EA Sports' NHL 16, launching in September, will bring back numerous features and gameplay modes that were missing from the series' disappointing Xbox One and PlayStation 4 debut, but previous-generation consoles will get little more than a reconditioned release of last year's game, with updated rosters and player uniforms.
That product, called NHL Legacy, will also be available in September. NHL Legacy "brings together the most popular modes and award-winning gameplay features from nine years of NHL hockey," according to the game's website. FIFA 14 and FIFA 15, also developed at the EA Canada studio, each received a roundly criticized "Legacy Edition" on Wii that delivered the same game as the year before with no new features or modes.
We've reached out to EA to ask if the NHL Legacy name — notably lacking the annual designation that EA's other sports titles carry — means that this will be the last NHL game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
To its credit, EA is attempting to start off on the right foot with its fanbase this year, acknowledging 2014's missteps and laying out a full list of all NHL 16 modes along with its announcement blog post today. The company took a lot of flak last year for refusing to answer specific questions about NHL 15's feature set until the day before launch.
"First we looked to our biggest fans and asked them to be a part of our team," said EA. "We spent more time listening and working with them this year than ever before." EA is also answering direct questions from fans on the game's website, and doing so in a more forthright way than developers of big-budget franchises usually do.
Through free updates, EA Canada eventually added many NHL 15 features that were missing at launch. NHL 16 will bring back those items in full force, such as six-on-six online team play and online-enabled couch co-op; a revamped EA Sports Hockey League; the Action Tracker, which offers replays of every in-game event; a Be A Pro mode that once again allows players to simulate to their next shift, and work their way up through the minor leagues; and a Be A GM mode with AHL affiliates and a fantasy draft.
But GM Connected, the online franchise mode that debuted in 2012's NHL 13, will not be returning in its current form. Responding to a community question, NHL 16 associate producer Andy Agostini described GM Connected as a "highly requested feature that unfortunately failed in many ways." He added that EA Canada is planning to re-examine the idea of an online franchise in the future.
EA Canada is also working on elements of the game that it got right in NHL 15, such as the terrific NBC Sports presentation package featuring NHL on NBC commentators Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. Their commentary will be more "story-driven" this year, said EA. And as you can see in the screenshot above, every NHL team with a mascot will have that mascot in NHL 16. Hockey Ultimate Team will offer single-player seasons. And skaters will have new tools to improve their game on the ice as well.
After the disappointing NHL 15, EA has a lot of work to do in NHL 16 in order to win back the favor of the series' longtime fans. It's encouraging that the company seems to know it. For a recap of what was missing in NHL 15, check out our Overview video below and read our review.
Update: An EA Sports spokesperson tells Polygon that "we don't have any announcements on future Legacy Editions at this time."