Over the past three years, EA Sports has been re-growing the NHL franchise on new-generation consoles. The series reached extraordinary heights on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but was given a new start of sorts on PS4 and Xbox One. Since its PS4 and Xbox One debut in September 2014, NHL has gotten better each and every year. NHL 17 is finally here and it delivers one of the most complete experiences in the brand’s history.

As someone who spends days and even a week’s worth of time in Franchise Mode, I couldn’t be happier with NHL 17. The mode provides the most complete, nuanced experience in NHL‘s history, or dare I even say EA Sports’ history.

Franchise Mode challenges a player’s ability to think big picture, while still achieving short-term success. Go for the quick payoff to increase profit and chase away your loyal fans. Play too long of a strategy and risk the smite of an unsatisfied owner. All of your decisions weigh heavy on your mind in Franchise Mode, and each of them feels like a powerful catalyst toward ultimate success or failure.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of NHL 17‘s Franchise Mode, I’d first like to talk about the level of customization for those who wish to build their own franchise from the ground up. Personally, it is not satisfying to go into Franchise Mode with an existing franchise like my favorite team the Colorado Avalanche. To help create a greater sense of challenge and further personalize the experience, I decided to create a team of my own via the NHL 17 creation suite.

EASHL Arena screenshot (Courtesy of EA Sports).
EASHL Arena screenshot (Courtesy of EA Sports).

In this part of the game, gamers can create a player or create a team of their own. I chose the latter and thus the Rome AceWholes were born. Now you can choose to name your team whatever you want, but I went with the flexible AceWholes title because it allowed me to have fun with the name while still having part of it be pronounced by the announcers in NHL 17 (Aces).

When you first are deciding details like your team name (AceWholes), city (Rome), arena name (The Big Whole), team prestige and more, NHL 17 gives you plenty of tools for personalization. Among the seven categories I’m about to name, and there are more that I’m not mentioning, I found great entertainment in the detail and how complete they made my team feel.

I customized things such as my team name, city, arena name, team prestige, local fan base support, local popularity, club seating level and more. Team name, city and arena name are all changeable based on the titles you come up with. Separately, team prestige, local fan base, local popularity and club seating level are all decided upon within a given range.

Team prestige and local popularity had ranges from Bottom to Elite, and yes you can certainly give your team a leg up by choosing the highest one. Local fan base had a range from casual to hardcore, while club seating level had a range from 1-3. In the order that they were named, I chose Elite, Elite, Hardcore and 3. You might say that’s not giving myself a challenge, but I chose those levels with the thought of moving my team in mind.

All of those things are just one of five total categories for players to customize. Other categories include items like creating your logo, team uniform, creating your arena and deciding your rosters. The logo feature includes each logo from the teams in the NHL, and you can of course customize colors to your liking. Colors are involved in just about every aspect of create a team, so to keep things simple, you can choose your team’s three colors and then apply them to all the areas that need color decisions made.

Team uniform is what you would expect it to be. Gamers customize their home, away and alternate jerseys to their liking. Creating your own arena is an absolute blast and NHL 17 really went to great lengths to make you feel like your home stadium is your’s.

There are 10 unique arena templates to choose from and my favorites were two and five. There are around the same number of templates for choosing the type of scoreboard you want in your building too. Gamers can also choose the color of the arena walls as well as figure out the color of netting behind each goal. Additional customizations include things like intros for when your team skates onto the ice, the painting at center ice, goal celebration arena animations, types of seats and so much more. It’s stunning how far EA Sports went to make creating your arena special and I appreciate each and every category.

Edmonton celebrates a hat-trick (Courtesy of EA Sports).
Edmonton celebrates a hat-trick (Courtesy of EA Sports).

Lastly, gamers choose what players make up their team’s roster. They can pick players from the current free agent pool, leagues outside of the NHL and of course the NHL itself. Keeping the salary cap function on helps add a great level of challenge to Franchise Mode, but you can turn it off if you feel more like indulging in simple domination. After I had fully created the Rome AceWholes, it was then time to begin the journey in Franchise Mode.

NHL 17 has brought a truly intriguing level of nuance and decision-making to the Franchise Mode experience. Gamers must make decisions both that have an impact on and off the ice. On the ice choices turn out to be more obvious things like signing and resigning players, drafting, managing the trade block, playing games, and more. These tasks are essential to your team’s success and your owner’s ultimate satisfaction, but they aren’t anything you haven’t really seen before.

Off the ice is where EA Sports has spiced up the experience quite a bit. I had to manage a variety of departments like budget allocation, picking promotional nights, consulting my owner’s goal for each year and scouting. I also managed, repaired and made select upgrades to my arena throughout each season, in addition to choosing ticket prices for season and single-game tickets, and the same can be said for concessions and merchandise.

Off the ice becomes extremely important after your first year of service and is where players can make or break relationships with fans as well as their owner. Setting ticket prices or concessions too high can upset fans, while marking them too low will anger your owner. Having to balance the fine line between making a profit and still remaining fan friendly is something I respect about NHL 17. Mindlessly stepping through the experience will cost you dearly and it is important to pay attention to things like price recommendations, fan and owner feedback.

Gamers who wish to move their team into a different city can indeed do this, but they must keep in mind the fact that this is a permanent move. Moving your team into a new town means committing to a lease, something which is hard to be altered again anytime after the first move. That said, relocating a team was a very exciting process to me and NHL 17 provided a number of interesting options to consider.

Slashing and dashing in NHL 17 (Courtesy of EA Sports).
Slashing and dashing in NHL 17 (Courtesy of EA Sports).

Well over a dozen towns were listed for where I could relocate my team. Each of them had varying market sizes, fan interest and percentage of public stadium funding. A town like Hartford might have more hardcore fans, but they might not be demanding your team as much as a city like Houston, though they have a less dedicated fan base. Weighing what’s important to you and your franchise is essential, but so is the negotiating process.

There are profit-sharing decisions with the town and they involve things such as concessions, parking, single-game tickets, and of course, the amount of money the town is willing to put down for a new stadium and the term of the lease on it. There is a list of wants from the town you are negotiating with and should you present an offer that is less than satisfying to the town, negotiations can be broken off immediately. Once negotiations are off, they are off for good so it’s paramount to deal tactically. The process is an entertaining one and brings unseen experiences into the NHL formula.

Franchise Mode is the reason why I pick up the game each year and it is a splendid experience in NHL 17. Gameplay is still outstanding and is nothing short of the fantastic action you’ve come to expect from the NHL series. EA Sports has added plenty of unique elements to the NHL 17 equation that no matter what you come to the game for, I believe you will be happy.

Whether it is the new World Cup of Hockey Mode, Franchise Mode, Ultimate Team or Online Play, NHL 17 has something wonderful for everyone. This is easily one of the most complete installments in history. NHL 17 is available now for the PS4 and Xbox One. Stick around here at We Write Things for more from EA Sports’ fall lineup of titles. EA provided We Write Things with a PS4 code of NHL 17 for the purposes of this review. 

About Steve Ruygrok

Gaming, Spirits, and Craft Beer enthusiast. If you say you don't like beer, then you just haven't had the right type yet. Great spirits keep away the bad ones. Video games are kind of amazing, just do it...or something like that.