Inspired By Madden, NHL 22 Introduces Superstar X-Factors To Change The Metagame

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NHL 22 is ushering in a new console generation in style. This entry marks the first year the game launches on the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, and it’s coming with a new look to celebrate, thanks to the series finally moving to EA’s Frostbite engine for both the new and previous-gen versions. Outside of visual upgrades, EA Vancouver looks like a team pinning all its hopes on its superstar talent to bring in the fans and victories, and it just might work.  

Elevating The League's Best With X-Factors

EA Vancouver wants to better represent the players who are difference-makers and dangerous threats every time they step on the ice, like cover athlete Auston Matthews. Inspired by EA’s Madden series, this year introduces Superstar X-Factors for the elite players in the league. “Madden did a phenomenal job of telling stories of what makes a player special with their X-Factor feature set,” says NHL 22 producer Clement Kwong. “Not only does it enable great storytelling as we elevate the superstars, but [it] also introduces a new meta to gameplay that injects more strategy and competition for our core – something we haven’t really done to gameplay in recent years.”

X-Factors will benefit every major mode in the game, forcing players to adapt to the different skills and playing styles of hockey’s best. They come in two ability tiers: zone and superstar. “Elite players who possess game-changing talent and single-handedly use that to impact the outcome of the game are assigned zone abilities,” Kwong explains. “This is what defines the player and what the player is known for. These are very powerful abilities, so we only assign one for each eligible player.”

According to Kwong, the other tier, superstar abilities, are less powerful and more common, but players can be assigned one or more. These will be perks, such as great stickhandling, great shot through screens, and great peripheral passers. About 100 players will have superstar abilities at launch, whereas about 50 will have zone abilities. Some elite players will have both a zone ability and multiple superstar abilities.  

Kwong showed us Auston Matthews’ zone ability called “Shock & Awe,” which grants him exceptional power and accuracy shooting out of, or shortly after, a deke. You will have to decide how to defend and counter this because you’re bound to get burned by a high-scoring chance if you ignore him. “All of these abilities will have an impact on how you play the game,” Kwong says. “Players will need to be aware of who’s on the ice, how to deal with them, and how to create their own advantages.”

These special abilities will also extend to goalies. For instance, two-time Stanley Cup and 2021 Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy has the Contortionist zone ability, which means he has the athleticism to stretch and twist himself to make impossible saves look easy. Translation: He’s probably going to make some devastating saves on you. 

NHL 22 wants you to constantly adapt to the competition, whatever challenges these skilled players bring your way. Franchise Mode will also accommodate X-Factors in new scouting reports, letting you scout pro and amateur players for them. X-Factors will also affect line chemistry, as you want to mix and match players with complementary abilities. Time to pair up the expert passers with the deadly snipers. 

For modes like Be A Pro, your player will earn X-Factor abilities throughout their career, with special challenges to earn X-Factor points and unlock more slots for them. In HUT, players with X-Factors will undoubtedly be the most sought-after player items; some cards will also have upgrade slots available to add a zone ability. And yes, X-Factors will also make their way into CHEL, where you get one default zone ability, depending on the archetype you select. You also have more ways to customize your skater, as you can invest points you earn into what skills you want within that specific archetype. 

Other Noteworthy Features

The bulk of EA Vancouver's NHL 22 reveal was focused on how X-Factors will change the game, but some other interesting tidbits were also unveiled. First off, to accommodate this entry's superstar focus, EA Vancouver says it has a revamped broadcast presentation. The team will have more to share on specifics later, but we did hear some new commentary, focusing on the top talent and what their abilities lend to the game.

Fans of NHL's newest team, the Seattle Kraken, will be happy to know they have been added to the expansion draft for Franchise Mode. You also still have the ability to start your own expansion franchise, bringing the tally of teams up to 33. In addition to the unique challenges to earn points toward X-Factor abilities, Be A Pro will now have multi-season storylines, so the fun doesn't stop after your rookie storyline. 

EA Vancouver is hoping to leverage the Frostbite engine to increase its visuals' realism and wow factor. The game certainly looks the best it ever has, with better lighting, uniform improvements, and enhanced player likenesses. According to Kwong, all the arenas have been rebuilt and relit to bring the atmosphere to life. One immediately noticeable thing was how much better and more realistic the ice looks in general. Players are also getting some upgrades in the looks department. Over 100 star players and generic player head models have also been rebuilt from the ground up to reflect the current season and bring more detail to your favorite players.

As with past years, a technical test for CHEL will go live at the end of this month, and that should reveal more about how these enhancements fare. EA Vancouver is hedging a lot on X-Factors being the difference-maker this year, and only time will tell how these change the competition. I will say it's about time we had some new challenges to confront on the ice. After all, isn’t part of the fun stopping the very best? 

NHL 22 hits the ice on October 15 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, and Xbox One. 

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