When you think of PES usually the first thing that comes to mind is Master League. From the glory days on the PS2, PES and Master League were the perfect marriage. Combining solid gameplay and ahead-of-it’s-time AI both on and off the pitch, Master League provided a challenge to even the most savvy of PES players. Fast forward ten or so years and you’ll notice that the landscape has changed. The days of offline play have been replaced by online modes leading some to question Konami’s dedication to it’s original moneymaker. With the release of PES 2018 it’s time to take a look at Master League to see how this year’s version stacks up.
If you kept up with the PES 2018 release notes this summer you would have seen the following new additions:
Challenges and Goals
“At the start of the season you will now be given a set of objectives and challenges according to the state of your team, which are important if you want to stay in the job!
Play against the big teams before the season starts.ENHANCEMENT
Transfer System Enhancement
New elements added such as release fees in player contracts.
“New menu design throughout the mode, with the inclusion of pre-match interview sessions before big matches and locker room scenes.”
The New Features, And How They Play
On the surface it doesn’t seem like a lot. Dig a little deeper and it’s you’ll see that it really isn’t. To start, he same two options from last year are still available; “Start with a pre-existing club/players” or “Start with the generic Master League club lineup”. Apart from an owner mode it’s pretty standard stuff and par the course for sport games these days. Immediately after choosing which route you’d prefer the first new option is available to you, “Challenge Mode”.
By selecting this mode you’ll face tighter scrutiny by the owner who will place his season objectives on you as well as interact with you on an ad hoc basis throughout the season. Achieve those goals and obtain job security. Fall short and you’ll be hearing “You’ll be sacked on Monday” (not really in the game but you get idea).
“Sounds good on paper and similar to FIFA’s Career Mode where you’re under constant scrutiny but shortly after, you’ll see the mode start to falter..”
Additionally, Challenge Mode is supposed to make transfer negotiations harder as well as make your squad a little bit more sensitive when it comes to playing time, roles, etc… Sounds good on paper and similar to FIFA’s Career Mode where you’re under constant scrutiny but shortly after, you’ll see the mode start to falter.
In Year 1 you start off right before the first match of the season, in the midst of the summer transfer window winding down. Because of this, you’re not able to participate in any of the preseason tournaments nor are you able to disable the first transfer window. It’s a little odd that one of the new features isn’t available until Year 2 but understandable considering the start-time of the mode.
Perhaps they could back the start up a little earlier and launch you in the heart of summer but I’m generally OK with their intended approach. The transfers on the other hand, another new feature, are in short, terrible. The Day 1 patch updated squads so the likes of Lukaku and Morata are on Manchester United and Chelsea respectively but it seems everyone is fair game, even if they just moved to their club. In my test run of Master League I’ve seen Liverpool’s Mo Salah leave for Man United just minutes after he got to Anfield and other head-scratching moves like Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, a Nigerian born player who has lived most of his life in England, leave for Gremio of the Brazilian League.
Players with no ties to a country will leave a good team to play across the world for a league two or so notches below it. Speaking of Arsenal, virtual Arsene Wenger went absolutely nuts (if he hasn’t already done so in real-life) selling off nearly half of his team and replacing them with players that aren’t nearly of the same quality. I’ve seen Kolasanic, Monreal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Walcott, Holding, Mustafi, Welbeck, Giroud, Coquelin, Wilshire, Debuchy, Chambers, and the aforementioned Iwobi all leave in the first summer window.
That’s an exodus that would only take place if Arsenal went into administration and couldn’t afford the wage bill. Sadly, the CPU AI left virtual Wenger with only three defenders on the entire squad. To compound matters, player values and release clauses are nowhere near realistic. Mbappe, this summer’s second biggest signing behind Neymar, has a release clause of ~14million.
Just for reference, his loan-to-buy move in real-life is ~150 million euros. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was tagged with a 40 million pound release clause meaning if you’re a middle of the pack club you can automatically trigger these clauses and bring a superstar to the likes of West Brom or Stoke.
A lot of realism is sacrificed at the expense of this poor transfer logic, something Konami said to have worked on during this development cycle. Unfortunately for us gamers, the PES Database is a complicated matter so this will not be remedied until PES 2019 per a tweet from PR Manager Adam Bhatti:
Filling Out Your Roster
Fast forward in the transfer window until deadline day and the same issues from last year exist, mainly it takes up to two hours to get even the most minor of transactions done. With fifteen hours given at the start of the day, wasting two hours on a simple player loan is a misuse of valuable time.
Likewise, signing players, once they’ve agreed to personal terms, should not take two hours. While we’re on the subject of terms, Konami still refers to wages in a yearly format when the rest of the world is familiar with wages on a weekly basis. While this might seem insignificant how are you supposed to know if you’re been taken to the cleaners by outrageous wages. Surely I shouldn’t have to negotiate for players with my calculator app open.
Now once your squad is complete there’s always an option of filling out a few spots with youth academy kids. It’s too bad that much like the rest of Master League, the youth academy is outdated and unrealistic. First and foremost the youth squads are the same no matter if you choose Barcelona or Nottingham Forrest.
Secondly, the youth academy is like a poster for diversity with kids from all over the globe filling the ranks. This should never be the case as the majority of youth academy kids are and should be from the country of your club’s choosing. Imagine starting a Master League with a Brazilian squad and most of your kids are from Europe.
Lastly, the regens, oh the regens. Nothing quite kills off the realism like seeing a 16 year old Buffon sitting in your youth ranks with a rating of 77. This might have been a cool feature ten years ago but after all the fuss with FIFA’s youth system over the past few years we PES fans expect better. Just having unique youth academies with ability to edit them would go a long way towards creating a more robust player database, especially with the talented option file makers PES has. Yes, disabling “Classic Players” helps but that still leaves the game open to regenerate players who have retired during your save.
On the Pitch
So we’ve covered the basics when it comes to filling out your roster, now it’s time to progress to the matches and it gets a little better. Depending on the tactics and formations team do play slightly different. Some sit back and defend while others pressure you all over the pitch.
We’ve touched on the gameplay before in depth so we’ll discuss another one’s of Konami’s area of focus, presentation. It’s been improved with more in-match statistics, new cutscenes, and some dynamic commentary lines but it still feels like you’re playing in a vacuum. Where is the league table before the kick-off? What match day are we in? Where are the key statistics? Hell, what day of the week is the match? Where are the live scores from the other matches?
Imagine it’s the last day of the season and you’re in a relegation battle. Wouldn’t it be nice to know the other scores as this could potentially affect your strategy? Sure, most of these can be found in the somewhat revamped menus (all that was really done was a flip from horizontal to vertical perspective) but why can’t they be tied to the actual match presentation and shown at stoppages or before/after the match?
The next time you watch a match on NBCSN/Sky Sports/BeIN/Fox Sports 1 just take a look at all of the graphics that pop-up during the course of a match. They can be done in a way that’s not distracting and actually informative. Oh, we have three matches in ten days? Let me think about when I’m up two goals in the 65th and want to give a marquee player a bit of rest.
Rest however, combined with a lack of injuries is one thing you really don’t have to fear being as they rarely happen during a match. This year fouls are few and far between but PES 2018, just like in PES 2017, suffers from in-game injuries that are as rare as a Crystal Palace goal. I’m generally more nervous about injuries when simming ahead to the next match than when I’m playing and that’s a shame.
Between a lack of injuries and a stamina system that replenishes too fast from week-to-week the need for squad rotation is minimal at least. Look Konami, not all of us follow Antonio Conte’s approach when it comes to squad rotating. Some of us would like to be forced to rotate when the fixture list starts to pile up. An injury frequency option (high/medium/low) similar to how transfers used to operate, would be a good starting point in achieving an important part of the game.
Player form is another mystery that affects Master League. Form arrows often affect player selection and it’s shame when a player is on a good run of form only to see the dreaded downward facing arrow before a big match.
Match ratings, which need to be implemented on a full scale instead of the “.5” increment they currently are, should affect form. Some players, just as in real-life, are undroppable regardless of their form arrow but when you’re debating starting two similarly rated players I often choose the one on better form. A decision like that should be based on tactics, fatigue levels, etc… is instead totally randomized.
One of the positives of Master League is it’s simulated stats and outcomes. In my test runs, I’ve only seen clubs that have a realistic shot at domestic trophies/Champions League actually achieve them. Stats such as the the golden boots are believable too with Messi, Suarez, and Ronaldo usually battling it out for the Pichichi in Spain’s La Liga.
Stats on the whole are disappointing though. Only goal and assist leaders are mentioned despite the game capturing plenty more, most of which can be found in your Monthly Reports which I loved in PES 2017 and still love in 2018. Distance traveled, tackles, key passes, successful take-ons, all of which contribute towards the booming fantasy craze are missing in action as is a history log per season.
The game does a great job at capturing your season’s achievements from a team perspective from year-to-year but falls short when it comes to individuals. Keeping a notebook (I’m really dating myself here) or spreadsheet was cool ten years ago but doesn’t work anymore. I want to see how close my striker is to the all-time club record for goals. I’d love to see an all-time records versus clubs to see who my bogey squad is.
Again, it’s the little things off-the-pitch that add up to a larger experience.
Additionally, I do enjoy the Manager Carousel that goes on behind the scenes as coaches take their tactics to their new club in the event they’re fired or hired but a list of managerial changes at the beginning of the season would be a nice addition to keep you abreast of the changes.
Another year gone by and Master League still feels like neglected. For too long now it’s seen small changes that often aren’t implemented in a realistic way. From the smiley faces that plagued PES 2015 to the unrealistic transfer fees/release clauses of of this year, Master League is by and far a disappointment in what has been a less than stellar release of this year’s game.
While there’s always hope for the future, there’s no reason to believe that the mode will see wholesale changes in the future leaving us to wonder the direction in which Konami will take the mode. Hopefully I’m wrong and Master League becomes the engrossing experience which helped us to fall in love with the PES series.
What are your thoughts on this year’s Master League?