many patches after November in the past.

    I think there's been two or so after the launch day patch.

    There were two patches and one tuner update so far.

  • VeNOM2099 wrote: »
    Maybe not "nerf" the poke check so much as change how it interacts with the puck. Right now it just pushes the puck away (or towards you). It should be causing more pucks to chip up.

    Yes, or back towards the player it was poked from or a teammate of his. More pucks that "chip up" and work with neutral physics (not favoring any aspect) sounds damn good to me. Hey, I hate getting the puck poke checked away from, but battling for non discriminating loose pucks sounds like more fun than scripted puck-luck.

  • Exactly.

    One thing I forgot to mention in my initial post is the puck pickups. SISTER MARY FRANCIS!!! They were bad before, but now they're even worse. What happened?

    I suppose Ben ( @NHLDev ) and his team are busy at work right now, or he'd probably chime in. I hope they can solve some of the more pressing issues this game has right now, puck pickups being one of them. But the time loop bug has to be squashed, ASAP!! It's ruining online play severely.
  • 4 patches in the lifetime of the game?!?!? I've seen games get that many in 2 weeks time..

    They need to figure out a better business model that allows them to make enough money to please their rich "masters" and actually develop quality products.
  • 4 patches in the lifetime of the game?!?!? I've seen games get that many in 2 weeks time..

    They need to figure out a better business model that allows them to make enough money to please their rich "masters" and actually develop quality products.

    Actually, that's pretty much par for the course for a yearly released game. Games that see many patches over their life cycle are usually developed in 2-3 years. So the dev team has more downtime in between iterations to work on problems.

    Codemaster's F1 and 2K Sports NBA 2K series usually see about 2-4 patches per yearly release.
  • I guess... I'm just against the whole limited life cycle of games like this and those. Why make a product that you have no intention of supporting for more than one year. I'd much rather put money and time into something that will last 3-5 years or more.
  • deadman9999
    877 posts Member
    edited October 2017
    VeNOM2099 wrote: »
    Exactly.

    One thing I forgot to mention in my initial post is the puck pickups. SISTER MARY FRANCIS!!! They were bad before, but now they're even worse. What happened?

    I suppose Ben ( @NHLDev ) and his team are busy at work right now, or he'd probably chime in. I hope they can solve some of the more pressing issues this game has right now, puck pickups being one of them. But the time loop bug has to be squashed, ASAP!! It's ruining online play severely.

    Considering Last night (Sunday) was another sub par Sunday with games ending with the spinning EA thing took 5 mins and sometimes you don't get any moment for prestieing....
  • And the fact the dev team has not responded to the fact it even exists and we're going on week 6 so I'm not confident they even wanna fix it at all
  • Sinbin
    1331 posts Member
    Drop-ins were bad last generation as well. They've always been bad. There are less people playing them because they don't need to grind out L3 any more, but the percentage of selfish and terrible players in the last generation feels the same as now in drop ins.
  • Agreed. But at least back then playing Drop-ins had some purpose in that if you didn't have a club to help you grind to L3, Drop-ins were the next best thing. You had a better chance of finding people who were grinding just like you so they took things a little more seriously.

    Now drop-ins are useless. You can't even use them to raise your CR levels because most times you are saddled with trolls or people just "having fun". They don't care about position or playing as a team, they just wanna do what they wanna do, win or lose. That's their prerogative of course, but there are 11 other people trying to play and enjoy this game too, not just them. If they want to be everywhere and do everything, there's 1v1 modes galore they can enjoy and play how they want to, and no one will complain about how they play because they'll be playing by themselves.

    The only thing missing back then was a system where you could remain grouped after a game in drop-ins. Which we have now, but it's mostly redundant because it doesn't matter as much as it used to.
  • What year does it have to be for goalies to adapt to user tendencies and also for each one to have unique styles? Doesn't matter what team you are playing every goalie is pretty much the same style with the same weaknesses. Find a move that works, and it will work on every goalie on any team because they are all identical.
  • Good post I think you pretty much nailed what the issues are and have been for quite some time. I might agree with bunny here. if they don't start working on 19 now we will get another polished turd of a game. 18 is just OK, but my god the number of glaring issues this franchise has had for so long is astounding to me.

    I'll be happy if they can ever fix the big hit on an opponent only to have them fall down and maintain possession of the puck while your player is recovering from the check animation. This has been in the game for years now and it amazes me that they can't ever seem to correct this. This infuriates me to no end and makes me want to rage quite so hard!
  • VeNOM2099
    3178 posts Member
    edited October 2017
    I don't find the "Dead Body" syndrome affects me that much as I don't really use checking to separate the puck from a player so much as incidental contact or (now) the DSS function. At the competitive level, most players with the puck are looking for you to hit them so they're ready to move away if you try.

    Keeping yourself in position between them and your net and waiting for them to commit just a bit too close to you works a lot better in this game.

    When I use a hit it's usually to slow down the play and allow my teammates time to get set up in our defensive zone if the opposing team carries the puck in or when I'm looking to give my goalie a few seconds to get in position if there's someone parked in front of his net.
  • Sinbin
    1331 posts Member
    VeNOM2099 wrote: »
    Agreed. But at least back then playing Drop-ins had some purpose in that if you didn't have a club to help you grind to L3, Drop-ins were the next best thing. You had a better chance of finding people who were grinding just like you so they took things a little more seriously.

    Now drop-ins are useless. You can't even use them to raise your CR levels because most times you are saddled with trolls or people just "having fun". They don't care about position or playing as a team, they just wanna do what they wanna do, win or lose. That's their prerogative of course, but there are 11 other people trying to play and enjoy this game too, not just them. If they want to be everywhere and do everything, there's 1v1 modes galore they can enjoy and play how they want to, and no one will complain about how they play because they'll be playing by themselves.

    The only thing missing back then was a system where you could remain grouped after a game in drop-ins. Which we have now, but it's mostly redundant because it doesn't matter as much as it used to.

    I totally get the frustration with drop-ins. I met some pretty great guys in them. You had to depend on each other to grind out L3 so when you found good people to play with you tend to stick with them. Once people started getting L3 though it became a mess. Plus, like now, there were people that only cared about trolling. Such is the nature of multiplayer gaming though. Thankfully now there are some anti-trolling measures built in, but I doubt it'll ever be perfect.
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