Managing an entire hockey team while keeping up repairs and expanding on an entire stadium seems like the last thing I would want to do in a game. That’s exactly where I spent the vast majority of my time with NHL 17, however. Making sure the bathrooms were in good repair to making sure the hot dogs were affordable was actually the most fun I’ve ever had in a sports game, even though all the time spent managing prices was mostly inconsequential. At the end of the day the hockey matches are what really matters, and NHL 17 is surprisingly easy to jump in and out of even in the mode dedicated full season and career modes. Its simple controls for beginners and unobtrusive tutorial system make it a very accessible game that still has a lot of depth.

The staggering amount of single-player content in NHL 17 has something for even the most inexperienced players. This year the series has included the World Cup of Hockey, which returns in real life as well. You’ll select a team from one of many leagues from around the world to compete in a tournament where you can take control of as many teams as you wish. This mode is good if you want to just play a few consecutive matches without having to play through a whole season or career, but it’s not a mode you’ll spend much time in unless you really care about the international teams included.

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Draft Champions is a fantasy draft mode where you draft a team and either play against the AI or real players in an attempt to win four consecutive games. It’s been a hit with the Madden crowd, and seeing it implemented here adds some depth to the core experience. The big difference with this and Hockey Ultimate Team is the addition of themes. You can choose between four different themes that dictate which players are made available to you and which base team is given to you. This includes past Stanley Cup Champions and all star players so you’re not limited to just the current NHL roster. You’re only given rewards upon reaching the required 4 wins, and these rewards all feed into the Hockey Ultimate Team mode. Matches play out like they would in any other mode so the real draw here is teambuilding and the Hockey Ultimate Team rewards.

Franchise mode is always the most robust of these game modes however, as it has you pick an NHL team to manage for a season. This includes maintaining and upgrading a stadium which means you’re setting concession stand prices, raising and lowering ticket prices and even moving the team when the opportunity arises. This mode was where I spent the majority of my time with NHL 17. At first, all of the different moving parts are a bit overwhelming, but the game does a good job of giving you simple goals during a season to get you acquainted with everything that’s going on. If you just want to play a season of hockey but continuously improve your roster and make trades without worrying about anything else, you can. Team-building is streamlined and easy to understand thanks to easily understandable player ratings and potential meters, but the more in-depth statistics are there for those who crave them.

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If you want to focus solely on creating the best stadium for your team and team chemistry without ever playing a single match you can do that, too. Putting all of your time and effort into ticket pricing and concessions ultimately feels inconsequential since it doesn’t contribute much. Unfortunately a lot of your options are tucked away in different sub-menus that are cumbersome to navigate. Most of your time in the franchise mode is spent in menus, and every menu is sorted under a tab. Of these tabs, the updates tab is all but useless, as it’s mostly a Twitter-style feed with some match results to one side. It feels like that tab could be eliminated to make it a bit easier to navigate each sub-menu. It takes a bit of time to learn where everything is in this mode, but load times aren’t so bad that it makes any of it a hassle.

NHL 17 is all about actually playing Hockey though, and in that aspect it’s fantastic. As someone who hasn’t set foot on the virtual ice since the Super Nintendo era, the simplified control scheme for beginners is a great way to learn the basics before graduating to the more complex controls. Movement feels realistic, but the simplified controls don’t frontload too much onto new players.The constant blue text box above your player is also helpful, as it always displays your recommended action and helps guide your play. Faceoffs are the hardest part of a match to ever get right as the camera angle prevents you from ever seeing when you should try to hit the puck. More often than not just guessing the timing on a faceoff was more effective than actually trying to time it correctly.

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As good as I got at reading the AI team’s strategy, it would get just as good at reading mine. The AI is impressive in how it is consistently challenging without ever feeling overwhelming or unfair. This level of back and forth, even early on, was a fun challenge and made every single match tense. I felt myself improve with every game, and even losing was fun since I knew what I needed to get better at for next time. That’s only in regards to single-player though. Online play is a similar learning experience when playing ranked quick play matches since you’ll be matched players of equal skill level. If you’re a newcomer then the only modes you’ll really feel outmatched in are Draft Champions and Hockey Ultimate Team as they require a more in-depth knowledge of the game and team composition. If you’re trying to build your skills against real opponents then quick play is your best bet.

I ended up thoroughly enjoying my time with NHL 17. I went from having hardly any knowledge of the game at all to reading up on and caring about player stats and attempting to make smart trades in Franchise mode. The annoying menu navigation still persists even after learning where everything is. In that regard Franchise mode is a great way to get acquainted with those numbers if you want to eventually play Draft Champions or Hockey Ultimate Team. At the end of the day just playing a few matches in season mode is a lot of fun whether you want that deep experience or just want a simple arcade-like hockey game.

This review was completed using a download of NHL 17 provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.