NHL 21 Review: How new features push hockey sim gaming forward

NHL 21 is here, and with some time to explore all of the new changes in the game, it's time for our review!

Let's go over our experiences so far, and how the game stacks up in the EA NHL series.

First Impressions

You can read over our very first impressions of NHL 21 here, but we've had a good amount of time since to really get into the game.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Editions: Great Eight, Deluxe, Standard & more

With that said, here's our breakdown so far of the new features - and our NHL 21 review in-progress.

General Gameplay

NHL 21 brings a fresh new gameplay feeling to the ice, and it starts with the new and improved AI.

NHL 21 Gameplay Svech
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BRAND NEW: NHL 21 brings plenty of new experiences for players this year

AI movement was drastically improved this year, which means more intelligent team movement, and better defense as a result.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Price: Pre-Order, Editions & more

Along with this, new superstar moves makes top level players really stand out in-game, making for a more realistic experience. When Alexander Ovechkin is on the ice, you'll feel it, and the pressure is a welcome addition.

Be A Pro

Without a doubt the highest point of NHL 21 right now is Be A Pro mode.

NHL 21 Be A Pro Scores Likeability Followers
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CHOICES: Be careful, your choices have lasting impact in Be A Pro Mode

NHL 21's career mode received a ton of new features and upgrades this year, and each really personalize your player's journey through the league.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Be A Pro Trailer Details New Features

Whether it's forming relationships with teammates, coaches, and the media, or making important decisions that have real ramifications, everything you do feels consequential this year.

Franchise Mode

NHL 21 Franchise Mode received some new features as well. These features include new trade value assessment (that properly values stars), draft class customization, and trade deadline decisions to make.

Franchise Mode Stanley Cup
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REACH THE TOP: It's a fight to reach the Stanley Cup in Franchise Mode

There could certainly be more growth in NHL 21's Franchise Mode to fully reach the levels of some other top sports franchises like NBA 2K and MLB The Show.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Franchise Mode Changes Breakdown

But these changes add customization that allow players to control how their Franchise Mode world grows.

World of Chel

World of Chel is perhaps the area with the most growth potential in NHL 21. With some new additional features helping to customize players in the game mode, things are looking up.

NHL 21 World of Chel Traits
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PLAYSTYLE: World of Chel traits let players differentiate playstyles

For starters, players will have to choose different traits that will differentiate their playstyle from others.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Pre-Order: Editions, EA Play & more

These add a good amount of replayability to World of Chel, and make the climb to grow your player and rise up the ranks even more enjoyable!


Like most players, our first move entering NHL 21 was to open our pre-order HUT packs.

After all, the feeling can only be compared to Christmas morning.

NHL 21 HUT packs
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OUR PULLS: Jonas Brodin leads our NHL 21 HUT Starter pack in the right direction

Getting into HUT gameplay, and especially HUT RUSH gameplay, there are some pros and cons.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Ratings: Fastest Skaters

For starters, HUT RUSH feels like a refreshing take on gameplay, scoring on style as much as shots hitting the back of the net.

READ MORE:NHL 21 Cover Star: Alexander Ovechkin Rating, Regional Covers & more

Unfortunately the game mode deserves some more balancing, as it rewards some spamming of moves like dekes that eventually drag. But we expect this will be cleaned up over time.


NHL 21 is a huge improvement from last year, and some game modes have grown tenfold.

NHL 21 Be A Pro Conversations
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IN-PROGRESS: We don't have a final score just yet, but with some more time, our NHL 21 review verdict will be in

The biggest growth for the series has come in Be A Pro mode, and improvements to AI across defense and general movement.

READ MORE:NHL 21 EA Play: Early Access Trial Now Live

These are complimented by upgrades for Franchise Mode, World of Chel, and some amazing graphics (which will only get better running on next-gen consoles)!

While the NHL series can still catch up with some other sports franchises in certain areas, this game is a treat for hockey fans, and even worth picking up for general sports gamers.

RealSport Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

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