Annual releases for games are becoming increasingly scrutinised and much has been said about the subtle - rather than obtuse - changes that have been made to Football Manager 2023.
FM22 was a triumph on all fronts, with the new Data Hub and Matchday Experience features combining to create one of the best instalments in the franchise to date.
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This standard bearer was always going to be tough to top, but it's the subtle and nuanced tweaks made across the board that once again make Football Manager 2023 a rousing success.
Consistency is Key
A 40-minute long headline feature video left some feeling rather cold, with new features like the Squad Planner and UEFA licenses failing to live up to the hype of previous years.
However, these new additions only serve to further enrich the FM landscape, bringing a new flavour to recruitment and matchdays.
The Squad Planner, whilst initially confusing to navigate, became a key tool as we progressed in our FM save, allowing us to look ahead to future seasons and acutely plot our path forward.
We may still lean over for the pen and paper every now and then, but the addition of the Squad Planner certainly provides an extra layer of excitement to your squad's development.
The arrival of expected assists and detailed pass graphs in the Data Hub enhance this much-loved feature, with FM continuing to provide the most enriched and rounded football gaming experience on the market.
Scouting has also seen a notable overhaul, making it easier for you to identify your top targets without sifting through endless names.
Overall, the changes made to pre-existing features are welcomed and continue to enhance that feeling of satisfaction when you help your side reach the top.
One of the key features introduced into Football Manager 2023 this year is the official UEFA licenses for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.
These new licenses bring an extra flavour to European matchdays, making every game feel special and making European nights some of the most exciting fixtures in the calendar.
Whilst these changes may only manifest aesthetically, their inclusion is a big step forward for the franchise, with authentic logos, banners and advertising hoardings helping FM to take a bold step forward.
It's not only the big boys that have been looked after however, with lower league sides in England also noticing some subtle changes to their matchday experience.
The EFL license has been further integrated this year, providing a neat scoreboard graphic that helps to differentiate games and make them stand out.
Whilst we do understand that these tweaks and changes are minor, it's often the smallest of differences that can make the biggest impact.
The Great Graphics Debate
With a penchant for the 2D Classic, we can't say that Football Manager's graphics have ever bothered us, however, we would be remiss to ignore the noise in the community.
Complaints have arisen in previous weeks slating the graphics of Football Manager, with counter-arguments making the point that it's not about the gameplay.
There is - as ever - a balance to be struck, and whilst Football Manager 2023 does attempt to make subtle changes to its matchday experience, it does sometimes feel like the games are an interference to the rest of the simulation.
Playing on 2D Classic, we clearly witnessed the tweaks made to the overall AI performance, with counter-attacking moves feeling cleaner and passing feeling crisper.
In previous years, the stop-start nature of the matchday sim left us leaning for the 'Key Highlights' button, but now the game has found a genuine balance that makes matches feel rewarding and engaging.
Of course, Football Manager doesn't hold a candle to FIFA or eFootball when it comes to graphics, but FM stands aside as its own dedicated genre and continues to once again provide the best football gaming experience on the market.
It's worth remembering, as revealed in our interview last year with Nic Madden, that a brand new matchday engine was introduced in Football Manager 2022 and it will take time for this engine to be developed.
The often-restricting nature of annual releases leaves FM23 feeling visually familiar, but once you set aside the graphics and instead focus on the essence of tactical gameplay, Football Manager 2023 begins to shine.
A number of subtle tweaks have been made in Football Manager 2023, with each one serving for the betterment of the game.
Visually, the game has received a facelift and is looking sharper than ever, with the colour scheme and general aesthetic feeling fresh, without being in your face.
The new face-scan technology and manager customisation tools allow you to make your gaffer feel unique to you, with plenty of new options added in order for you to make your avatar stand out.
One of our favourite features introduced this year is the dynamic manager timeline, with this career snapshot providing nostalgia for the highs and lows of your career.
Football Manager 2023 feels similar in many ways to last year's game, but FM22 was such a triumph that you can't argue the reasoning for keeping things familiar.
The deeper integration of new and pre-existing licenses makes this year's game feel richer than ever, but we would be lying if we said that we weren't hoping for a little more when it came to the headline features.
Subtle changes across the board elevate the features that made FM22 so good and help to make Football Manager 2023 another triumph for Sports Interactive.
All in all, Football Manager continues to provide the most authentic and immersive single-player football gaming experience on the market, acting as a standard bearer whom all other developers should be looking to emulate.
We reviewed Football Manager 2023 on PC with a code provided by the developer.
The game will be released on Tuesday, 8 November.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Football Manager page.