NHL 21 is here, despite Corona, despite the delay. And with the new offshoot from the ice hockey series, which Electronic Arts has been serving since 1991, the developer has achieved a real coup: There is rarely so much story in an ice hockey video game. There are also the usual improvements: Adapted gameplay, a bit of detail tuning, visual revisions. Overall, NHL 21 offers an excellent overall package that is far from a pure roster update.

In 1991 the first title of the NHL video game series appeared and since then not a year has passed without a reprint. In the meantime you have arrived at NHL 21 and the developers at EA Vancouver apparently wanted to get the most out of the last sports game, which was primarily developed for current-gen systems. NHL 21 has been released for Playstation 4 and Xbox One, but will also make the leap to the next generation of consoles, albeit not in an adapted version, but only through backward compatibility. For example, NHL 21 does not offer Smart Delivery. In return, the current-gen version offers almost everything that fans of the sport could wish for digital implementation, including a well-crafted career mode.

NHL 21 makes a noticeable leap 

The NHL ice hockey series is neglected in this country, with the popularity of the far more successful competitive sport football FIFA 21 coins or the American football trend with the latest offshoot Madden NFL 21 runners can hardly keep up, despite the lively club and sports scene in Germany too. But precisely because ice hockey is also played on a professional level in this country, and because young players sometimes even make the leap into the American professional league, NHL 21 is a video game that has to be taken seriously. This year there have been delays in its release. Corona. The Stanley Cup has long been decided, actually the topic of ice hockey should go into hibernation, but thanks to the publication of NHL 21 it doesn't - and that's a good thing, because fans don't want to miss the new offshoot.

You can't deny the developers a love of detail. Source: EA

You can't deny the developers a love of detail. Source: EA

The biggest and also most significant innovation is the game's career mode "Be a Pro". While there were hardly any changes in the predecessor, this game mode has made a good leap forward this time. The presentation alone is convincing: a cinematic experience is combined with the story of the character specially created for the mode, who plays his way from the European or Canadian ice hockey hope to the hearts of NHL fans. There is a lot of sporting action along the way, but also dialogues with coaches and fellow players or dealing with the media pack.

Important decisions have advantages, but also disadvantages, on the course of a career. That brings a bit more realism into play, because the answers behind some of the decision-making questions could well have come from real careers: Support a charity campaign? Great idea, that's what fans think. Concentrate on the money, says the manager. There are many of these situations over the course of a career that make you feel like you are actually playing an individual playing career. Sometimes some scenes turned out a bit cheesy, but you can safely overlook that. A positive factor is that EA Vancouver has taken care of atmospheric details: There is a radio show with James Cybulski, completely unknown in this country, but one of the stars of the sports radio world in the USA and Canada.

Things are happening in the arenas, the atmosphere is terrific. Source: Spielpunkt

Things are happening in the arenas, the atmosphere is terrific. Source: Spielpunkt

What is conveyed well at all times is the fact that the road from ambitious talent to NHL pro is rocky and challenging. A skid star is not born overnight, anyone who hasn't known that before will know it after a few hours of play at "Be a Pro". The mode is fun, brings sports to the screen and adds the necessary amount of drama to make the experience feel "human". In the course of the career, the player gets better, you get constant feedback on your performance and how you can optimize it. Even better: You can specify what kind of player your character should be. It goes so far that you can even influence what you do with your salary. Some options seem exaggerated, but improve character values ​​and are therefore - despite occasionally unrealistic proportions - welcome. In the end, "Be a Pro" may not be able to compete with Longshot or The Journey, but the development represents a significant step for the NHL Series. 

There is a lot of professional sport in the around 36 gigabyte client: Various modes invite you to play, including not only the classic 5-on-5, but also 3-on-3 or 1-on-1. There are also HUT Rush, training matches and the online mode World of Chel, in which players compete against human opponents. Often there is a form of leaderboard or statistical gimmick so that you can classify your own performance. As much love as career mode has received, so little attention seems to have been paid to franchise mode, because there are hardly any changes there.

Ice hockey is brought to screens more authentically than ever before. Source: Spielpunkt

Ice hockey is brought to screens more authentically than ever before. Source: Spielpunkt

But: Because the game experience of the manager mode was already at a high level, major changes did not necessarily have to be made. The offer entertains, with the trading date there is also an exciting core feature. In the end, it is also the variety of playful offers that make NHL 21 a successful overall package.

The developers use the trends that prevail in sports games, called HUT Rush, a fun mode that focuses on fast ice hockey games instead of backyard football or small-field football. It's immediate, arcade-heavy and just fun. Everyone will find the mode that suits them in the end: from a quick fun match to squad management, you can experience ice hockey more intensely than any other video game on the market. 

NHL 21 improved in detail at the gameplay level

As noticeable as some of the changes to the game modes are, the adjustments to the gameplay are just as shallow. This is not even meant negatively: As in previous NHL parts, the player control is excellent, especially the skill sticks ensure an intuitive feeling of control. Although the players in NHL 21 can perform countless different movements, the concept never seems overloaded by the grandiose controls. Every move has its right to exist and can be controlled and implemented in the right situation on the ice. 

The quality of the presentation has increased significantly. Source: Spielpunkt

The quality of the presentation has increased significantly. Source: Spielpunkt

In any case, NHL 21 looks a bit more realistic, more finely balanced and closer to real ice hockey. The various recognizable moves of legendary NHL professionals also play their part. The developers have put a lot of attention to detail into their project and actually developed the NHL game in its latest edition. Experienced players find it easier to score goals, even if the AI ​​of the goalkeepers and defenders is much smarter this time and acts more cleverly to make life difficult for attackers. New animations are also included, which leads to a much more authentic ice hockey experience overall.

Here and there strange player movements creep in, which make you wonder about the animation, for example when a player slides completely awkwardly along the board or when the necessary flow of movement is missing when a shot is fired. But in the end these are small things.

There are games where it stays exciting until the final whistle. Source: Spielpunkt

There are games where it stays exciting until the final whistle. Source: Spielpunkt

You can feel that the developers have thought about what they have implemented. Above all, the presentation has been noticeably improved and has once again been brought much closer to a TV broadcast. All under the thought that NHL 21 is a current-gen game from which all possibilities have been extracted. The atmosphere in the arenas, including the announcers and the commentator, is terrific and brimming with details.

And now imagine if the game could make the leap to an optimized next-gen version. Even now, digital ice hockey is extremely realistic and you can literally feel the anticipation for the next series part - for which, however, the expectations will be significantly higher. 


Number of players: solo and multiplayer
Age: from 0 (USK)
Difficulty: medium to difficult
Long-term motivation: high

Publisher: EA Sports 
Developer: EA Vancouver
Year of publication: 2020
platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Languages ​​German
Cost: 64,99 Euro


The developers at EA Vancouver and publisher EA Sports basically didn't do much wrong with NHL 21. The new offshoot of the NHL series feels like an evolution, if not in all areas of the game. However, the biggest innovations are those that are most convincing. The career mode "Be a Pro" brings fun and authentic ice hockey, as does the controllability of the blade cracks, which can be easily moved over the ice. Scoring goals has never been more beautiful, it has never been more challenging, even if some moves could use some balancing. How AI opponents act has improved noticeably, their behavior seems a bit smarter and more situation-specific. The goalies almost got a real refreshment treatment, including new animations. 

As much attention to detail has been given to the game modes, see in particular the alternative HUT Rush, as little has been done to the franchise mode, despite the fact that fans have long been asking for changes. So for NHL 22, there's plenty of room for improvement here. You can also adjust the gameplay: Although the core gameplay including ice hockey action works excellently, you can feel one or the other blunder on the micro level. For example when you scroll through the menus or want to tackle the online matches. In the meantime, the impression has arisen that NHL 21 is clearly focused on the offline mode, where the game trumps and can convince. When it comes to the games via the Internet, delays are sometimes clearly noticeable. “Smooth” and “online” don’t always go together in NHL 21. 

If you have a lot of fun with NHL 21, you will probably have it offline. There, however, the qualities of the game can be felt. The atmosphere in the stadiums is terrific, the comments are sometimes funny, varied and mostly appropriate. It takes several games to hear all the sayings. This authenticity is also playfully reflected. The professionals glide gracefully over the ice at the push of a button, perform gentle movements or long with the coarse trowel. There are many exciting starting points that justify a purchase of NHL 21, even if the price for the overall package on offer is perhaps a little too high. However, the market takes care of it by itself.