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‘NHL 19’ review: Pro hockey’s top virtual experience returns to glory

World of CHEL is a revelation that offers an entirely new way to sink tons of time into the long-running franchise.

World of CHEL delivers pond hockey action to

World of CHEL delivers pond hockey action to "NHL 19" with various gameplay types. Photo Credit: EA Sports

Finally, finally, EA Sports’ hockey series has tapped back into its full potential.

“NHL 19” restores the decades-old franchise to glory, finally giving the current generation of consoles a must-buy NHL game.

The key to success in this year’s entry is the new World of CHEL. The name may seem odd, but say “NHL” out loud and you’ll hear it. Similar to The One in EA sibling “NBA Live 19,” World of CHEL is an all-encompassing experience that allows users to go online in various modes with a created player.

Playing various game types — comprised of mainstay EASHL, sophomore arcade-style entry NHL Threes and the new Pro-Am and NHL Ones — offer rewards in the form of gear to customize your avatar. The apparel options are bountiful, with plenty of fun toques, licensed team sweaters and authentic sticks.

Customization isn’t limited to looks. Several loadouts for different player classes, such as snipers or enforcers, can be customized with additional traits and specialties to let gamers control a player who matches their play style. Personally, I’m a terrible shooter, so the grinder class allowed me to flourish as a disrupter on both ends.

Pro-Am channels the idealization of pond hockey, in this case set at some sort of winter getaway resort. It mixes in current stars and legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in a three-on-three setup against increasingly challenging trios. It’s a clever way to integrate the popular three-man game.

NHL Ones is going to either addict or annoy, depending on skill level. Three players compete at one end of the ice in a one-on-one-on-one game. It’s timed, and basically anything goes. Gamers climb the ranks to be named the Daily Champion. It’s pretty brilliant, and totally refreshing, but this mode won’t do casual players any favors.

The other major new feature enhances the action on the ice, no matter the mode. Real Player Motion comes to the “NHL” franchise, just as it did “Madden” and “NBA Live” earlier this year and “FIFA” a year ago. It’s essentially a more realistic movement system, and it does indeed make skating feel more in tune with reality than ever before.

Those who’ve bemoaned the lack of attention to the likes of franchise, Be A Player and Ultimate Team will find little to nothing has changed. Just know that, in case any of these modes is the core reason to pay full price for a new hockey game.

That’s hardly a knock, though. Not this year, when “NHL 19” delivers a hockey experience that lights the lamp in a way the franchise hasn’t for years.

AVAILABLE NOW

“NHL 19,” published by EA Sports and developed by EA Vancouver, is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, $59.99

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