NHL 18 is out tomorrow on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One; and while I sadly won't have a review ready for you by tomorrow, I have been playing my share of matches whenever I have a spare moment (mostly as the Minnesota North Stars, which is awesome).
I have a lot of thoughts on how NHL 18 looks and feels, but there's one that is really surging to the forefront at the moment: There are just too many penalties in this game.
Try and lift a stick? Penalty.
Want to poke check? There's a better than 50 percent chance that you're going to send your opponent sprawling and take a trip to the sin bin.
Checking too hard? That's interference. Off you go.
I've had games where I've spent virtually the entire period in the penalty box. It seems like one tiny slipup with a poke check is all it takes, which is making me much more conservative on defense.
Meanwhile, the CPU seems to have carte blanche to smash my players all over the rink. While I'm constantly down to 5-on-4 or 5-on-3, I almost never seem to get a power play of my own. So what gives?
My main solution right now is to use the new defensive skill stick, which does a reasonable job of getting between the puck and the opponent's stick while forcing them to the outside. But it's not a guarantee. There have been a few times where I've swept a few inches too far and sent an opposing player sprawling, which has resulted in... you guessed it... the ref's arm going up.
From what I can understand, this is mostly a tuning issue—one that's been present since the beta kicked off a few months ago. The devs acknowledged that it was an issue when I discussed it with them, but I've yet to see much movement toward fixing it.
The problem, of course, is that balancing out penalties is a finicky process. See also: trying to balance fouls in FIFA and PES. There should be penalties in NHL—it's part of the sport—but not at the expense of the flow of the action. Right now the pace feels choppier than I would like, slowing down the action and constantly putting me on the defense.
Beyond that, power plays are extremely punative. Sure, good players can still be extremely aggressive and get buckets of shorthanded goals, but it naturally puts you at a disadvantage for a long period of time. I'm not sure if EA has done this deliberately, but power plays feel longer than before, possibly because the clock is ticking down more slowly. As a consequence, there are many more opportunities to score with the man advantage.
Sports games are always a work in a progress and I'm sure that the NHL team will get around to addressing this eventually. But for now, it's a noticeable irritation that at times borders on being silly. I hope it gets fixed relatively soon.
NHL 18 is out September 15 on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.