On Monday May 28th the EA SPORTS NHL 13 Development Team brought a handful of dedicated fans of our franchise up to EA Canada’s campus in Burnaby British Columbia for a day of playing the game. A mixture of members from our EA SPORTS NHL forums and winners of our First Look Contest on Facebook, they were all hardcore fans who had put in countless hours playing NHL 12 and earlier iterations of our title.
While many of them will be posting their thoughts as First Look Impressions on our forums, I thought I’d take some of their thoughts and present them to you. I work for EA, so of course I’m not going to say bad things about the game but these are fans and have no contractual obligation to be nice to us.
So what did the fans think of our recently announced True Performance Skating? Be sure to check out their full impressions on the EA SPORTS NHL Forums.
Scott Idema – vigilanteiceman on the EA SPORTS forums
Well, whether you like it or not - and I like it - the new skating engine is going to change the way you play the game. From the opening faceoff of my first game, it was evident I had some relearning to do. Many of my tendencies from NHL 12 were going to have to go, most notably my stop-and-go, all-out playstyle. From my first strides, I felt like my player was really working against the ice, really having to dig to get going and gather some momentum. This is something I really felt was lacking in previous NHL titles; it almost felt like you were floating. There was no friction. In my time with NHL 13, I was able to notice a distinct difference in the players, and the ease with which they were able to stop, go, and change direction. The difference between a dangler like Datsyuk and a lugnut like Bertuzzi was very evident, as Datsyuk was able to cut much more sharply, accelerate much more quickly, and put the brakes on much more effectively to avoid a hit. Poor Bert regularly coughed up the puck while trying to figure-skate, and once, even blew a tire trying to veer out of the offensive corner and fell down. Countering that, though, was the fact that Bertuzzi was harder to jostle, harder to knock out of his lane, and most notably, harder to keep away from the front of the net.
I'm sure that's all well and good to you, but I'm sure what folks want to hear about is the speed. The acceleration and agility were easy to get used to, and after a couple of games I was taking advantage of my momentum and gliding around like a pro. The speed, however, was something I was struggling with into my final game of the night. With NHL 13, the days of mashing L3 to hustle are gone. Instead, you press it down once and hold it, and your player quickly puts his head down and accelerates to top speed. As a result, races for a loose puck are much more exciting, and potentially much more costly to lose. The differential between a player who is gliding or skating normally and a player who is at top speed is pretty large, and if you get caught standing still, you're going to pay. Dump and chase has suddenly become much more effective, and pinching in on defense without someone covering you can have disastrous consequences. As a result, gap control and good positional play are going to double in importance.
Mike Lopez – SCARFACE909 on the EA SPORTS forums
While at first look it may seem the skating engine is only for forwards or the offense aspect of the game, the skating really does indeed help the defense as well. The ability to skate out from behind the net and gain that quick first step really helps with getting the puck out of the zone and gaining the neutral and offensive zone. Also the ability to get that quick step can help you avoid forecheckers and get the puck out cleanly. This year defense will feel rewarding I feel because you really need to read the situation correctly and know how to gap control and look at what your opponent is doing and react accordingly. No longer can you see your opponent skating forward at full speed and keep up with him by just skating backwards. Also because of the skating this year, if you notice your opponent skating at full speed, you can be assured he’ll have less agility and you may be able to step up on him and close that gap and shut him down. While some people will be concerned about playing defense this year, the new skating truly does help the defensive side of the game as well.
Now I’ll have some of my overall impressions of the skating this year and other features. The skating looks very fluid this year, especially the pivoting aspect of the skating. This year the hustle button has been changed from 3 clicks on the left stick to one click and holding down the left stick to get to top speed. Also changed this year is no more push puck feature, it’s been changed to the one click hustle button which allows you to get to top end speed. There were some concerns by us because it was too easy for forwards to blow by defenseman when we played, as well there was an issue with getting to top end speed too fast. It seemed like you could go to 0-60 in about a second, which makes the overall game feel too fast. However, don’t worry too much as we all made the developers aware of our concerns on the overall speed of the skaters and they assured us they’ll be tuning it and made the skating a little fast in the build we played. Overall though I felt the skating is amazing this year and really makes the game feel different but better at the same time. It definitely needs some tweaking here and there, but we also played the alpha build which still has a long ways to go and with that said I am very looking forward to this year’s installment just from the true performance skating this year.
Steve Bobrovsky – LuGer33 on the EA SPORTS forum
You guys have seen how fantastic the skating looks in the trailers, and the guys at EAC aren't exaggerating when they say they've added 1000 new animations for skating. Everything from cross-overs to pivots, back skating to acceleration, hustles to idling / catching one's breath, has been added or overhauled. The game looks much more organic, natural, and true to the sport than ever before since skating is so varied. In the past, all the skaters were basically always moving at the same speed, and the lack of animations reflected this. Now w/ the new explosiveness, momentum, and skating physics at work, the game simply looks more like hockey.
Now the big question: how does True Performance Skating play? Is there balance between the offense and defense? The answer, as of late May, is sort of. I'll be blunt and confirm some fears out there that it was a little too easy to blow around defenders. First, pressing L3 made your forward go from 0-60 too quickly; there wasn't enough incremental acceleration in my opinion. Also if you had a particularly explosive guy like Grabner or someone, he was going to burn everybody every time he was at full energy on the ice. This isn't cause for alarm though, since the developers made it clear that there was still tuning to be done on this, and there are already features in place to balance this out. As I mentioned, you cannot shoot, deke, or cut well while at top end speed. So you might be able to blow around a flat footed defender a bit too easily at the moment, but then you have to slow down to actually do anything on offense, and can either be caught at this point by a hustling defender or essentially give up any hopes of scoring.
Another important note is that by the end of the day (some 10 hours straight of NHL 13), we were all better at defense and more adjusted than in the morning. In our one OTP game, there weren't really THAT many breakaways since the human controlled d-man was better recognizing when the "explosion" was coming, and was able to start backing up and reacting accordingly. In Versus and HUT, it was something similar, as I began taking the last man back very often and starting an "early retreat" to counter offensive rushes than I would have ever done in NHL 12. No doubt the first few games will be rough for people no matter how EA ends up tuning things, but it won't take too long for everyone to start learning and adjusting to the new skating mechanics and how it affects gameplay.
Kory Wielengak – KidShowtime on the EA SPORTS forums
Defensively, some great strides have been taken to cater to those of us who asked for more in terms of defending 'figure skaters' and being able to creatively defend our zone in ways that we've never been able to do before in the NHL series. Lining up hits and being positionally sound is all the more important in NHL 13, and you'll find that 'minding the gap' will become synonymous with playing sound defensively.
On the offensive side, getting bursts of speed and utilizing it to your advantage is key to getting the most of out of the new skating engine. Although it's been hyped up and marketed by showing smooth transitions through the neutral zone and busting into the offensive zone, the skating engine is much much more than that. Simple maneuvers like bursting out of the corner after a flub by the coverage of a defenseman really shine through and show off how agility, combined with speed, time and space can allow the user to be creative.
There are downsides to springing to action and trying to make hard cuts at top end speeds. As we saw in the live demo during the Community Day broadcast, wingers who travel at that high speed are susceptible to being knocked off of the puck much easier than a forward who's cruising a relatively normal speed. Making hard 90-degree turns are gone, and in order to make a hard cut like that, you're going to need to manage your speed much better.