Review: NHL 21 (PS4)


  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR


  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: NHL 21
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (40.22 GB)
Release Date: October 16, 2020
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Vancouver
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

NOTE: Unlike other fall sports titles such as NBA 2K21, Madden 21, and FIFA 21, NHL 21 will not have a PlayStation 5 (nor Xbox Series X/S) version coming with the launch of the next generation of consoles. However, you will be able to play the game on those consoles via “forward compatibility” (EA’s wording).

The fall brings us a glut of annualized sports titles, as mentioned above. I have played a couple of them, and the word that keeps popping into my head is “same”. NHL 21 falls into that category as well. Sure, the game continues to have the pace and flow that I expect in a hockey game. There are little quirks, like some of the puck physics being extreme from time to time, and the offensive zone play could be a little less structured. However, none of these changes make the game feel definitively different than last year’s edition.

They have added a few new dekes and moves to your repertoire, but that seems to have taken away from being able to perform some of the others that I pulled off seamlessly in the past. On the positive side, poke checking feels like it works more that past iterations, but even that seems to come with more tripping penalties. Another nice addition is there are indicators as to where your players are when they aren’t onscreen. That helps making blind passes more accurate, which is always appreciated. The AI feels a little tougher this go-around as well, both in regards to the goaltenders as well as the defense.

As far as offline game modes go, the area where EA Vancouver has attempted to apply a fresh coat of paint is the Be A Pro mode. They have added more conversational aspects to the mode, enhancing your interactions with the coach and GM, as well as your teammates. The results of these activities increase or decrease your relationships with those parties, as well as having a effect on your “brand”.

Adding to these aspects are in-game challenges from your coach, which involve him calling you over to the bench to discuss where he wants you to focus your attention during play. I understand the point of these, but I get taken out of the flow of the game when he calls me over, and it seems like there could be a better way of executing this.

The rest of the offline modes, such as Franchise and Ones Now, are basically untouched. You can still create an expansion team in Franchise mode and try to win the Stanley Cup, or pick your favorite club to do so. In Ones Now, an offshoot of the online mode in World of CHEL, you play as real life players with the goal of unlocking more players, or playable mascots. Also returning are NHL Threes and Season Mode, both of which are pretty much unchanged.

The visuals in NHL 21 have remained unchanged for the most part. The player models are still solid, and the faces are, for the most part, fairly accurate. The ice surfaces still look great, as well as the arenas in general. The one area where it remains a little rough are the fans. They still are slightly flat and uninspired. The broadcast presentation aspects have been tweaked slightly, but not with a change in quality, just appearances.

As is the case with the visuals, the audio aspects of NHL 21 remain constant. Last year, they swapped out the great Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk with the much lesser team of James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro. Last year, the change came off as a slight breath of fresh air, but only because Emrick and Olczyk had become redundant over the previous several years. The current team has fallen into the same trap. This is no fault of the announcers, although Cybulski has a somewhat grating voice. I would like to see EA allow for a rotation of voices similar to the NBA 2K series, but I understand fewer resources will be allocated to a hockey game. Other audio aspects remain solid; the game sounds right, and the fans actually seem to cheer at more appropriate times this year.

This is an EA Sports franchise, so when discussing online, the first thing to be mentioned is Hockey Ultimate Team, or HUT. HUT is almost entirely unchanged this year, the exception being the addition of HUT Rush. HUT Rush allows players to play quick games in either five-on-five or three-on-three, either against the CPU or fellow players online, and earn rewards which are doled out in tiers as you accumulate points. Each “season” has challenges to meet to earn additional points, such as scoring goals in a certain way, executing dekes, and other similar challenges. HUT Rush doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does add a new way to play the game, and has a “just one more” feel to it when you get going.

The other main area of online in NHL 21 is World of CHEL, which offers players the ability to play Ones (with your created Be a Pro player), Threes, Clubs, or Pro-Am, online to earn rewards. CHEL offers challenges as well, bases on victories and other criteria, similar to HUT Rush. In addition, EA has added Ranked Seasons, which enables players to rank up in each of the modes, with the goal of playing in the EASHL Club Finals. Once again, rewards are offered here as well, based on team and individual success.

Functionality of online in NHL 21 is solid. I did not experience hiccups of any kind when playing the games. I only had to re-search for a game twice as well.

NHL 21 is a solid game, as usual. As mentioned at the beginning, there will not be a next-gen version of the game, but at least it will be playable on your console going forward. EA has added a couple of modes that may be to your liking, which is always appreciated. Looking at the game on its own merits, NHL 21 is a quality sports game. However, if you are someone that looks for a hook to purchase the new iteration of an annualized franchise, you may want to wait for a sale on this one.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by John Payant

John Payant

PlayStation Nation editor and writer. Been playing games for over forty years. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good.

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