The Football Manager series has been ever-present since 2005, and before that, its developer Sports Interactive was the architect of its predecessor, Championship Manager.
These games aren’t just the best in the genre, then: they founded and defined it. And, because of this, there are always great expectations for the yearly titles. Football Manager 2023 is undoubtedly an amazing game, but having only small improvements over last year’s entry, it doesn’t meet those expectations in quite the way it should.
However: straight off the bat – if you’ll allow us to mix our sport metaphors – Football Manager 2023 is likely the best sports management game that exists. The formula of what makes these games so appealing has been distilled over decades and still improves year on year. Football Manager 2023 is no exception.
It perfectly balances the brutal spreadsheeting of would-be managers and the glory of professional sport. It has a near-impossible level of detail, and it does well to allow different styles of management. You can get down and dirty in the numbers or just have fun spending fictional millions. But all of that is without considering the context of the games that came before it. And Football Manager 2023 just doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor.
At the start screen and the manager homepage, there seems to be no change at all. There are a few cosmetic differences, but you’d have to be pretty good at ‘spot the difference’ to tell. The first thing you will probably notice, however, is that the game ticks along better. Football Manager 2023 doesn’t seem to take as long to load both day-to-day and between the hub and game engine. If your set-up is a little tired – or Football Manager is your only vice that you dig into on your work PC – you’ll be relieved to hear that it goes easier on the GPU than before.
Apart from that, the only real difference between Football Manager 2022 and 2023 is that scouting is more connected with your club board. You have access to a squad planner that allows you to plan your future of the club beyond the season and this is accounted for in your board meetings.
You are able to show the board how you plan to develop the squad with recruitment focuses. These are just assignments but can be reused, saved and presented to your board to more explicitly show what’s the plan for each player.
These changes also impact on squad dynamics, club dynamics and the need to plan ahead. Not everyone will be a fan of this but it does make for a more immersive experience. It does a good job at making it possible to succeed without constantly trading players like some sort of livestock merchant. Developing players without having to delve deep into training schedules is also now more viable. Like most things in Football Manager 2023, you will be rewarded for your attention to detail, but it’s not necessary to succeed.
There is also more focus on fans and their expectations and how that shapes the direction and interference of the board. There were some hidden stats about supporter fervour in previous games, but this is now told directly to you. If you have ever been to a game then you will often see a disparate gap between fan expectation and reality.
The continued attention to this part of the game, after it was overhauled last year, does make you feel more in touch with the surroundings and amongst it all. A few adjustments have made the whole system work more like it was intended.
The game engine itself has had some minor changes, too. Out of possession there are more pressing options, allowing you to have more control over your players in turnovers and how and when to press your opposition. You could do this before, but not as obviously or easily. This, again, is a little change to make your decisions more intuitive to enact compared to the previous game.
As great as these changes are, they won’t feature too highly on many fans’ bucket lists. A more intuitive dynamics system is not to be sniffed at, by any means, but it’s disappointing that this is the biggest change we’ve seen between this year and last.
Regardless, the achievements of Football Manager 2023 are colossal. It sucks you into the world of football and places you amongst the decision makers, getting you in on all the action. All the while it maintains a complex engine that caters to various playstyles. Just like Football Manager 2022. There’s no doubt that Football Manager 2023 is the best in the series. But just not by enough.
If you already own Football Manager 2022, then it likely isn’t worth upgrading to Football Manager 2023. The changes it boasts do make for a better experience, but it feels more like a slight quality-of-life update than a whole new game to replace what came before it. That said, this is undoubtedly still the best sports simulation game on the market. And if you’re looking to step into the world of Football Manager for the first time, or you’ve been away for several years, you won’t be disappointed.