NHL 14 is essentially the same game as NHL 13 and NHL 12 with a few minor tweaks. If you have played either of the last two installments then a full review is wholeheartedly unnecessary. You know what the game is. If you want a game with updated rosters and the ability to participate in the EA Sports Hockey League then you'll purchase NHL 14.
If you aren't interested in participating in the online game modes I really don't know why you would purchase the game. The main changes to the game are an improved fighting system, slightly better hitting and NHL 94 anniversary mode. The fighting mechanics can definitely be fun, but ultimately the game itself leaves much to be desired.
Two features in particular show the critical flaw facing NHL 14. The game presentation and Live The Life mode can both be described as lipstick on a pig. EA can dress up aspects of NHL 12 and 13 all they want to, but the lack of innovation in areas that should require relatively simple changes is painfully obvious.
Life The Life mode is supposed to be the successor to Be A Pro. It's obvious that it is because it is the exact same mode with all of the same flaws, but now you have the option to answer media questions which can impact some vague likeability system. You also earn money through contracts and endorsements. It doesn't go anywhere, but you can earn it. The game mode could be so intricate and detailed. It could easily be the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Instead, it's a time waste when you're waiting around for friends to show up to play EASHL.
The presentation is the area that is most damning. The focus should clearly be on the mechanics of the game. If they ran the game from a dos prompt and put out a perfect game I think most people would be fine with it. The gameplay isn't perfect though, and the lack of thought that has gone into the development of the presentation over the past three years comes across as lazy. The music is once again terrible. The menu is needlessly intricate. It's very poorly executed.
Then there is the in game presentation. Oh, the in game presentation. The exact same presentation has been recycled for three years. When Bill Clement and Gary Thorne were used as the play by play duo initially it was a nice nod to hockey fans who would no longer be able to see the duo call games on ESPN after hockey was dropped. At this point though, are they still even paid for their services? The same audio pack with a few new phrases and names is revealed each season. It looks lazy.
It's time for Thorne and Clement to go. It was a neat idea for EA Sports to use them initially when they decided to go that direction, but at this point who are they targeting? The game is generally targeted to a younger audience, and that audience is increasingly growing up not knowing or vaguely remembering that Thorne ever called NHL games. It would be wonderful if the NHL series revamped the game presentation for the next-gen consoles.
If you are going to buy NHL 14 you would have regardless of any review you read. The game offers so little new to potential new fans that if you haven't bought them in the recent past chances are you aren't going to start now. Maybe the presence of the EASHL allows EA to not put much focus on game development at this point, but hopefully these are just oversights which will be corrected next year.