EA Sports Hockey League – Discussion With the Devs

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Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with NHL 16 Producer Sean Ramjagsingh and Associate Producer Ben Ross about the return of the EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) to this year’s iteration of the game. One of the bigger features missing from the NHL franchise’s PS4 debut was the EASHL. This is an online mode where you can play up to 6v6 accounting for every player on the ice. It’s the closest thing to midnight hockey leagues without leaving your couch and it’s understandable that there was a big uproar when it was pulled from NHL 15.

Rather than bring the mode over as it was, the developers at EA Canada chose to go back and take a hard look at what worked and what didn’t in the EASHL. Feedback was solicited from across the community and a group of the most dedicated players was put together to represent everyone in what’s being called the “Game Changer Program”.

Now this isn’t just a group of people brought in for one or two discussions and let go, they’ve been flown out to the development studio for three visits where they essentially play the EASHL all day long for up to three days straight each time. The engagement doesn’t end there either as they’re kept in the loop with developers in a constant ongoing Skype chat to allow real-time back and forth as tweaks and changes are being made. It sounds like this has helped the dev team immensely in their quest to bring us a much better EASHL experience.

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So what was the EASHL before and how will it be different this time around? Previously, you would enter the mode with a created player and gain XP through your actions on the ice. You could then upgrade your player with the XP or use real currency to purchase the upgrades. What they found is that many players would often go in and purchase upgrades to max out their players right off the bat. This would make it much more difficult for anyone coming into the mode for the first time or for people unwilling to spend the money, essentially giving people better players but not necessarily the skills.

The big change for NHL 16 is that it does away with the XP. Now when creating a player you’ll pick from player classes seen in the chart below:

Forward
Defense
Goalie
Sniper
Defensive
Stand up
Power Forward
Offensive
Butterfly
Two-Way
Two-Way
Hybrid
Grinder
Enforcer

These are typical player types in hockey and each class will have set attributes. So a defensive defenseman would be bigger and stronger physically and much tougher for an opposing forward to get past while an offensive defenseman would tend to use their stick more than the body but they’d also be a better passer and shooter. The trick here is that you won’t be able to upgrade the attributes, they don’t change. It’ll really all come down to your skills as a player.

You’re able to change classes for every game to try to find the fit that’s right for your style of play and the developers have been working hard to ensure that all the classes are balanced. This has been one of the biggest concerns because they don’t want everyone gravitating to one particularly overpowered class.

You’ll be able to play EASHL as a drop-in with other players using real NHL players or in a league-type format much like Hockey Ultimate Team with Divisions and Playoffs where you’ll use created players. Here you’ll have full customization of just about everything from the color of the tape on your stick, to the color of the shaft, your skates, socks, helmet, pretty much everything. The goalies can customize pads, blockers, and gloves but the mask will have to be chosen from one in the game.

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The mode is really designed for groups of players to come together and play as a team, either as a constant six or rotating a few other players in and out as you go. What’s really cool is that as you play together and win, any related banners (and there will be a number of them) will be visible in the rafters of your home arena. They’ll even be hanging there visible behind Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk when they do their pre-game commentary. It’s a nice touch and they’ve even been talking about ways to bring those things forward to future iterations of the game.

To get a more wide-scale test of the new EASHL and the classes there will be a limited access beta available to NHL 15 players to try out the new features and provide feedback. The beta will be available from June 30th to August 6th on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. From EA:

To access the beta, NHL 15 owners on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4 can jump into the game starting July 30 and select to download the NHL 16 EASHL beta from the main menu. NHL 15 owners on either Xbox 360® or PlayStation® 3, who upgraded to a new console will have a chance to access the beta through a limited distribution of beta access codes.
For more information on the NHL 16 EASHL beta and for full beta access instructions, visit the NHL 16 EASHL Beta Hub.

The exciting thing is that this is just one (important) aspect of the game layered on top of the myriad improvements they made to NHL 15 through patches and upgrades planned for NHL 16. It would appear that this is shaping up to be the game we all hoped last year’s version would be which has me very excited. Check out some of the gameplay balancing that’s been done in the trailer below:

 

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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