I've played NHL 18 a fair amount this year and it's definitely different than NHL 16/17.
- Actual hockey plays are generally more rewarding/less futile. Example: Dumping the puck in, in previous games, was generally akin to giving the puck away 90% of the time. A good shoot in with an aggressive forecheck strategy, more often than not, is now a legitimate play style. Cycling the puck is definitely better. Getting in the passing/shooting lanes is generally rewarded.
- Breakaways are no longer gimmies (this is good and bad). I look at the Online Vs. leaderboards and very few have a high % like they did in years past. You can no longer just rely on the forehand-backhand-forehand deke, although it's still probably the most reliable (in my experience).
- Protecting the puck and trying to dangle the entire opposition's defense is definitely a less viable strategy than before.- Smart passes are definitely rewarded and poor passes are definitely punished ... most games (see Ugly section). In most games, your opponent can try passing it through the AI defender all night long and it'll get intercepted or deflected away every time.
- The menus and UI have improved, though still not to the point where I should actually be listing it in the good section, really, but there's no meh section, so ...
- EA finally admitted face-off loops exist.
- Well ... There's a lot, so this list probably won't be complete.
- EA finally admitted face-off loops exist ... but they intentionally put them in the game because reasons. They're "working on" preventing people from abusing it ... supposedly. Thanks ... I guess?
- Deflections are so bad unless your player is 2 feet from the net. Don't even bother to try for tips from the slot because the puck slows down a ridiculous amount.
- Loose puck scrambles in front of the net, you can pretty much always assume that either the defense is going to get it or you'll get it and you won't be able to shoot or pass the puck before losing it again.
- AI defense defending the rush is god awful, possibly worse than previous games if that's possible. They'll pretty much just let your opponent walk into the slot and fire.
- Volume shooting is rewarded far too often. You'll sometimes run into guys who get it over the blueline, throw it on net, and they'll get 1-3 goals per game doing it (even in non-Ugly games, see below). They don't even slap it or do the pull-back wrister. Just gain blueline, flick right stick up. It's not only incredibly boring to play against, but it's aggravating how effective it is.
- Good plays aren't rewarded enough. Yes, they're still your best chance to score ... but ... goalies are way too good at making incredible saves and way too bad at making easy saves is the general theme here.
- Poke check/sweep is way too effective ... but ... especially during the ugly games ... when you poke the puck, it generally goes to whoever has momentum. So you can poke check your opponent a billion times and it keeps finding its way to his guys.
- Input lag. Basically, get rid of the puck quick if you have guys bearing down on you because your player won't react if your opponent is too close. So stupid.
- Defensive skill stick ... aka ... re-implementation of the sweep, but now you can skate while doing it. I mean, it's better than it used to be (*cough* sorry, I mean this is a BRAND NEW FEATURE!!!! *cough*) but this leads to ...
- Re-mapping of the chop action into the incredibly unreliable R3 + Direction aka skate into the boards and miss the puck half the time. Essentially, the chop went from a great tool to a liability thanks to the defensive skill stick taking its button mapping.
- The game clearly revolves around HUT, also known as the worst mode ever.
- The ice tilt/momentum or whatever EA doesn't want you to call it is still there and ramped up even more. You'll have games where you know you're screwed before the end of the 2nd shift. Can't complete passes, all your players skate like their blades are coated with molasses, goaltender lets in awful goals, AI teammates take penalties all over the place, AI teammates actively try to get covered, AI teammates actively skate into you instead of getting open, passes go right through your guys, etc. usually until your opponent has an insurmountable lead, then the tides turn and suddenly you dominate just long enough for the game to get within reach and then, bam, you're fighting an uphill battle again. ... or sometimes, it's literally the entire game. I played the same guy in back-to-back-to-back games. Completely trounced the guy in the first game, won 4-0, quadrupled his shots, tripled his time on attack. Lost the 2nd game 3-0, he tripled my shots, doubled my time of attack. Completely dominated him in the third game, won 4-0 again, quadrupled his shots, and tripled his time on attack again. What happened in game two was exactly as I described above. And, like I said, this was the exact same guy, the exact same night, with the exact same teams 3 games in a row.
It's probably the best NHL game for the current generations of consoles but, man, for a game that made it to this generation a year late and is now in its 4th iteration on this generation, it certainly hasn't made the progress you'd expect. NHL 14/15/Legacy for previous gen are still better, if less graphically-impressive, games in my opinion.