NHL 21 Pushed To October, No Next-Gen Version This Year

The first look at the game will come in late August, hopefully right in the thick of the NHL’s coronavirus-delayed Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL 21 will release in October, pushing the franchise out of its usual September launch window. In addition, while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions will be forward compatible, there will be no next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X versions to accompany the consoles’ launches later in the fall.

The first look at the game is set for late August, which will (hopefully) put it right in the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoffs following the NHL’s resumption of play.

NHL’s development team at EA Vancouver, like the rest of the video game industry, had to shift to working from home due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but stressed in a letter published Monday that the change (and the resulting delay) wouldn’t compromise the upcoming edition of the annual hockey franchise.

“This year has been full of extraordinary circumstances and we’ve had to make major adjustments in developing the game from home,” the letter read. “This transition has been very successful and we’re happy to say that the game is on track and feature-complete against our original vision, we just need a few extra weeks to do the polish, fine tuning and bug fixing. We know some of you will be disappointed by this news, but our goal with NHL 21 is to deliver an experience that will be worth the wait.”

Then came the disappointing, but not all that surprising news that there will be no shiny new next-gen version of NHL this year.

“Another thing we’ve seen questions around is next-gen consoles,” read the letter. “For NHL 21, we made the decision to focus on adding innovation and new features rather than the resource-heavy task of porting the game to new console technology. You’ll still be able to play NHL 21 on the next-gen consoles through forward compatibility but we are fully focused on launching NHL 21 on the Xbox One and PS4 and look forward to the opportunities the next-gen systems will bring in the future.”

For the unfamiliar, or those that want a refresher, NHL missing out on the next-gen launch has been the routine for the past two cycles.

After lackluster versions of Madden NFL 06, FIFA 06, and NBA Live 06 stumbled their way into the Xbox 360’s November 2005 launch lineup, NHL 07 arrived a year later, and while bare-bones, came to the table with a revamped Skill Stick control system that set the franchise up for its best years ever.

EA put a similar strategy into effect eight years later for the 2013 launches of the PS4 and Xbox One, having Madden NFL 25 and FIFA 14 there day one — this time with much safer and conservative ports (NBA Live wasn’t so lucky) — while NHL had an extra year to make the transition away from the 360 and PS3.

The results were disastrous.

With limited resources and the dev team struggling to adapt to the EA Sports-branded Ignite engine, NHL 15 made its PS4 and Xbox One debut in September 2014 as a shell of what the franchise had built itself up to be on the previous gen. The game looked incredible, but fan-favorite modes like EASHL, GM Connected, Online Shootout, and the ’94 Anniversary mode were cut, while the ones that did remain — Be A Pro and Be A GM — were heavily scaled back, save for Hockey Ultimate Team. And gameplay-wise, nearly everything was either broken or glitchy aside from when the puck was on your stick.

This led to years of the franchise having to play catch-up in nearly every aspect of the game, with only the last couple editions in NHL 19 and NHL 20 finally putting it in a place where it feels like the series is moving forward again (but even then, there is still much more room for improvement).

So with all that in mind, it’s understandable if longtime fans feel uneasy knowing there’s another next-gen skip coming. Still, at least you won’t have to go back and boot up your old console for a virtual hockey fix this time around.

EA guaranteed, and briefly showed off next-gen versions of FIFA 21 and Madden NFL 21 during its digital EA Play showcase last month. NHL, which isn’t usually mentioned during the publisher’s annual June showing, was absent yet again, only raising concern this time because the coronavirus pandemic had the NHL season, and the world as a whole, in disarray.

As thanks for the patience and support, EA has awarded players with complementary card packs in Hockey Ultimate Team and World of Chel equipment bags in NHL 20.

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