NHL 23 Review

Richard Walker

It's been twenty years since I've been utterly consumed by an NHL game. I was at university and became hopelessly addicted to NHL 2002, having previously enjoyed countless hours playing the EA Hockey game included on the EA Sports Double Header cartridge for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis. Unsurprisingly, during the last two decades, EA's rendition of ice hockey has evolved significantly, and NHL 23 is the latest entry in a series that's now spanned more than thirty years. This one greets you with the latest 'back-of-the-box' additions and refinements spelled out for you, and it all sounds very impressive. On the ice is where it really matters, of course, and on that front, NHL 23 doesn't disappoint, offering a typically robust and intuitive game of hockey, replete with myriad options for tailoring the experience to your liking.

Must. Get. Puck!

The banner features for this year are new 'desperation animations': a selection of actions that includes stumbles, loose puck plays, and such, enabling players to stretch for crucial passes and poke checks, or make reaches for the puck to score last-ditch goals. Not that it's that easy to score, mind you, thanks to enhanced goalie AI, which takes in more than 350 new animations – goals are often scrappy and hard-fought, though, weirdly, not all that rare. These iterative changes alone combine to make for a more dramatic game of hockey, the action fast, furious, end-to-end stuff, whether you're playing with the recommended Skill Stick controls or the simple two-button NHL '94 configuration. But it's the little touches, like smarter player AI – which contributes to better playmaking – that make NHL 23 marginally more playable than its predecessors.

This is another year jam-packed with modes, too, from the immediate arcade gratification offered by NHL Ones and Threes, to the depth and nitty-gritty of Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) and the Be A Pro career. For the majority of players, it's these two latter modes that will provide the crux of what NHL 23 has to offer, and, happily, both are well presented, detailed experiences brimming with nigh-on endless hours of gameplay. HUT (like its stablemate EA Sports Ultimate Team modes) is still mired in microtransactions, much as you'd expect, but remains an infinitely replayable thing, if you can get past all that. Accumulating cards, organising your lineup, then pitting your team against rivals online, ensure that HUT remains an enjoyable facet of NHL, with plenty of challenges and mechanics to drill down into, as well as the welcome addition of IIHF Women's National Teams in HUT, alongside the men's teams.

Be A Pro, meanwhile, remains fundamentally similar to what's come before, your created player making their way through their career, whether it's from the CHL, NHL draft, or into the NHL proper from the get-go, fighting to win the Stanley Cup. Intermittently, you'll receive orders from the coach or engage in dialogue and interviews, choosing responses to determine whether you're a team player or more concerned with growing your own personal brand and likeability. It's an involving and consistently entertaining part of NHL 23, but if you've already been through it all in previous NHL games, then you may not find enough new stuff here to warrant a return trip.

The same could be said of NHL 23 on the whole – since its switch to the Frostbite Engine last year, it's clear that developer EA Vancouver has made a concerted effort to ensure this year's entry is a more accomplished simulation of ice hockey, and the immediacy and pace of the game is as it should be, but it's essentially business as usual. There's certainly ample room for improvement, and you get the sense that NHL 23 could benefit from tighter passing, slightly more responsive puck control, and a little extra technical polish. This is nonetheless a slight cut above last year's game from a visual and presentation standpoint, with an enhanced game-day atmosphere and a greater sense of ceremony when it comes to milestone moments, like lifting the Stanley Cup to an arena of baying fans.

Indeed. Go Avs.

Some might malign the return of 'X-Factor' players and animations, granting top players signature abilities and attributes, but I've always found it a non-invasive, perfectly innocuous feature. World of CHEL is back, too, and might also not be for everyone, but if you're looking for an excuse to take your created players online and pit them against others, with cross-platform matchmaking due to be added in November, then this will keep you occupied. Like Custom Franchise Mode and custom leagues, World of CHEL and the selection of relatively bitesize arcade modes add further longevity, and EA Vancouver is to be applauded, too, for the slew of accessibility options. NHL 23 is certainly a comprehensive, full-featured game of hockey.

Sweeping, major changes might be in short supply for NHL 23, but as another dose of video game hockey, this hits the mark, the caveat being that if you've already exhausted NHL 22, and you're not ready to upgrade just yet, then you may not find a compelling enough argument to be coaxed back for this year's version. If you're a newcomer or it's been a while since your last face-off, however, then NHL 23 is certainly worth a puck... I mean look.

[Tested on Xbox Series X]

NHL 23

NHL 23 seems like an iterative instalment, as EA Vancouver settles in with NHL 22's Frostbite Engine. Nevertheless, if it's an excellent game of ice hockey you seek, then this is - quite literally, as it happens - the only game in town.

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Shouty, loud rock music, and an accomplished play-by-play commentary. Sounds about right.


In replicating the look and atmosphere of a real-life hockey game, NHL 23 is exemplary. There's room for improvement, though.


Another rock-solid and robust game of sticks 'n' pucks, NHL 23 is good, intuitive fun. Just be wary that it plays a lot like last year's game.


A plethora of modes provide hours of gameplay, and it's all impeccably presented. HUT is still big on microtransactions, but kudos for adding the women's national teams.


Lazy. NHL 23 has practically the exact same list as the one from NHL 22. Surely EA could have taken some time to add some new tasks? No? Okay, then.

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