EA SPORTS NHL 23 is just NHL 22 with a couple of new additions that don’t make it worth your money if you own last year’s entry. In fact, it’s almost insulting that the game is full-priced.
Big budget sequels roll around regularly in gaming, aiming to build on foundational learnings from what came before and be bigger, better, and more bombastic. Throughout history, sports games have been a bit of an exception to this rule being yearly releases, with less than a year to overhaul and fix things for the next game. With NHL 23, though, enough is enough.
The NHL series may not be EA’s most popular, but it does have some of the best gameplay going for it and has for several years now. Sadly, resting on its laurels has left that same gameplay feeling stale.
The few upgrades to the core moment-to-moment action that the series has received in NHL 23 simply aren’t robust or do enough to get me excited.
NHL 23: Key Details
- Developer: EA Vancouver
- Price: $59.99/£49.99
- Release Date: October 14, 2022
- Platforms: PlayStation, Xbox, PC
NHL 23 trailer
Minimal enhancements and chipped ice
Upon loading up NHL 23 for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a menu listing everything that’s “new” to this year’s installment and experienced players will immediately feel underwhelmed.
The big addition to on-ice gameplay this year is in the form of “last chance” moves, which allow players to make wildly desperate plays just like they do in real life.
Additionally, NHL 23 features some new animations including highlight reel saves that should feel a lot bigger than how the game’s antiquated broadcast showcases them.
I remember playing one game where the opposing team’s goalie made a glove save that legitimately made me say “wow.” The thing is, it was a highlight reel save that didn’t get a highlight. No replay. No chance to relive the epic moment from another angle. Nothing.
NHL 23 is basically the same broadcast package as NHL 22 and NHL 21. Miraculously, somehow, someway, I feel like the presentation of the broadcast has gotten seriously worse over the years and its repetitiveness just amplifies these concerns.
The same commentary, basically the same gameplay, everything. It’s like playing on ice that hasn’t had a Zamboni on it in years. A new Stanley Cup celebration and female players is just icing on a stale cake that’s been left in the sun.
Not such an X-Factor
After the last chance puck movement screen, EA SPORTS hypes up the addition of two new X-Factors – special player attributes that give them special skills such as unique shots.
In my review of NHL 22 last year, I mentioned how NHL 2004 had implemented something similar to X-Factors many years ago such as having a hammer next to a player’s name if they are a big hitter.
While X-Factors are certainly an enhanced version of NHL 2004’s variant, I didn’t see them as that big of a deal when they were reintroduced in NHL 22 and I feel even more underwhelmed in NHL 23.
This time around, fans are given a whopping extra two X-Factors! Whoo! This means we now gain access to co-cover star Trevor Zegras’ ‘Skilled Up’ which lets the player perform lacrosse-style goals and Sarah Nurse’s ‘Relentless’ which increases one’s ability to shoot and pass while off-balance.
These are incredibly minor additions and the fact they’re celebrated as second on the “what’s new” screen is very telling.
Limited customization in Franchise
NHL 23 also features a “historic” level of customization in franchise mode, letting players change the number of teams in the NHL, playoff format, and more. But that customization is limited.
While NBA 2K has let players change a season’s length to any number of games for ages now, NHL is only just doing this and with minimal offerings.
For instance, while I could select a variety of overtime formats, I couldn’t select five minutes of 3-on-3 exclusively. It had to be followed by a shootout. As someone who isn’t a fan of the shootout, why couldn’t I remove it?
I also couldn’t replace teams in the league. I tried to make a league with just 12 teams, but on PS5, for whatever reason, with the exception of my user-controlled team, the rest were locked in place.
Another time when I wanted a league with 40 teams, it pulled an assortment of European clubs into the NHL and I couldn’t replace them either. I’m not sure if this was a bug or not, but it really put a damper on the new franchise mode’s custom options.
Aside from this, at least I could select what playoff format I wanted for every single round. A most-welcome addition that really had no reason to ever take this long to be implemented.
NHL 23 misses the playoffs
At the end of the day, NHL 23 left me frustrated.
The one good thing I have to say about this year’s version is the crowd noise. It’s the best it’s ever been, minus an occasional whistling sound that legitimately made me think there was a stoppage in play.
Everything else is either minor or, like crossplay, feels long overdue given the current gaming landscape.
At some point, EA is going to need to change how it approaches this series. I’d honestly value everything “new” in this game at a generous total of $10. Owners of NHL 22 should really only have to pay that much for this game. Alas, it’s full-price.
The Verdict – 6/10
If you’re new to the EA SPORTS NHL series, then you’ll have fun with this, there is no denying that. There is a lot of joy to be had if you haven’t touched the series in years, but veteran players will feel significantly shortchanged by this year’s title.
Reviewed on PS5