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The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

A whole new feel

Newest installment in video game franchise revives hope in the hockey gaming community
Released in October of 2023, superstar Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar graces the cover of the 33rd installment in the NHL video game series.

Released in October of 2023, superstar Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar graces the cover of the 33rd installment in the NHL video game series.

Growing up around the EA NHL franchise, I have grown to love the game of hockey. Like many sports video games, a new yearly game is released with large updates and improvements but as time went on, the quality of products EA put out every year worsened.

EA had been on a roll after the incredible juggernaut that NHL 2004 was, but many believe that EA started to falter over 10 years starting around 2007. Slowly the NHL franchise fell into a hole but showed promise by 2014, then NHL 15 was released. This was widely regarded as the largest step-back in the history of the NHL Franchise as a plethora of game modes like Winter Classic, Online Shootout and the beloved GM Connected disappeared with no answer when jumping to the at the time new generation of consoles.

Slowly only small portions of some game modes and features were added back over time with a few newer installments like NHL 22 and 23 focusing more on presentation than actual gameplay. This leads us to where we are today, with NHL 24. After almost more than a decade of small roster updates and little to no gameplay improvements to focus on presentation, many including me were fed up with EA and wanted something fresh.

On Sept. 29, the official soundtrack was released and perceived with mixed emotions. Just from looking over the list of songs, I was concerned with the little to no amount of popular artists and songs that previous titles had like back in NHL 19 with Imagine Dragons’s – “Natural” or Panic! At The Disco’s – “High Hopes.”

After giving the entire playlist a listen, I can confidently say that with the variation of pop, rock and punk-rock, this playlist is better than I originally thought but still far from a top-ten contender compared to earlier releases in the franchise.

On Oct. 3, 2023 EA officially released NHL 24 X-Factor Edition to the public if you pre-ordered ahead of time. If you ordered the standard Xbox Series X/S & Xbox One bundle, you had to wait until Oct. 6 to hit the ice.

The price points for the game varied depending on the version you purchased. With the X-Factor edition being $99.99 plus tax and the standard costing $69.99 plus tax, the only difference between the two was the pre-order rewards you claim with X-Factor Edition being the three-Day Early Access, 4600 NHL Points and Exclusive Cale Makar Hockey Ultimate Team Player Item. My initial thoughts made my expectations high for something this expensive and at this steep of a price.

I kicked off my experience with X-Factor Edition on the Xbox Series S and immediately was blown away. Just by the opening animation fading into the cover of Avalanche Defenseman Cale Makar, entering the game I noticed right away the change in the main menu to a dark-mode background which had been requested for several years since this was last seen in NHL 19.

The main menu that greets the user now in NHL 24. The camera floats around the player and transitions into new ones as you wait on the screen. (Sam Whittaker)

Entering my first game, I wanted to see how team selection and player ratings had changed from last year in a quick, play-now game. Although the actual presentation of team selection was the same as the year before, the colors of smoke in the background popped from the dark backdrop. Ratings-wise, there were only a few shocks but none were horribly off. One of the shocks was Nashville Predators Defenseman Roman Josi receiving a 94 overall rating which seemed a bit high even to me being a Predators fan.


The menu of a play now pre-game between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. The darkened backdrop is seen throughout the game’s menus and game modes.
(Sam Whittaker)

With teams selected, I was ready to go and play my first game of NHL 24. You could immediately see the changes with light shows and moving pieces which gave a boost to authenticity that matched the home team’s colors. Pregame on-ice projections now appear with all 32 teams as EA reached out to places like Montreal or New York to find a way of properly representing them in the game but most of them were only partially up to scratch. A good portion of these projections were just the team logos looping repeatedly which I found to be boring and repetitive.

A view of the new on-ice projection for the Montreal Canadiens in NHL 24. Opposed to the Canadian flag and national anthem, a replica flag with the Habs jersey colors waves on the ice.
Photo Courtesy of EA NHL 24 Gameplay Trailer

Another part of the presentation aspect is the rink’s dynamic boards that react and display information as the game progresses. I found this extremely useful as when I took a shot or laid a hit I could see my totals in the game. This was one of my personal favorite changes because this also displayed ads not only for hockey companies. You now see what many do on live television broadcasts but with the video game feel that showcases anything by a team in the game, to career number of goals for a player and penalties which give informative information that doesn’t distract the user from the actual game which I found to be very true.

A frame of Predators forward Ryan O’Riley celebrating after a goal in the new flex cam. The boards around him light up with the team’s golden primary color as they fade into display a career number of goals total.
(Sam Whittaker)

The final major gameplay adjustments came in the form of vision passing and a pressure system. The vision passing grants the user a chance to pass to a specific teammate with a press of a single button. My experience with this was instantly a game-changer as I could find multiple open teammates, as an alternative for passing to only one AI teammate who half the time wasn’t in a great position leading to turnovers. I could hit any of my open teammates by holding down on the right trigger using the new total control skill moves mapping and pressing one button to find several other teammates which led to better scoring chances.

The pressure system itself also gives a new feel to how you defend in your own zone. If you get hemmed in for too long with large amounts of shots and hits the team with the puck will get a boost in stats, while the team under pressure gets a significant debuff which in turn leads to more goals and realistic scenarios. I tried this out a couple of times on both ends and felt this gave the game new energy and excitement.

A frame from the all-new full pressure system as the board around displays the text along with a timer in the high slot. The team with the puck gains energy, and several other buffs in stats during the 30-second window.
(Sam Whittaker)
With the new vision passing system, I was able to pass to any of their teammates on the ice by holding the pass button and tapping the controller-mapped button above their head. One-touch passing was also implemented to create ultra-real possibilities for tic-tac-toe goals. (Sam Whittaker)

With the new vision passing system, I was able to pass to any of their teammates on the ice by holding the pass button and tapping the controller-mapped button above their head. One-touch passing was also implemented to create ultra-real possibilities for tic-tac-toe goals.

Some of the more minor presentation details I noticed were the abilities to body check my opponent into one of the benches, charge up those large hits or little checks to bump them off the puck and the rare occurrence of breaking the glass. All these features I felt added just a hint more of authenticity to the game which I loved being a presentation nerd which made my general gameplay experience very enjoyable.

Getting into online game modes, the World of Chel where you play as one locked customizable character, has expanded in more ways than one. The biggest change I noticed was the battle pass which you earn experience to progress in with from playing in games instead of waiting until you level up to get rewards you now get them as you go. Although this was the only major change to the game mode I will most definitely be playing it way more than I have in previous titles.

Eventually, I started my HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) team. This is a game mode I stray away from mainly because of how bad connections can be to an opponent and how aggravating they can be when they constantly hold onto the puck without a penalty. However, with the massive changes stated by EA, I had to give it one more shot. My worries were finally relieved when in my first game I experienced my opponent ragging the puck where they received a delay of game penalty which made me overjoyed and made my experience very positive.

One bit of HUT I will definitely be playing more of is the “HUT Moments.” This all-new feature in HUT gives you the opportunity to recreate historic moments for all 32 teams in the NHL with set goals based on the event. Being a Nashville fan, I was curious to see what EA picked for the Preds and I wasn’t shocked with it being Roman Josi’s domination during game 3 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals. I was loaned some of the former and now retired Predators players from this team with the goals being, “Score 1 goal with R. Josi, Take 6 shots with R. Josi, and Score 5 goals with any player.”

This was very enjoyable for me but the one head-scratcher was me questioning why I wasn’t getting loaned former Predators Hall of Fame goaltender, Pekka Rinne who had started this game in real life. Other than this, everything else about the moment gave me some nostalgia from when Nashville used to be consistently good which I have missed a lot recently.

Now obviously this game isn’t perfect, and none ever is, but there’s only one large thing I need to criticize. The total control settings make pulling off insurmountable goals way too easy, the main one being you only have to press Y (triangle on PS) on your controller to pull off the Michigan which took hours of practice in older titles. I was able to even pull off this move with lower overall players and some defensemen. I can already see this getting abused in online game modes unless you stick a defender behind the net the entire game. Although it’s early in the release of the game, this is something I hope EA monitors closely to possibly lower the percentages of happening.

It’s a running joke that in the NHL series, every game that ends with a 4 always seems to be the best of that console generation, and NHL 24 has only proven this to me further. Whether it’s the huge gameplay changes or presentation overhauls, EA has taken a massive leap forward and revived my hope in the franchise.




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About the Contributor
Sam Whittaker
Sam Whittaker, Staff Reporter
Also known as the voice of Millard West Hockey, Sam is a junior at Millard West beginning his first full year on the Catalyst Staff. He spent the summer working alongside Logan Moseley for the Corn Belt League gaining valuable broadcasting experience. In his free time, Sam cheers on the Tennessee Volunteers and Nashville Predators whenever he isn’t broadcasting or photographing Millard West sports.

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