For the first time since its announcement in June, fans were able to get their hands on NHL 20 with the launch of the game’s annual Open Beta.
The beta focused primarily on showcasing the game’s improvements on the gameplay side of things as opposed to anything else. And since there’s a lot to cover here, let’s just dive right into it.
First, the modes.
Because it was just a beta, there’s not a lot to talk about here because the modes aren’t the point of the open beta. That said, there were a few options for players to try out.
The new NHL Threes eliminator mode was available and could be a fun time with friends due to its sudden death nature. Also available was the local NHL Ones NOW mode. It’s still just NHL Ones, but there wasn’t a scoreboard on the screen when playing so unless you looked at the board on the rink, it was tough to keep track of who was in the lead.
EASHL and Online Versus were also an option to play, and they are just what you expected them to be. And before you bring it up, the team rosters are as of the end of the 2019 NHL season due to various licensing agreements as well as the fact that the beta build is as of the beginning of June, meaning the Stanley Cup Playoffs were still in session during the cutoff.
All About The Broadcast
Based on social media posts and comments on our other NHL 20 videos, the game’s new presentation package was clearly the most divisive new addition to the game. Obviously, people are going to be split on it but I’m actually surprised at how much of an issue this was for some players, though.
Gone is the NBC presentation, and in its place is an NHL 20-specific presentation that features new overlays, transitions, and a new commentary team. Doc Emrick and Eddie Olcyzk and their lack of emotion in the calls are (thankfully) gone. Now we get Vancouver sports host James Cybulski as main play-by-play with TSN’s Ray Ferraro taking over on color commentary after being the third man on the team the past few years.
Immediately, you notice there’s actual emotion in the calls of the action with far fewer repeated lines (aside from the different things that could be done instead of icing the puck). Scoring a third-period goal to tie the game evokes emotion that has never been heard of in the NHL series before.
The graphic presentation makes sure to highlight your players after goals and during the action with stats like time of ice, shots, and saves. There’s even a new score bug at the bottom of the screen that takes up less real estate on the screen than the NBC board did. It’s tough to try and check it out during the play because of its location, but it’s nice to be able to see more of the ice this year.
Some think it comes off as an arcade-like atmosphere, but I find it fun and enjoyable. You know, like a video game should be.
Speaking of enjoyable, checking out the updates to the gameplay is what this beta really was all about. And that’s where there’s the most to cover.
To make it easier to digest, we’ll break this down into various aspects of the gameplay starting with the shooting.
Before getting into it though, remember, the development team at EA has posted a full list of things adjusted and fixed from the time the beta cutoff was set through the launch. So, if you’re wondering if your issue was addressed, you can check that out.
Taking The Shot
What was noticed immediately were the various angles that shots occurred. Depending on your skater’s positioning, you may find yourself either fluttering a shot to the net or going for a quick backhand.
Also nice about the shooting was that you wouldn’t see shots fly off the stick if you were out of position. In past games, you could get a bad positioned shot to come off the stick like you had just received a perfectly placed pass in the slot. That appeared to be gone in my time with the beta, but it may have been just a case of me not having a game where that opportunity arose.
One thing that stood out to me specifically was during an online versus game. While breaking towards the net, my skater looked off the goalie — making the goal make a slight play for the pass — which ultimately left the high glove side open for the tying goal.
Moments like that show that the team is determined to add the little things that make the on-ice action as real-to-life as possible. And, to be honest, by sticking with the Ignite engine, we are closer to accurate gameplay than we’ve ever been even if the on-ice visuals are the same as they’ve been for five years now. And that’s no t making an excuse for things like lack of player scans or the like, that’s just making a statement.
That said, not everything is all sunshine and rainbows. There were times that rather than go for the easier backhand shot, players would do a long spin and look for a forehand shot. Also, the backhands felt kind of overpowered at times, same with one-timers to the glove side of the goaltenders.
How’s The Skating
One of my — and a lot of people’s — biggest issues from NHL 19 was the figure skating in order to keep the puck using a combination of LT and A (L2 and X on PS4), or just skating backward in general.
EA has seemingly nerfed that exploit in a major way for NHL 20. Now, it still works every now and then, but I don’t anticipate it being the problem that it became last year.
With puck pickups, it’s something that unless you’re really looking for it, you won’t really notice. There were maybe two or three times where I questioned what was going on the ice when going after a loose puck or reaching for a pass. For the most part, if a puck was around a player, they would adjust accordingly to pick it up or battle with an opponent.
What was also nice to see was the removing of the gliding when picking up a pass. It’s nice to hear that it’s gone, but to actually experience it being done away with was great. Instead, players continue with their skating animations when receiving or going for a pass.
What about Passing?
While it felt smoother at times, the passing felt awfully slow during every game. Cross-crease passes seemed to take forever to get there while breakout passes could be intercepted or broken up far more often. It’s hard to tell whether that was more due to a player’s attributes or just the tuning of the game.
They’ve already said it’s going to be faster in the final build, but it’s still going to be one aspect of NHL 20 worth keeping an eye on.
On a more positive note for passing, if you play defense in EASHL or just when playing defense in general, it’s nice to actually feel like you’re on a level playing ground for once when trying to break up plays. I didn’t notice much in the way of pucks seemingly warping through my defenseman’s stick in the beta. Rather, I was able to break up plays and eliminate offensive threats. Hopefully, that still remains in September and beyond.
Making The Save
For goaltending, you quickly see how the increased animations will impact the play between the pipes. Quick animations like a shoulder shuffle or a quick move of the blocker make for fewer chances for soft goals. It’s harder to score — that’s likely to change with tuners — and the rebounds are more unique after shots, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some ways to kind of take advantage of the situation.
It seems like the best way to find success, is to throw the puck at the net and hope for rebounds. While I fully expect that to be fixed at our around the game’s launch, it was clear that it became a shooting gallery meta in order to find the back of the net. Second chance opportunities were key.
Lastly, there were other odds and ends that stood out in the beta.
The puck physics — which have been addressed in development post cutoff — really felt out of control. At least a dozen times per game the puck would fly out of play off a simple deflection or blocker save. It led to the pace of games to halt, especially when on powerplays.
Switching players could also use some tweaking because it still doesn’t always register quick enough or switch to who you want it to control every time.
Overall game speed feels nearly perfect in my opinion. It doesn’t feel too fast and arcade-like but it doesn’t feel slow and methodical either. There’s a nice pace to it all when skating around and making place….again, other than the passing.
From a modes standpoint, it would’ve been nice — even with limited teams — to be able to play offline vs CPU to see how those games would play out. Not everyone is going to want to play online with others — and based on the quitting, attempted cheesing, and flat out embarrassment that the online NHL community can be at times, more people would’ve likely enjoyed what they had IF Ones NOW wasn’t the only offline mode.
Are the gameplay changes enough to justify picking up the game? That’s tough to say due to the number of changes and fixes already announced for the final build. But, for me, there’s definitely aspects of the gameplay that make the game far more enjoyable than NHL 19 which was a game many, including myself, put down for good after just a few weeks.