NHL 21 Reviews
Arcade goodies are mashed together with NHL 21's legacy issues that span an entire console generation.
NHL 21 is the best hockey game around by default – but it seldom genuinely stands out from this generation's pack.
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 an exercise in consistency, providing the usual improvements to graphics, sound, gameplay, and features while having the usual hindrances. Be A Pro is the real All-Star of this game but like every pro on the ice, there was still room for improvement and falls short in some very easy to notice ways.
Whilst the gameplay changes and additions to the game modes are welcomed, NHL 21 feels more like an update than a brand new game.
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.
NHL 21 feels like an incremental step up from last year’s game. What I enjoyed is that even with my limited knowledge of the sport I could hop in and have a great time. I really will come back once the NHL 94 mode drops into the game. Those classic games were great even if I had no clue what icing was. For those looking to upgrade it might not be revolutionary, but this year’s game sure is a lot of fun once you get past its shortcomings.
NHL 21 brings much-needed improvements and depth to the variety of game modes available, though does nothing to fix the same issues that make the fun arcade style gameplay feel out of place in the more sim-focused modes. There is enough content thankfully that you can just keep having fun in the arcade modes and HUT Rush will actually keep you coming back for more high intensity action.
I stand by that it plays as well as it ever has. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a proper representation of the sport. If EA Vancouver ever hopes to stand alongside the giants of the genre – NBA 2K and MLB The Show – they’ll need to rethink what simulation hockey really means.
In a year that likely not see any more hockey at the NHL level, it's nice to see that NHL 21 is allowing us to indulge our inner superstar. There may not be a ton of other huge innovations, but the enhanced take on Be A Pro alone makes this installment worth investing in. If you're looking to only dive into the season mode, this may be more of an off-year, but for everybody else, it's high-time to return to the ice with vengeance!
Despite not being as big a fan of sports games like I used to be, EA’s NHL series is the one I still have a soft spot for among the ongoing crop of sports titles. I just like its balance of fun gameplay and how it doesn’t shamelessly abuse microtransactions like other more popular sports games out there. For NHL 21, the series brings in a more fleshed out Be A Pro mode as well as more intuitive movement on the ice. The minimal improvements to franchise mode, however, combined with the lack of key fan-requested features such as shared rosters make NHL 21 feel incomplete. All in all, it’s still one of the better, more consumer-friendly sports games out there. At the same time, I also feel that it could still be much better.
NHL 21 lives up to the same quality of work it’s known for in previous generations for better or worse. While it does attempt to push the series forward, anything it does to elevate it to the next line falls short of scoring any significant points.
Just another season.
The added physicality on both ends of the ice and the demand for skill-based gameplay makes NHL 21 the closest thing to real hockey in series history.
While it holds up some similarities to NHL 20, there is enough to go into the rink, lace up your skates, and hit the ice.