EA was supposed to release NHL 21 during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but complications due to COVID-19 led to a delay. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup weeks ago, and as a result, ice hockey has escaped the wider public sports consciousness as other leagues take hold. But NHL 21 is a compelling reason to care about hockey again, as this year’s game delivers a major improvement to the story mode, adds a flashy new arcade-style mode in HUT Rush, and makes the on-the-ice gameplay better than ever thanks to a series of new skill moves that let you play with more style.
Be A Pro 2.0
The biggest new addition for NHL 21 is the expanded and improved Be A Pro. After NHL 20 delivered basically no updates on the career-focused mode, NHL 21 offers a huge step forward thanks to a cinematic-style campaign of sorts, where you create a character and guide them through their career, beginning in either Europe or the Canadian Hockey League and competing for a spot in the NHL. The story beats play out through non-voiced dialogue sequences and cutscenes with coaches, media, and teammates. The main choices you make come from the Team or Star paths, and both have pros and cons to consider as you weigh your options to shape your career in the way you want to.
As an example, my agent called me to ask if I wanted to attend a charity event for a wildlife protection company. I chose the “Team” response, and my brand rating improved because the simulation suggested my fans would see this as a sports star being humble and genuine. However, choosing this option came with a negative effect, too, as my agent told me it was a noble choice but I should also plan for my life after hockey and try to make as much money in my prime as possible. I enjoyed the struggle of making these choices, and I found myself choosing one option and then loading a previous save to see how things would have played out differently. The choices you have to make can be real head-scratchers and they generally seem believable and taken from real-world headlines. But while the conversation system and cutscenes are generally enjoyable and a step up from the past iterations of Be A Pro, they are at times very cheesy and contrived, so the conversations and their impact don’t always resonate.
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