NHL 23 review: A major step forward

A franchise in need of change finally gets some.

NHL 23 Screenshots
(Image: © EA Sports )

Windows Central Verdict

NHL 23 is a step up for the NHL series as a whole, with changes to gameplay features resulting in a much more accessible experience. New inclusions to the game's Franchise Modes and online play also make it one of the best entries yet.

Pros

  • +

    + Near lifelike simulation of hockey

  • +

    + Tweaks to gameplay make things feel even better

  • +

    + In-game overlays and additions make the game easier to understand for newcomers to hockey

Cons

  • -

    Reliance on microtransactions in core game modes continues to be a huge problem

  • -

    Some modes had a surprising lack of updates

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The common criticism in the world of sports video games is that yearly entries generally feel the same. Perhaps no franchise has suffered quite like EA's NHL franchise, which can often feel like a little brother when compared to sports titans like Madden and FIFA. For returning fans, they're often retreads of the previous year.

However, things have changed with this latest NHL entry. For NHL 23, a surprising number of new additions have been made to the fundamentals of the series. Some of the more commonplace details in the game have been completely overhauled, and new gameplay animations litter the title. Changes to other key modes have also been implemented, making for a surprisingly better-handled game, and standing out for all the right reasons.

After going hands-on with the game this week, it's safe to say that NHL 23 feels much better than any of its past entries. However, some of the typical EA Sports mainstays remain and do act as continuing flaws.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by EA Sports. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

NHL 23: What's good

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

As with any sports game, NHL 23 looks and feels the part. While other blockbuster games focus on more grand changes, a game like NHL can only deviate from the sport so much, and so changes are instead focused on recreating the magic of its real-world counterpart.

For those that watch hockey or have been to games, it comes as no secret that a big part of what makes hockey games so entertaining is the atmosphere in the crowd. EA Sports nails that in NHL 23, with big updates to the way crowds react and cheer for goals. Things like new hat-trick celebrations have also been added, with fans raining down stuffed animals after a hat-trick or chanting as games get closer. 

It's also not an uncommon sight to see arenas using the ice itself as part of the spectacle of a game. NHL 23 embraces this and introduces much grander and more complex pregame shows to certain stadiums. Now, prior to games, on-ice projections will play across a variety of teams, complete with fans participating in chants or glowstick celebrations,  the national anthem, and more. 

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CategoryNHL 23
DeveloperEA Sports
Publisher EA Sports
GenreSports
Install Size 37 GB
PlayersSingle-player, local/online multiplayer
Playtime20+ hours
Release date October 14, 2022
Retail price $70
PlatformsXbox, PlayStation
Xbox Game Pass No
Reviewed on Xbox Series X

Despite being such a popular sport, many players likely don't know all of the many intricacies and rules of hockey, like they might football, basketball, or soccer. While that's never been a huge issue in the past, EA Sports used the latest Xbox Series X and PS5 consoles to make some changes to the delivery.

During breaks in games (like when a puck sails into the crowd or a penalty is called), large displays will pop up on the ice to show different stats. Things like faceoff win percentage, passing accuracy, or shots on goal all pop up randomly, making the game not only feel more like a real hockey game but help fans understand the sport in further depth. 

Likewise, NHL 23 helps fans understand the rules of the game. When a player has control of the puck but is in danger of being offside, a portion of the ice will begin flashing with red lines, indicating where you can't skate with the puck yet. The move is welcome just as a nice addition for fans who are just getting into hockey, even if some might not like the added visual flair.

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

Gameplay-wise, NHL 23 has also seen some changes, namely in how players move and feel on the ice. In past years, the gameplay has felt a bit "looser," with players flying around the ice and sending passes and shot attempts flying at any given point. This year, things feel a bit heavier, with players moving slightly slower, but for the better. 

Passes and shots on goal don't move as fast as they used to, but they do feel much more controllable and realistic than in years past. EA Sports has also added a new animation system, known as Last Chance Punch Movements, that completely changes the game. 

The new batch of animations — EA Sports claims there are more than 500 in total — affect both offensive and defensive play, changing how players are contacted and what they do in that scenario. For example, someone skating toward a loose puck can now attempt to pass or shoot the puck by double tapping the pass or shoot button. 

The latest changes in gameplay and animation leave NHL 23 feeling a lot better than in years past.

This results in players seeing much more life-like plays, with players diving across the ice to try and tap in a puck or hit it back out to a teammate. Likewise, defenders can also utilize the new animations to deftly swing a stick in to break up a play, or simply deliver a huge hit to the offensive player looking to make a play.

Outside of these key changes, other fine-tuning has been done to the game to make it play better. Goalies, for example, have received a few tweaks, including the addition of over 300 new save animations. This includes things like desperation saves that see goalies giving it their all to make a save to simply more finesse movements on the ice as a whole. 

Just like they do in real life, each player in NHL 23 also boasts different skills, which reflect well on the ice. Certain players can move swiftly through a defender with the puck, while others are a bit more clumsy when breaking away for a play. 

Defensive abilities have also been tweaked, making it a little harder to poke the puck away from an opponent so easily. This is a big chance, and one that makes online play much more fun when you don't have to worry about an opponent spamming one button to try and take control of the game. 

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

Similar to any other sports game, NHL 23 is much more than just its base gameplay. Outside of the exhibition modes found in NHL 23, there are a handful of game modes for players to check out, including the newly updated Franchise Mode. 

A staple in any sports game, Franchise Mode lets players build up their own league in whatever way they want. New to this year are added configurations players can make to the league, including how many teams are in the league, salary cap control, what type of formats the regular season and playoff will have, and deeper strategies as a coach. 

All of this combines for some key changes to a mode that had long grown stagnant and wasn't very in-depth like other sports games' Franchise Modes. The mode now provides full control over a team instead of simply being a bystander on what happens. 

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

Elsewhere in NHL 23, its highly popular World of Chel mode, which essentially acts as a more arcade-style experience similar to FIFA's Volta mode, returns. This year, cross-platform matchmaking has also been included, making it easier for fans to play against friends who might have other consoles. 

NHL 23 does also see the return of Hockey Ultimate Team, one of its most popular modes and a huge selling point for the game. While Hockey Ultimate Team — or HUT, as its also known — does actually feature a ton of positive changes, the shadow of microtransactions continues to loom over game modes like this. 

NHL 23: What's not good

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

New to HUT this year are some big changes, including the fact that for the first time, the IIHF Women's National Team players are available in Ultimate team's mixed women's and men's teams. Elsewhere in the mode, EA Sports has made it easier to earn cards in HUT, with faster weekly rewards, new reward tiers, and weekly changing game styles to change up how games will be played. 

Also new to HUT is the cycling of new "HUT Objectives," which allow players to continue earning experience and in-game currency to help boost up their team. Unfortunately, the primary points of criticism facing a game mode like this continue to exist, and it's every bit as evident as it was in the past. 

Microtransactions continue to be a stain on what would otherwise be a very fun game mode in Hockey Ultimate Team.

Similar to last year and in years past, HUT's biggest draw is that it allows players to build fantasy teams comprised of real players via card collecting. However, a lot of the better cards in the game can only be obtained via real-life money. 

This isn't exactly a new thing when it comes to EA Sports titles, but is, of course, necessary to discuss when talking about the game as a whole. While it's never a necessity to spend money on the game, playing online with your HUT team and running into much better teams can get frustrating. 

If you're able to look past this very glaring issue, then HUT is a significantly improved game mode, all things considered. 

NHL 23: Should you play it?

NHL 23 Screenshots

(Image credit: EA Sports )

The decision to play NHL 23 or not ultimately boils down to how you feel about hockey. If you're looking for a new game to play as the real NHL season gets underway, NHL 23 is by far the best hockey game available. Due to some much-needed gameplay changes and animation tweaks, it probably plays the best that it ever has as well, all while feeling like a real hockey game. 

If you're also looking for a deeper Franchise Mode and Career Mode experience, this is also a great time to dive in, as these modes offer some of the biggest changes made in years. If you're a fan of the Ultimate Team experience that EA has, though, then you'll need to go into this game with the mindset of once again trying to not any real-world money. 

The issue of microtransactions aside, NHL 23 is certainly a step in the right direction for a franchise that had begun to feel a bit too stale. Whether or not the team at EA Sports is able to expand this with time, we'll have to wait and see.

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NHL 23 

Step into one of the most realistic hockey simulations ever created and craft your own legacy, or simply play around with your favorite team. 

Buy from: Xbox (opens in new tab)

Anthony Nash has been writing about games and the gaming industry for nearly a decade. When he’s not writing about games, he’s usually playing them. You can find him on Twitter talking about games or sports at @_anthonynash.