Dustin Brown and his Los Angeles Kings are Stanley cup champions, concluding another exciting NHL season. While players train for next year, and general mangers are drafting 18 year old hopefuls, conducting signings and trades, the EA team in Vancouver produces another NHL game. Twenty two years old, the NHL series is planning the best game yet with NHL 13. It looks to be another successful game in the long running franchise. NHL09 took the hockey series to the next level with its skill stick introduction and was awarded 12 sports game of the year awards. NHL13 looks to be the next leap forward since that awarding winning year.

The team in Vancouver is looking to improve the smallest features that only the hardcore fan would notice, and drastically overhaul of the playing system. The Hockey Ultimate team, the online ultimate fantasy team, is getting tweaked with changes to awards and formats. Be-A-Pro mode and EA Sports Hockey League will become more accessible and easier to manage. While pre-game presentation animations that the team brought into the fold last year will be available for more teams and in a more over-the-top style.

The franchise’s most popular mode, Be-A-GM, will now move online. Players can now coach, play, sign, and trade players against human competitors in an all human 30 man team league like real life general mangers. EA is using technology and connecting Be-A-GM to your smartphone and iOS device. You will be able to trade and sign players on the go. Clearly, if you are away from your console, you will not be able to play a game. However, EA has leaked that the player will be able to set strategy for your team and play style, allowing for your friends to play against your team while you are away. More announcement for online and offline Be-A-GM, as well as other minor features, will follow as the September release dates nears.

While theses features are important, these are not the core of the changes. Player,team AI and skating is the next step forward for the franchise. The AI is getting a complete face lift. Goalies and players, will like never before, act like there real life counterparts in terms of strategic hockey. Goalies in NHL 12 are focused on the puck and not the play that was developing. In NHL 13, goalies will be able to react to not just the shot but the possibility of a pass, as well. Goalies will now cheat, predicting the pass and reacting to the play. Puck focused goalies will no longer be the norm, and like NHL goalies, anticipation looks to be a key new development. Puck focuses was not a problem for just goalies in the series but players, as well.

Overhauling the AI means that defensive hockey will be a major focus in NHL 13. Teams will play real life defensive strategies like the 1-2-2 and the 1-3-1 that was made famous by the Tampa Bay Lighting. Players will not be able to skate the puck out of the zone with no pressure from the computer. The AI will have complete knowledge of everybody on the ice, not just where the puck is. Closing the gap, the basic defensive strategy in hockey, to playing the trap, looks like it will be played out on your system. Advanced AI means numerous strategy that your team will itself employ. Where before there where only a few basic strategy that your computer teammates would carryout, to varying degrees of success, EA is bringing a massive amount of complexity and strategic to hockey plays. NHL 13 is a hockey game that mimics is real life counterpart like never before.

The final major improvement is the skating. EA has been very open and proud of their new skating mechanic which looks to bring over 1000 new animations. The skill stick allowed for players to have real, life-like control of a player’s shot and passing, as well as defensive stick work. The skating improvements allow complete life-like control of your NHL player. With the mimic of explosive skating power and stop to top speed accurate simulation and speed and control of speed will play into the game like never before. In previous installments of the series, it was easy to get to top speed and cut right or left to make a play. With these improvements, players will feel there skates carving into the ice which will lead to a hilarious fall so make sure you take your speed into consideration when making turns and maintaining speed.

The team in Vancouver is taking the game to the next level. Skating, and especially AI improvements, have be a sore point for the series but it seems like NHL 13 has finally address those issues. With these substantial improvements on the horizon, hockey and sports fans should get excited, and no, they are not changing the first person fighting.

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