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NHL 21: What you need to know about the game’s new features

A lot of the gaming world’s attention has been placed elsewhere in September, split between the upcoming PlayStation 5, or a variety of new games like Madden 21, NBA 2K21, and a remastered collection of Mario games on the Nintendo Switch.

One more signature franchise is hoping to leave a mark on the gaming scene in 2020, as EA Sports prepares for the release of NHL 21 in October.

Ditching the usual September launch date that the game generally follows, this year’s installment will look to entice fans with a slew of new features before EA Sports shifts its attention to next-gen consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

After releasing an initial trailer in August, EA Sports gave customers their first look at actual gameplay in a new video in September, highlighting the fresh elements and selling points for prospective buyers to consider.

One major new feature is the idea of “Superstar-Inspired Innovation,” which will allow users to create “an unforgettable hockey moment” using a variety of “iconic moves.”

“Find yourself behind the net and catch the defense sleeping? Scoop up the puck and tuck it under the bar for a jaw-dropping Michigan,” EA Sports wrote. “Break the goalie’s brain with Kucherov’s no-deke deke. Score from an impossible angle with an insane between-the-legs one-timer just like Matthew Tkachuk. Shake off a pesky defender by banking the puck off the back of the net to create space, just like Sid.”

While the new animations could lead to issues and glitches throughout the year, similar to what fans experience during games in Madden 21, innovation of any kind is generally good news. If it is executed well and not overdone, it could be a welcome addition to the franchise heading into a new era of gaming.

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Next up are “Slips, Banks and Chips,” EA Sports’ attempt to “revolutionize neutral zone play.”

“Get small and slippery along the boards as you squeak by a defender’s check,” EA Sports wrote. “Bank the puck off the boards and around your opponent, or use the back of the net to do the same. Or just chip the puck past a flatfooted defenseman and burn him on your way to the goal.”

Defense has always been a sore spot for users over the years, and poke-checking and ripping the puck away from a player is always one of the toughest and most frustrating parts of online play. These new animations will either help or hurt that cause, with the potential to make those attempts at stealing a puck easier if they’re not too overpowered.

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On the other hand, offensive variety is always a good thing, and it will surely lead to some great highlight plays as gamers slip by a defender en route to a Top 10-worthy goal.

Third on this year’s list is “Improved AI Hockey IQ.” The goal, per EA Sports, is to optimize your computer-controlled teammates when it comes to their decision-making and abilities when in control of the puck, and their efforts defensively, as well.

AI is always tough to pinpoint in sports video games, with poor tackling and angles always creating issues in Madden installments, and a lack of movement at times impacting your play in the NBA 2K franchise. It’s always a “Believe it when you see it”-esque topic when you ask any franchise’s devoted fans, but acknowledging the improvements is a good sign.

The next and final two items focus on goaltending, with EA Sports marketing “Gamesaving Goalie Desperation” and “Improved Goalie Control and Positioning” for NHL 21.

“Great goaltending is born out of calculated athleticism – being in the best position to make the stop, while having the athletic ability to quickly shut the door on an unexpected opportunity,” EA Sports wrote.

To make that athleticism come to life, developers added new “desperation saves and animations” to make sure goalies are never out of the play. At the same time, they reworked goaltending controls to make user-controlled goalies “more fluid and tactile.” AI goalies have also had their positioning tweaked, so those improvements should be reflected whether you take the reins in net or not.

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These new gameplay features, combined with additions like a new trade deadline feature in Franchise Mode and a new game modes like HUT Rush, should make for an interesting new installment in EA Sports’ NHL franchise.

Overall, it’s a promising look ahead of a release that may be marred by a variety of circumstances. It’s tough to finish the development of a game in general, let alone when you have a global pandemic to compete against.

Add on the laundry list of new consoles on the way to consider, and no one would’ve been surprised if this year’s game turned into an updated version of NHL 20.

They may be small improvements in the long run, but dedicated hockey fans should be able to enjoy this upcoming release once it drops in October 2020.

NHL 21 is scheduled to release on October 13, 2020 on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Preorder information and benefits can be found by clicking here.

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