STAFF REVIEW of NHL 23 (Xbox One)


Wednesday, October 26, 2022.
by Chad Goodmurphy

NHL 23 Box art A passion for sports unites many of us, providing a sense of community, regular escapism and something to look forward to. Every season begins anew, bringing hope amidst a fresh start, unless you’re a fan of a team that is expected to tank or rebuild. Even then, it’s interesting to see the building blocks move into place, which creates hope for the future.

For many of us, this escapism and enjoyment extends to video game adaptations of our favourite sports, most of them licensed and created by companies like 2K and Electronic Arts. Although I grew up playing and enjoying a wide variety of different sports, my game of choice has always been EA Sports’ NHL series. In fact, my first brush with this franchise occurred almost thirty years ago when my Grandpa bought me a used copy of NHLPA 93. Thus, I was there from the beginning, though Blades of Steel was admittedly my first foray into interactive hockey.

Since then, I haven’t missed a single season, or very many Leafs games at all. Though there were a couple of years where I bought NHL 2K instead of EA’s releases, I always ended up playing both and admittedly regretted my decision. Hell, NHL 96 and NHL 07 still remain my two most played games of all-time.

Last year, EA Canada made the jump from ‘last-gen’ to ‘next-gen,’ with NHL 22, which I enjoyed quite a lot. A new engine improved the experience, and the addition of women’s hockey players increased the appeal and one of my favourite series took a definite step forward. Now, after receiving a review code and spending a number of hours with it, I’m here to talk about its follow-up: NHL 23. Does this year’s iteration do enough to justify another purchase? Let’s discuss that.

As you may already know, NHL 23 does not provide the same amount of updates, changes and additions that its predecessor boasted. That’s something we need to get out of the way early, as it’s the honest truth. It does, however, make some mechanical changes, improve the series’ quality of life and more.

The most notable change herein involves last chance puck movement, which makes it so that players are able to keep control of the puck while stumbling instead of just freezing. This allows you to pass and shoot while you’re being jostled or – as mentioned before – stumbling. You can also dive for the puck as a last ditch effort, and may be lucky enough to swat it into the net. This definitely improves the experience, by making it smoother and more realistic. After all, real-life NHL stars don’t just stop or lose control when they stumble. In fact, some of the League’s best goals have occurred during such organic moments.


While you’re playing, coaches will also adjust and recommend strategies, which you can accept or decline by pressing up or down on the controllers’ D-Pad. This may involve locking things down defensively, or just pulling the goalie when the time is right. You’ll see this pop-up appear in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, though, and may not notice it every time. It’s kind of small, and if you’re not used to watching for it, it’s easy to miss. Granted, if you mostly play Be a Pro you won’t need to worry too much about this.

Speaking of Be a Pro, it’s important to note that, while a lot remains the same, there have been some changes made to its solo career formula. You’ll now see team and League stats appear before face-offs, won’t hear as much from Carrlyn Bathe, and will also be able to see how you’re doing in terms of moving up and down the line-up. Otherwise, most of the mode is the same, including the opening video where your agent is speaking to James Cybulski while you’re playing pond hockey on a mountain. It was disappointing to see how little had changed, but I’m still having a blast with the mode. It’s something I admittedly thought of in the 90's or early 2000's, and is now my favourite gameplay scenario.

Be prepared for lots of conversations with your coach, media members and fellow teammates though. The game retains the light RPG and player development options that were in previous title(s), including the dialogue options. You’ll have to choose between increasing your star ranking/following, being a team player, etc. Of course, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot; at least unless you end up playing many seasons. The game wants you to do that, because it continues to have achievements for setting records and retiring atop the League, but it’s a time consuming ask.

You can also expect to be able to unlock and use new X-Factors, including two that are based on NHL 23’s cover athletes: Sarah Nurse and Trevor Zegras. Nurse’s ‘Relentless’ X-Factor increases the player’s ability to shoot and pass while off-balance. Meanwhile, Zegreas’ ‘Skilled Up’ X-Factor ability lets you pull off his viral flip pass. Thus far, I’ve only unlocked the only X-Factor the game have ever seemed to want to give me: Spin-O-Rama. Maybe it’s because I often stop then cut back or towards the net, and score lots of snap shot goals? It is nice to see my progress towards unlocking others, though.


What else is new? Well, you can now mix and match male and female players in Hockey Ultimate Team, with the addition of Women’s National Team players and co-ed lineups. Furthermore, customizable Stanley Cup, hat trick, etc. celebrations are available. Lastly, cross-platform matchmaking and play will be added to the game next month. I can’t say that’s a big deal to me, but some are excited and I respect that.

I was especially happy to note that the online versus and NHL Ones games I played were lag free, which hasn’t been the case in recent years. I didn’t play a lot of versus last year because of it, and didn’t think it was my Internet which I’d updated. However, given that I’ve been having Internet issues in recent months, I was surprised that there was no lag this time around. Everything has been smooth so far, knock on wood.

It’s true that, for the most part, NHL 23 plays a lot like its predecessor. The modes are almost identical, the gameplay is very similar outside of the last chance puck movement and desperation plays, and it’s not noticeably all that different. However, as someone who’s played this series since the start, I do feel that this is a better and more polished game. I did notice some glitches, but they were very minor and much less frustrating than those in NHL 22. In fact, the only ones I’ve experienced so far involved players basically floating from the front of the net to where their teammates were celebrating a goal at the point, and Nazem Kadri’s mustache popping in later than the rest of his beard. That said, I was disappointed to see that my Be a Pro quest started with rosters from last year, with retired (or injured) players like Yandle and Price playing for their old teams, Mrazek starting in net for the Leafs, Burns still on the Sharks and Kadri playing for Carolina. I had downloaded the newest rosters, but started in the Champions Hockey League, so maybe that caused the glitch?


On the presentation side of things there’s actually a good amount of stuff to talk about. Sure, NHL 23 only looks slightly better than that which came before it, but they have made an effort to up the presentation ante. Crowds will cheer and boo loudly, especially if a specific player touches the puck after injuring one of their hometown favourites. Furthermore, there are a lot of stat overlays, plus occasional on-ice overlays. Things like a Toronto Maple Leafs video projection, or either the Canadian or American flags during a brief, orchestral anthem. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s a step in the right direction. That said, it is surprisingly limited and doesn’t happen a lot.

James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro return to both the digital play-by-play booth and the spot between the two teams’ benches, and continue to do a good job of providing commentary. While it’s not the best commentary I’ve ever heard, it’s pretty good for a video game, and Ray is the best in the business. Some of the stuff has been copied and pasted from last year’s game, but there are some new lines and even a couple of humorous interjections. The soundtrack is also better than it’s ever been thanks to tracks by Ghost, koRn, Muse, Shinedown and more. The only problem is that the songs change on each different menu, so you won’t hear much of any of them unless you stay put.

At the end of the day, whether NHL 23 is worth purchasing is a subjective decision. It’s a better game than those which came before it, but it doesn’t feature any massive or earth shattering updates or changes. Thus, it’s not a huge upgrade despite being one. If you’re happy with NHL 22, you’ll be fine. However, I enjoyed my time with NHL 23 and look forward to playing it a lot more.

**NHL 23 (X-Factor Edition) was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S**




Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 8.4 / 10

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