NHL 23 will be the first sports game to feature female players in its Ultimate Team mode when it releases October 14 – a major step for a genre that has only recently begun to feature women’s athletics in a meaningful way.
It was among the highlights of NHL’s second year on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, having made the leap to the current generation of consoles last year. Other additions of note include cross-platform matchmaking, meaning players on Xbox Series X will be able to play with their peers on PS5, and a more customizable franchise mode.
‘Hockey is really for everybody’
But it’s the addition of players from the International Ice Hockey Federation [IIHF] Women’s National Team to Hockey Ultimate Team that really stands out, putting well-known players like Sarah Nurse on the ice alongside their male peers. To celebrate, NHL 23 will feature Nurse on the cover alongside Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras, who pulled off the lacrosse-style flip pass that stunned the hockey world last year (and will be possible in NHL 23).
“It is such a tremendous honor to be the first woman on the cover of the EA SPORTS NHL franchise,” said Nurse, who plays for Canada. “Hockey is really for everybody and I’m excited that NHL 23 is celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of the sport. I hope that the increased representation of women in such a prominent game will inspire young girls everywhere to know that there is a place for them in hockey.”
Hockey Ultimate Team [HUT] is NHL 23’s version of the card-collecting mode that has drawn criticism in Madden and FIFA for its focus on microtransactions. Female players will appear in packs and in the auction house, and their ratings will be comparable to their male peers, meaning that a “94 rating will be a 94 rating no matter what,” according to EA.
The addition of female players to Hockey Ultimate Team is part of an overall push across EA’s sports games. Fresh off England’s win in the Women’s European Championship over the summer, FIFA 23 will be adding women’s club football for the first time. NBA 2K has similarly featured the WNBA since NBA 2K20, with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi featuring on this year’s cover.
Elsewhere, NHL 23 will seek to upgrade its gameplay with new “desperation shots” that can be pulled off as players stumble to the ice, as well as enhanced goalie A.I and updated power play strategies. The presentation is also being upgraded with an improved arena atmosphere, including a brand-new hat trick animation.
Franchise players will be able to build their own customizable league with as many as 48 teams or as few as six while also being able to tweak the salary cap, the number of games, and playoff formats. In effect, dedicated simulation enthusiasts will be able to recreate virtually any era in NHL history.
Cross-platform matchmaking will be available in the EA Sports Hockey League online team mode, HUT, and the casual-focused World of Chel. The immediate benefit for players will be an expanded player pool, though cross-play does not include the ability to play with counterparts on consoles from previous generations.
Seeking a momentum shift
NHL 23 will be the long-running franchise’s latest attempt to regain momentum after mostly struggling through the previous console generation. Last year’s release updated its gameplay with special abilities known as Superstar X-Factors while shifting to the Frostbite Engine, but as our review pointed out, it was an “uneven jump into a generation visually,” with “choppy commentary, inconsistent tone, and repetitive cut aways during stoppages make it harder to become immersed in the hockey than it’s been at the series’ peaks.”
Notably, NHL recently brought in two new senior developers – Mike Inglehart, a former Wii Punch-Out!! and Ghost Recon developer who will serve as creative director, and Cris Haluke, a former Halo developer who will join as a senior producer. They join the team led by general manager Sean Ramjagsingh, who has been with the series going back to 2008.
NHL 23 will be out on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on October 14.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.