Top Critic Average
NHL 21 is the best hockey game around by default – but it seldom genuinely stands out from this generation's pack.
Whilst the gameplay changes and additions to the game modes are welcomed, NHL 21 feels more like an update than a brand new game.
Arcade goodies are mashed together with NHL 21's legacy issues that span an entire console generation.
NHL 21 doesn't feel like a huge leap from last year, but EA Vancouver makes strides in addressing long-known issues and sets a better foundation for the next generation
By the start of my second year, I was somehow named the New York Rangers' captain, a rare honor traditionally reserved for a respected veteran and locker-room leader. I had managed to reach a 76 overall rating - appropriate for a sophomore season, though by no means impressive - but apparently hadn't raised my profile enough with the fans to unlock worthwhile perks. (Some are gated only by funds, but others are gated by social media followers; maddeningly, the game doesn't say how many followers you need.) This disconnect makes these ostensible milestones feel arbitrary and meaningless - what's the point of the brand likability rating if these other obstacles exist? - and saps any desire I might've had to bother pursuing impactful perks or the salary necessary to afford them.
EA's NHL 21 is a success thanks to its improved story mode, exciting new skill moves, and excellent controls.
NHL 21 tries to end the current generation on a high note, but legacy issues continue to hold it back. Its revamped Be a Pro mode is particularly disappointing, proving to be a disjointed, somewhat sloppy experience. It has its usual strengths, with online team play being a definite highlight, but longtime fans of the series will likely find this year's entry eminently skippable.
NHL 21 is another strong entry into the series’ history. It delivers a new strand of flavor with Be a Pro, maintains quality on the ice, and makes franchise mode more enjoyable. However, the limitations in customization and the subtractions to HUT keep NHL 21 from being the series’ ultimate edition.
I’m not old school like the coaches and GMs that still make up a large part of the NHL, but I’m old school in that I grew up in the 80s and 90s and value hard hockey played the right way over flashy dekes you might see once a season. I love dekes as much as the next person, but not at the expense of solid core gameplay. EA Vancouver tried to sell dekes, cosmetics, and the idea of being a superstar, but what resonated with me, an old-school hockey guy, were the core gameplay improvements.
NHL 21 is absolutely a step forward. We won't be able to see if this improvement is a one-time thing until next year, but as it stands, this final release of the generation is also its best in that span. With a long-overdue update to the Be a Pro mode, alongside the pretty fun HUT Rush and the changes to Franchise, the series took a bigger step forward than it normally does. Sure, there's a give and take quality to many of the alterations, but the overall product is a net positive. It won't be scooping up an endless stream of awards any time soon, but this series has been in far worse shape in the past.