NHL 22 Review – A series in the penalty box

NHL 22 review header showing a player in front of the American flagEA Sports

EA SPORTS is back for yet another hockey season, this time with NHL 22 – the first entry on next-gen systems, not that you’d necessarily realize it.

The NHL series already has some of the best gameplay in sports titles, partly because of just how well hockey translates to video games. The hitting, the shooting, the passing, it’s all never been better.

The problem, however, is that the gameplay refinements aren’t a sizable leap from NHL 21. Even the new stick physics, which add another form of realism, are a minor addition hardly worth the $60 price tag – making EA’s hockey title this year closer to the stagnating Madden franchise than the much improved FIFA.

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X-Factors are an overdue and even outdated addition.

What’s old is new again

I’m a bit of a boomer when it comes to the NHL games. I played them throughout the 90s, but never really got way into one until NHL 2003. Since then I’ve played them all and I’ve seen features come and go, as EA cycles marketing terms and new gameplay tweaks with each release.

This is why some of the big “new” additions to NHL 22 feel almost laughable, given in many instances they’re features that were stripped out in prior years and have been re-added.

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For starters, the league’s top players have “Superstar X-Factor” abilities that highlight their skills at performing certain types of shots, saves, passes, and other key gameplay components. These “X-Factors” are highlighted on selected players, alerting the user of their abilities.

NHL 2004YouTube/John GodGames
NHL 2004 had its own version of “X-Factors” over 15 years ago.

Here’s the thing, this new addition would be great if it came out in, say, 2004. And guess what? That’s literally what happened. NHL 2004 already had icons next to players’ names in the form of hammers for big hitters, a target for snipers, a stick for heavy slapshot, and skates for quick players.

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Sure, it wasn’t as in-depth as NHL 22, but the fact EA is marketing these “X-Factors” as being such a cool, innovative addition is a little silly. No, it’s not fresh. And had it never been removed from other entries post-2004, surely it would be so much more refined than it is now.

NHL 22 dresses to impress… kinda

Another big addition being marketed are these “augmented reality” broadcast segments that take up the screen to show how two teams or players are matching up, when penalties are given out, etc.

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It’s a nice nod to broadcast quality realism, but it would be so much nicer if these screens transitioned better within the actual gameplay than just serving as a glorified cutscene.

Instead of showing how two players compare in a screen taking up the face-off circle and then transitioning to the gameplay perspective, why not just include it organically so it flows much better?

The “augmented reality” broadcast bits aren’t worth $60.

That said, the presentation in the game is solid, and fitting of the game’s first next-gen outing. The ice, lighting, and even the player likenesses have never been better. It’s just too bad a lot of the animations grow increasingly repetitive, not to mention the crowds just seem off and in dire need of a makeover.

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Déjà vu. I’ve just been in this place before

All of the prior modes in NHL 21 are back, including Be A Pro, which is super fun, but like a lot of other things in the game, needs an overhaul.

When I began my career in NHL 22, I immediately had deja vu. The entire intro with my rookie player being introduced had me thinking: “Geez, this seems familiar.” So I literally exited the game and loaded NHL 21. Just as I thought, it was exactly the same, just with better graphics.

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Again, this doesn’t mean Be A Pro isn’t fun. Grinding away and making a big name for yourself to become the next Wayne Gretzky is a blast, but we’ve done this before.

NHL 22 would be better as a $20 upgrade.

I would love to see EA try to incorporate the World Junior Hockey Championships in the future, not just as another mode, but as a new way to begin a rookie’s rise to pre-NHL stardom, just as NBA’s 2K franchise has continually mixed up our custom players’ origin stories.

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When NHL shines, it shines bright

Thankfully, Franchise Mode returns and it might be better than ever – a game type already so detailed it could be a full game by itself.

Listen, if you’re big into simulation, micromanaging talent scouts, signing contracts, upgrading arenas, and relocating the Arizona Coyotes to Quebec City, it’s a great time.

Bruins arenaEA SPORTS
For new players, NHL 22 is a blast. For veterans, it’s a pass.

Do you know what else is a good time? Fine-tuning the gameplay to your liking. As per usual, NHL 22 lets players play how they want to by mixing up things like the speed of the game, pass accuracy, injury frequency, faceoff difficulty, and even how often goalies cover the puck.

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When it comes to the action on the ice, NHL 22 is the franchise at its best. Player animations are smoother than ever before and help add to the realism, adding a bit more substance to an already fantastic hockey sim. You can really feel the tape-to-tape passing – sometimes even too much so using the PS5’s controller speaker, which is something I disabled almost immediately.

Rating – 6/10

The end result is a sandbox that I’m happy to return to, but dear lord, not for $60. If this was a $20 upgrade for those who bought NHL 21, then sure. That would be fantastic. But I just can’t recommend this game to anyone who bought last year’s installment unless you’re the world’s biggest hockey fan.

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If you’re completely new to EA’s NHL series, then by all means, this is a must-play and would be a 9/10 otherwise. For myself, however, I’ve been there and I’ve done this. In some cases many years ago. It’s time for something new.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5

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