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NHL 24’s big changes include a ‘complete revamp’ of gameplay — and a battle pass

Watch the first trailer, featuring cover athlete Cale Makar

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

EA Sports’ hockey franchise hasn’t been a critical darling since the early 2010s, and the series has been stuck in something of a rut for the past few years. That may be why developer EA Vancouver is promising that some major changes are coming in NHL 24, which was revealed Wednesday with a trailer.

First up is what EA described in a news release as a “complete revamp of the EA Sports NHL gameplay experience,” led by a feature that seeks to simulate the effects of sustained offensive-zone pressure. Billed as the Exhaust Engine, this system will offer twofold rewards to players who can maintain possession in their opponent’s defensive zone.

Keep cycling the puck, and you’ll eventually trigger a perk that will reduce the defending team’s attributes for a limited time — and ramp up the fatigue level for its goalie, whose effectiveness will wane if you can continue to pepper them with shots. This is a major piece of real-life hockey: Puck possession is a key indicator of success in the modern NHL. So if NHL 24 can successfully bring it to life — in what sounds like an appropriately gamified implementation of this element of the sport — it could have a big impact on gameplay this year.

Other gameplay updates include “overhauled physics and animations,” according to the news release, such as the ability to deliver a big hit that could send an opponent flying over the boards or even break the glass above them. EA also said that it’ll be easier to pull off highlight-reel moves on the sticks because the developers decided to “completely refresh the control setup” for those moves. And the overhauled passing controls, with teammates mapped to face buttons, should give players the ability to be more intentional with their passes.

As usual, EA’s choice of cover athlete is meant to reflect the new features of this year’s game in some way. NHL 24’s cover will feature Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, who, in just four NHL seasons — two of which were truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic — has racked up quite the collection of awards and honors. Makar is a supremely skilled puck-handler who can turn on a dime, and on the defensive side of the ice, physical play is a big part of his game.

the cover art for NHL 24, which features Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche
The cover for NHL 24’s standard edition, featuring Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche.
Image: EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts

With such a focus on significant gameplay changes, there’s less to report when it comes to NHL 24’s suite of game modes. EA Vancouver upgraded the franchise mode last year with all kinds of customization options, but the single-player career mode, Be a Pro, hasn’t received much attention since its last (unsuccessful) overhaul three years ago — and neither mode is mentioned in EA’s news release.

Instead, the studio appears to have focused on the game’s online options, World of Chel and Hockey Ultimate Team. Cross-platform matchmaking — which debuted in NHL 23 via a post-launch patch — still doesn’t work across every platform. But it has been expanded to allow for co-op action, not just competitive play, for people on the same generation of consoles (i.e., PlayStation 5 with Xbox Series X, and PlayStation 4 with Xbox One) in HUT and World of Chel.

More notably, EA is adding a battle pass to World of Chel for the first time. Until now, the online hub — which first appeared five years ago, in NHL 19 — has been completely free of microtransactions. You earned experience points by playing the online modes, and leveling up your profile would unlock gameplay perks for your created player, as well as loot boxes that provided you with a random assortment of gear to customize their outfit. (Unlike in, say, Overwatch, there was no option to buy these loot boxes.) Details are scarce on the World of Chel battle pass in NHL 24, but it will have the seasonal frame that is typical of battle passes in all kinds of games, and it will offer rewards at both free and paid levels.

NHL 24 is scheduled to launch Oct. 6 on PS5 and Xbox Series X ($69.99) as well as PS4 and Xbox One ($59.99). As usual, the X-Factor Edition will offer three days’ early access, along with cross-generation copies of the game (i.e., both PlayStation consoles or both Xbox consoles) and a variety of digital bonus items, for $99.99.

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