As long as I’ve been able to read, I’ve enjoyed video games. They tell fantastic stories, take us on amazing adventures to far away places, and introduce us to characters we can’t help but fall in love with. Truly, the minds of video game developers are some of the most gifted minds that have ever graced the planet.
When I turned 7 years old, my parents got me a Nintendo 64 for my birthday, and my love for the video game platform took off like a rocket; a rocket that still soars to this day. As an adult, not only are video games a fun way to spend a day, but they’re also an escape from reality. If you’ve had a hard day and just want to forget about the world for a little while, forgetting what troubles you have is as easy as picking up a controller and pressing the start button. Now, maybe I’ve looked back at some of the games I grew up with in rose colored glasses, but a lot of the content today doesn’t seem to have the same awe inspiring nature the games of yesteryear did. Franchises from Nintendo like Super Mario, Pokemon, and The Legend of Zelda still make fantastic adventures to this day, but the formula for those games have been drastically overhauled through the decades. Sports games, on the other hand, don’t typically stray to far from the beaten path. A few graphical enhancements here and there, and the always important roster update are usually the most we see in the yearly launches of NHL, Madden, NBA, MLB The Show, and even WWE’s titles. Today, we’ll be taking a look NHL 19 under the microscope, and dissecting each of its offline modes to find out how it differs and how it holds up when compared to the NHL video games that came before it.
Online interactions are not rated by the ESRB and are not accounted for in this review as such.
When you fire up the game for the first time, you’ll go through an basic set up process. The first thing the game asks you to do is to select your favorite team in the league. The Washington Capitals, being the Stanley Cup Champions, are the first team listed here, and boy was they ever a great first thing to see! After you’ve got your default team squared away, the game takes you on a tour of the main menu, seen above. It asks you to “pin” three modes you’ll be using the most frequently to create a short cut for each of them to cut back on the time spent at the main menu itself. Your three mode selections, as well as your favorite team, can be changed at any time through the game’s settings option, but I wouldn’t expect many people to utilize this feature.
Video courtesy of IGN.com
Seen here are the three modes I elected to pin to create short cuts for: Franchise Mode, Be A Pro Career Mode, and Play Now. This game’s featured mode, World of CHEL and HUT Legends, the biggest online feature in the game, are also tacked to the top of the board for convenience. Note Alex Ovechkin hoisting the Stanley Cup as the featured image of Franchise mode. Appropriately, this is the first mode I’ll be digging into today. There’s a lot of content to get through as this is one of the most diverse modes in terms of how you can play. Before you do so however, I highly suggest going to the Rosters option on the bottom of the main menu and downloading the most recent update. At the time of this review, the current update is from September 13th, 2018 and covers all moves made by every NHL team up to the trade that saw Erik Karlsson traded to the San Jose Sharks.
When you first select Franchise Mode, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll be given three options for where to being. Option One is to select one of the 31 NHL Clubs and being in the 2018-19 preseason with all your roster updates and draft picks perfectly mirroring where your team stands in real life. For Capitals fans, this means Jay Beagle is with the Vancouver Canuks, Philipp Grubauer is out in Colorado with the Avalanche, John Carlson among others have been resigned and are still in Washignton, Alex Chaisson is listed on the Free Agents sub-menu, and you have all of Washington’s unsigned 2018 draftees, including Alex Alexeyev, at your disposal from the get-go. Option Two is to create and 32nd NHL Expansion Team and go through the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, after selecting your players from each of the existing NHL teams and begin as the Las Vegas Golden Knights did last year. Option Three is to do exactly what you did with Option Two, but with any roster changes you’ve made being applied to the team rosters within the mode.
I’ve elected to do two Franchise Mode play runs this time around. One as the Capitals in their current state, and one with a 32nd expansion team. In this case, I’ve revived the Hartford Whalers.
There are a lot of on and off switches at the start of Franchise Mode that you can’t go back and be changed afterwards, so choose carefully. These include but are not limited to:
-Player Morale: With this option on, your choices will have positive and negative impacts on the players. This can alter the locker room morale, which is vital for being successful in games that are simulated. Each player has his own mind set and different calls can effect players in a wide range of ways. You’ll have to keep the teams’ feelings in mind when looking to make a big trade or when your team is having a hard time breaking a losing streak.
-Owner Mode: Outside of just playing hockey, you can also make off ice calls like upgrading your stadium and changing snack and merchandise prices. You will also need to have routine repairs done when your arena is rough shape. All of these things can impact fan interactions. The happier the fans are, the more they come to games. The more they come to games, the more money you earn. The more money you earn, the better upgrades and players you pull in for your team. There’s a fine, fine line between profit and greed. And if you overprice things, fans simply won’t buy them. That includes tickets, so make sure you find a good balance.
-GM Firing: If you do a bad job, you don’t get to keep your job with this enabled. I assume this is the NHL 19 equivalent of a Game Over, but have never tanked to the point where I was relieved of my duties.
-Salary Cap: I always play with this off. For me, Franchise Mode is about composing your dream team and rising to the top of the NHL. But with the Cap enabled, you will be given a set amount of money you can spend on player contracts. It adds a sense of realism to the game, but I’m trying to keep Ovi around for a few more years and sign John Tavares at the same time, which is largely impractical with the Cap on.
-Fog of War: This is a new feature in NHl 19 that encourages you to dedicate more resources and time to your team scouting. With the Fog enabled, you won’t know any player’s stats unless they’re signed to a team. So making your draft choices is a gamble if you don’t listen to what the scouters have to say. I actually really like this mode as it blinds everybody. The AI controlling the other teams also have no idea what they’re in for when they draft.
Creating a brand new team is serious commitment in this game. You name your team, design the arena, decide on team logos and colors, create jerseys, create a mascot, and set up your arena presentation with goal scoring affects and music. Then, you do it all over again for you new team’s AHL affiliate, minus the mascot. The most involved process for me in this set up was squaring away your teams uniforms. You have an NHL and an AHL team to account for, and a home, away, and alternate uniform for both of them. Creating this can be very time consuming and rather tedious, but the outcome is amazing if you’re willing to put in the time and effort it takes. I did run into a very discouraging snag in the process however. While applying my team’s logo to their away jerseys, the game crashed on me. Twice. Because all of the set up is the first stage in the mode, there wasn’t an option to save any progress up until then so both times I started with an entirely blank slate again. Perhaps this has to do with how much is going on in the game when this is being done, as it seems to only be triggered at that point. On my third attempt, however, I was able to finish the set up process and go on to the next stage. Here, you’re sent to two very important screens: one simply asks for your name, and the other allows you to select which division your team will play in. By default, you’re placed in the Central Division, since it has one less team than the other three in real life. I opted to bump the Detroit Red Wings back into the Central and take their spot in the Atlantic Division, based solely on Hartford’s geographical location.
This is where the fun begins. Your league is then created and you’re welcomed by a pop-up screen with a message from your team’s owner welcoming you to the organization. They remind you that coming up shortly is the team’s expansion draft, and following closely behind is the NHL Entry Draft. He then leaves you to it and you can begin making your selections from each of the NHL’s 31 teams right away. Once you’ve made your selections, you’ll find out where you placed in the draft lottery and can begin the draft process, making early trades if necessary. From there, you must re-sign any players who’s contracts are up. This can be rather difficult as some players change their minds on a daily basis in this 7 in-game day period. However, once the week is up, you enter Free Agency. Here, you can sign any player not signed to a team already. Some of these players a big name free agents like John Tavares, and some aren’t even NHL players. One goalie I like to sign is Danny Aus den Birken, who won a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics with Germany, but who has never played in the NHL.
From there on out, no matter which way you chose to play before getting started, each option plays the same. You enter preseason, assign numbers and captains, and set up your lines. Then comes Game One, and the quest for the Cup is officially on!
The Franchise Mode HUD menu, as depicted above, is beautiful and easy to navigate. Not much to write home about in terms of differences from last year’s NHL game, but this time around you can access the draft class and scouting options from a prompt in the first screen, rather than having to scroll over to Team Management like you did in previous installments. On the HUD, you can check your calendar to see what games your NHL and AHL teams have coming up, make quick moves to edit your lines or propose a trade with another team, and keep track of which teams and individual players are on top of the league. You can also check on the status of your overall performance as the GM in the bottom right, which shows your profits and funds, the state of your arena, fan happiness levels, and owner happiness levels. There are lots of way to influence fans, players, and management and sway things in your favor, but I’ll leave trial and error up to you. After all, this is your franchise to make or break as you see fit.
One last fun thing to note is that each team has its own AI, and you and the 31 AIs must meet one another’s needs if you want to reach a trade agreement. Make sure to check the trade block if you acquire a piece you want to move, as all teams have a deep playoff run in mind!
Be A Pro Career Mode
We’ve all wondered what it would be like to be an NHL star at one time or another, right? For most of us, this is as close as we’re ever going to get. The mode starts off by having you create your character and choose from one of three options. The first option is to play a whole season in the CHL and work to become the top draft pick. The next choice is to manually select which NHL team you want to play for. And finally, you can start with a CHL team and compete in the Play Offs to earn that coveted #1 draft selection spot on a time crunch.
I did both options 2 and 3, but for the sake of this review, I’m going to be reflecting on when I chose my team by hand. Being the #1 draft pick is nice and all, but I’d rather not play for the Chicago Blackhawks, personally. And besides, after you get your NHL team, all plays the same way. So naturally, I played for Washington.
This mode is very unique and I find it interesting. You must play in the preseason and earn your spot in the NHL roster, lest you wind up in the AHL. I played well enough to earn a spot in Washington, where they start you off in your rookie year on the 4th line. The better you play, the faster you’ll work your way up the lines. If your game starts to fail you, you may wind up down in Hershey. In this mode, you only play as your character, so there’s a lot of the action you can’t control, which makes your involvement all the more important. You have to remember that you play in shifts here, and things can happen when you’re off the ice. But the longer you’re on the ice, the more tired you’ll become. There’s a delicate balance here to optimize your ice time.
While you play, you be judged on a wide variety of things, like where you shoot from, how well you pass the puck, and how long you stay on the ice. All of these are factors in how often you level up. The higher your level, the the better you’ll perform.
One major set back in this mode compared to last year’s incarnation is that you now have to request a pass from a team mate. Last year, the AI saw you were open and passed the puck to you without requesting it first. I don’t mind this in theory, but it doesn’t pan out well in-game. You have to tap the poke check button to request a pass. But as soon as I’ve decided that I’m open to a point where I feel I should request one, the AI has already shot the puck to me. Here’s where things go wrong in this scenario: The AI passes me the puck, I request the puck, but once the puck is on its way to me, the request button becomes the poke check button again, as the game has already registered that the puck is in my position. I then poke check the loose puck away from me and it winds up usually on the stick of an opposing player, which counts as a turn over and knocks points off my performance. Essentially, I become the “tac” in a tic-tac-toe play, and the puck is now in the hands of the enemy. I feel like this could easily be patched in an update, I find it very off-putting when I’m trying to get the team ahead.
My only other critique is the same one I’ve had for the last few years: Be A Pro Mode is bare bones when compared to the Live the Life mode of the past. I miss having off ice issues that need resolving and having family and friends to account for as well as the team.
Still though, it is fun to see a version of you in a jersey with your name and number on it skating alongside your favorite players, so it’s hard to be too mad at this mode.
World of CHEL Mode
This is the mode EA Games showed off the most while NHL 19 was still in production. And rightfully so, it’s very fun! This game mode takes us back to where many NHL players first began: playing pond hockey in front of a crowd of very few. Like Career Mode before it, you create an avatar and submerse yourself into this mode. Like the online HUT Legends mode, you unlock gear and bonuses as you play. You get a “hockey bag” every so often with new clothing items, victory animations, abilities, and hockey gear in them to name a few every so often. They give you one to get you started, too. In it, I was given an initial distribution with an NHL home and away jersey among other things. The home jersey was for the Columbus Blue Jackets while my away jersey saw me repping the Minnesota Wild. Considering the game went through the trouble of asking me what my favorite team was when I first booted it up, you’d think they could have incorporated that knowledge into my base bundle, but such is life.
Once you’re all set up and ready to go, you’ll find this is a mission based mode that will prompt you to complete certain tasks. The problem is, all of these tasks are basically the same: beat the other team. You’ll be given a team of some mismatched players, and you’ll face a similarly mismatched team. In one mission, for example, it was myself, playing alongside Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes, and Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars. I don’t remember the team we were up against in its entirety but Patrice Bergernon of the Boston Bruins and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins were both on the opposing side. The prompts hype up one player on the and makes them out to be the NHL version of a Dark Souls boss. Despite this, all the missions play essentially the same way and there is little to no difficulty spike in any missions or individual players. So then, I ask myself, why do I keep coming back for more?
Because this mode is fun. I love the constant flow of rewards and upgrades and I love the fast paced 3 on 3 action. The scores are usually high, one game I had ended with a score of 9-6, with my team winning. And I love the call back to the old days of pond hockey and seeing today’s biggest stars in casual wear just having inter-team fun. This is one of the more lighthearted and easy to enjoy modes. Anyone can enjoy playing this mode regardless of how much they know about hockey. It is the most video game-esque mode in NHL 19, and in fact, it rather reminds of an old Mario Party mini game. I’m glad they chose to highlight this mode in particular when promoting the game, this is one of the best inclusions in the series in a long time.
At the end of a year in Franchise Mode, or at the conclusion of its less involved counterpart, Season Mode, you enter the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup.
In Playoff Mode, you can jump right into the post season and begin the Cup hunt whenever you want! And in this mini mode, you can decide on how many teams are involved, how many games are played per round, and how OT wins are decided. Below, you’ll see I went with the 2018 playoff roster to keep things simple in my first go.
There isn’t much to this mode, but the cutscene at the end is so wholeheartedly rewarding that it doesn’t matter. Most games are simulated, but they can all be played. In this run, I chose to sim every team that wasn’t Washington.
After the beautiful cutcene that lets you relive that wonderful June night in Las Vegas, you’re deposited back out to this screen, and are free to being again or try a different mode.
NHL Threes Mode
This mode is utterly ridiculous, and I find it rather off putting. I feel like they tried to call back to the old NHL Hits game with this one in how cartoony and wild it is, but it really just doesn’t fit in well at all with the rest of the game. One thing that I do like about this mode is the random ability to play as the NHL teams’ mascots. It seems a bit strange at first, especially since the goaltenders in these matches are Devin Dubnyk and Carey Price, and not other mascots. But the characters themselves add an endearing charm to this wonky mode.
Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention, but I found myself confused by what concludes a game here. Sometimes the games would end with three goals scores, sometimes with five. I noticed no clear pattern as to when the final decision was made, but I did overall enjoy the process of being handed my losses. I just wish the mode was a little more clear cut in its directives, and a little less animated. Like the World of CHEL mode before it, I rather enjoy fast paced hockey, but this mode just doesn’t do it for me. It just doesn’t fit in well at all with the rest of NHL 19’s content, and I could have done without it. The energy expended to create NHL Threes could have been better utilized to add a different mini mode, or at the very least to stop the game from crashing when adding custom colored logos to teams in Franchise Mode.
The last mini mode I feel compelled to explain to you all is Shootout Mode. Shootouts aren’t something I experience a lot of in regular game play so it’s nice to have a mini mode if I ever get the desire for some one on one time with a goalie. This mode is typically played through very quickly, but I had one game in particular go 12 rounds before either goalie allowed a goal. Thankfully, I was on the winning side of that match up.
Seen above, after 11 rounds of being shut down, Andre Burakovsky comes up being for Washington, beating Antii Raanta of the Arizona Coyotes in the twelfth round.
This mode is simply, short, and ridiculous amount of fun for either one or two players. It can get a little repetitive, but when the goals are finally scored, the sense of accomplishment is almost overwhelming.
While no NHL game will ever be as adventurous or tell as great of a story as a lot of other video games, this sports simulator is, as most are, one small step above its predecessor. It isn’t perfect by any means, nor is it meant to be. But this game is one that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. I picked it up on its launch date and tore into it immediately. I haven’t put it down for very long over the course of the last week, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed last year’s installment. My biggest critiques are in the game’s smallest features, and it’s well worth the money you’ll spend on it.
If you take away nothing else from this game, just remember it is the first NHL video game to officially refer to the Washington Capitals as Stanley Cup Champions. That alone makes this historic title worth picking up for any Caps fan, despite P.K. Subban for some reason getting the cover spot over Evgeny Kuztensov and his flying bird celly.
8/10: A Great 8, out of 10 that is.
By: Chris Laroche