How to be a perfect player in NHL 16
When the goal horn blasts while I’m playing a round of NHL 15, I’m not usually the one setting it off. Ever since the shift to a more simulation-based game, my friends have been much better than me at EA NHL series.
It’s not that I’m bad, I just hit a plateau at some point. I wasn’t sure why I kept losing face-offs, or why I couldn’t penetrate a specific team’s defensive line, so I’d try new things; sometimes they’d work, but even then I wouldn’t completely understand why. But after spending several hours with NHL 16 and its visual on-ice trainer at a recent hands-on preview event, I started to get a handle on what it takes to succeed against highly skilled opponents.
“[The on-ice trainer is] an adaptive system that starts off by teaching you the very, very basics.” says Sean Ramjagsingh, the lead producer of the NHL franchise.
It seems like an integrated, static tutorial at first, but the visual trainer is surprisingly dynamic. It augments other players and the ice with hints, pass suggestions, and a shot lane. Once you’ve performed certain actions enough times, like poke-checking your opponent and winning face-offs, the hints hovering over the skaters will start to disappear.
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“It’ll show you how many times you need to complete pushing up on the right stick to make that go away,” Ramjagsingh says. “You do it three times, that goes away, and it takes you to the next piece of feedback, telling you how to do a wrist shot.”
I did, at times, find that I needed the trainer hints to stick around a little longer, especially with face-offs; thankfully, you can turn different parts of the trainer on and off, making it possible for the visual assistant to stay permanently. Because of this, I worried I’ll become dependent and never take some of these training wheels off due to how it simplifies parts of the game.
Despite my concerns, the on-ice trainer helped me figure out exactly how the face-offs work. First off, the on-screen hint will let you know exactly when to go for the puck in order to retrieve it. The trainer lets you know your timing and the reason you won or lost the puck; even if you have good timing, the opposing player could have a higher face-off skill, overpowering your skater to secure control. This let me know that I did all the right things, so I wasn’t discouraged from taking the same approach in my next encounter.
The shooting was another aspect of the trainer that I found pretty useful. When you’re in front of the opposing team’s net with the puck in tow, a cone appears, starting at your skater’s stick and ending at the goal line. If there’s a good scoring opportunity, blue lanes will indicate the best route for the puck to take. This all changes based on where you, the goalie, and the rest of the players are situated; if you have a skater screening the goalie while you set up, there’s going to be a much larger shot lane for you to take advantage of; alternatively, the shot lane shrinks if opposing skaters are blocking your view.
Protecting the net from these shots has also received an overhaul that, in my short time playing as a goalie, seems like a good idea. You can move from one side of the net to the other and drop into your butterfly much faster and more smoothly now. The act of playing as the goalie seems like something I’d actually enjoy doing now, thanks in most part to the on-ice training making these new goalie controls easier to learn.
The trainer seems most useful when focusing on a single position, like goalie. Because of this, Ramjagsingh says that Be A Pro mode is a great place for beginners to start. “You’re locked to a single character. For a lot of people, as soon as you have to player-switch and stuff like that, it starts adding a lot more complexity to the experience.”
As someone who isn’t a beginner, it still proved useful to get back to the basics of one position. The cool thing about Be A Pro is that your pro evolves based on how you play. In past games, you’d assign your experience to the skills you wanted to improve; instead, if you shoot a lot and score goals, your character’s offensive skills will become stronger, but if you don’t check anyone off the puck, your defensive skills will deteriorate. I didn’t see a lot of improvement during my limited time with the mode, but the trainer would remind me to play a rounded game.
You’ll have to leave the trainer behind at some point though, as it can’t be brought online. In NHL 16, the EA Sports Hockey League makes a return and you’re able to bring your created Pro online; however, to ensure a balanced playing field, none of the experience you’ve collected carries over. Instead, you’ll select a class based on your position before each game starts and that class will determine the type of player you are–if you’re a forward and choose Sniper, you’ll be better at shooting quickly and accurately, while a Power Forward would be better at the physical aspects of the game.
I played a couple games of the EASHL to put some of the skills I had learned to the test. I still had a long way to go, as some of the people I was playing against were skating circles around me. But as a goalie I was able to employ some of what I had learned to prevent a number of scoring chances, though I do feel like I got lucky on at least half of those.
After my demo of NHL 16, the on-ice trainer seems like a smart, impressive tool. Finally feeling like I understand how to reliably tackle face-offs is relieving and thinking about what else I can learn is exciting. It’s improved my game against AI opponents, but whether it can help me improve against real people is still up for debate. If it can deliver, alongside the changes to Be A Pro and the returning EASHL mode, then NHL 16 could be a return to form for the series–and, hopefully, I’ll finally be able to beat my friends.
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