After NHL 20's lacklustre offering, NHL 21 seems to be skating in the right direction with its single-player career mode this year.
While the Madden and FIFA series have leaned into their own story modes in recent years with Longshot and The Journey, EA's other flagship sports franchise, NHL, has left this on the bench. That is still the case in NHL 21, but the game's developer is finally updating its career-minded mode, Be A Pro, with what appears to be the biggest and most welcome changes to it in years.
The first thing you'll notice in NHL 21's Be A Pro mode is that the UI is completely overhauled, and for the better. The hub has been revamped to display more information on the screen at once. This sounds very basic, but in returning to NHL 20, its Be A Pro screen feels very barebones and lacking by comparison. NHL 21's Be A Pro hub shows you most everything you need on one screen, with sub menus available for your game schedule, skill tree, important news, salary details, and more.
The Be A Pro structure is familiar--as in years past, you start out by creating a character and choosing whether you want to start in the Memorial Cup or in Europe, and compete for a place in the NHL, or you can jump directly into the NHL and guide your player through their rookie season. I tried both ways, and found it was more exciting to start in one of the lower-tier leagues, as this makes your journey to the NHL feel more fulfilling.
Outside of the new hub and layout, another major change for Be A Pro in NHL 21 is the new conversation system. You will have text conversations with coaches, management, and teammates to discuss your future, and there are multiple dialogue options to choose from that can alter the trajectory of your career. EA says there are "hundreds" of story beats that can play out.
When a game finishes, you get an even more in-depth breakdown of your performance with new menus that have sliders that show you experience points gained--or lost--toward the different facets of your game. This year, these progress bars notify you about how close you are to the next ranking, and this visual aid gave me the extra push to play one more game to keep ranking up and improving my character. And like last year, the skill tree returns, so you're able to build out your character to your liking depending on how you like to play. It remains a thrill to see your player's OVR rank rise as you progress through a season and succeed on the ice. Another nice touch is that, if you make it to the first line--meaning you're one of the best offensive players on your team--the playcallers James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro will give your line a special nickname.
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