In many ways, the latest iteration of EA's long-running hockey series in NHL 22 marks a fresh and crucial new beginning for the franchise. For the first time ever, the game is now running on the company's standard Frostbite engine as opposed to the dated Ignite engine of years past, and the result is a game that feels like it has Stanley Cup-winning potential in seasons to come, but perhaps needs an extra year-or-two to get past the early rounds of the playoffs.
The most immediate positive of the new engine is that the game looks significantly better than it did in NHL 21, particularly in regards to player models, arenas, lighting, reflections and the ice itself. It's clear that the team has put a large amount of work into bringing the franchise up to date from a visual standpoint, and it really can look superb at times on Xbox Series X, particularly during close-ups. It might sound silly, but the addition of high-detail, 3D ice spray is something that never grows old when it crops up in slow-motion replays.
And unlike something like Konami's eFootball, the transition to a new engine appears to have gone surprisingly well for the NHL team. The best compliment we can give in terms of gameplay is that it feels very similar to NHL 21 on the ice, but also makes some key improvements to areas such as passing accuracy and stick-on-stick collisions to deliver a noticeably better game of hockey - despite still feeling largely reminiscent of NHL 21. The AI remains prone to silly decisions at times, specifically in modes that utilise AI-controlled teammates, but otherwise it's pretty good.
NHL 22 feels generally great to play, then, and retains all the many key features and modes you've come to expect despite the transition to a new engine, but they're very familiar. You're not really going to find much new stuff in the way of major features, with the likes of Be a Pro, Franchise Mode, World of CHEL and Hockey Ultimate Team mostly settling for minor additions. If you got bored of those modes last year, it'll be difficult to sway you this year.
Where a welcome change has been implemented is in something called Superstar X-Factors, which you might recognise from the Madden series. This feature allows stars to benefit from specifically enhanced abilities in order to differentiate them from some of the lesser-skilled players in the game, and while it might sound a bit overpowered on paper, the feature is handled in a clever and refreshingly non-intrusive manner. Plus, it's implemented into the aforementioned game modes such as Be a Pro and Ultimate Team, so there's a degree of freshness in that regard.
As impressive as the engine transition to Frostbite has been, you're definitely going to notice the bugs at launch. These range from the minor, such as animations and players' sticks glitching out mid-game, to the more major instances of menus failing to load and certain in-game options failing to activate. Occasionally it does feel like the game is being held together with stick tape, but it's a small price to pay when compared to the series' previous jump to a new engine (NHL 15), which suffered a horribly botched launch with many missing features. We'll happily take a few bugs instead.
It's a transitional year for NHL, then. It's arguably better than ever on the ice, playing a mostly authentic and enjoyable brand of hockey that implements some subtle, but worthy new features to satisfy hardcore fans. It also looks meaningfully improved thanks to the Frostbite engine (and clearly a lot of hard work). But in terms of content and game modes, it's largely the same offering as last year, and that gets pretty old after a while. Hopefully, now that the engine transition is out of the way, we can look forward to some ambitious new modes and features in NHL 23 and beyond.