The jewel in the crown. The centrepiece. The pièce de résistance. Whatever you call it - Master League carries a level of significance, not just for PES fans but football gaming fans in general.
No surprise then that the community should unite in uproar when their beloved career mode is butchered - I'm sure you've heard a lot of talk recently that the changes in PES 2013's Master League are to detrimental to the game mode - but are they really?
Under the hood - Master League is pretty much the same mode as last year. You have your 32 man squad (max), supported by a 30-strong youth team - of which you control all on-pitch football matters. You choose the lineups, formations, tactics and team captain as you always have done - as well as having the deciding word on the clubs transfers and financial outlay on backroom staff.
You also choose how you're represented in-game by defining your appearance, name and nationality - as was introduced in PES 2012 - which then acts as your avatar for all press conferences and cut scenes following.
Struggling to see the changes from last year? That's because, at this point there aren't any, but that's not a particularly bad thing. We're approaching the end of a console's lifespan and, at the request of the PES community for the last few years, Konami have put their time and resources into producing a game that plays well on the pitch - rather than providing extra glitz off it. Those of you who've played the two demos will certainly agree that they've made massive strides forward with PES 2013 (to the point that PES 2013 plays a good game in its own right, as opposed to just "moving in the right direction".
"So, what's different then?" you're probably asking? - "Boots" is the answer... or to be more specific, the way that boots (and "items" have been used to implement a new style of card system that helps determine player growth.
There has been a lot of anger towards this over the past couple of weeks - most of it by those that hadn't tried the game mode, and as a result it has been blown out of proportion. If player development was entirely influenced by the straps of leather they have around their toes, then I'd be a little worried - but it isn't. Players develop for a variety of reasons as they always have done in PES - the number of matches they play, the level of their performances and the quality of the training teams that support them all play their part and, just like they would in real life, boots can have an impact in the quality of a players game too.
The more matches you play - the more chances you have of unlocking boots, which in turn give your players that little bit of extra accuracy or allow them to be a touch lighter on their feet - depending on the boot you have unlocked. Talking in COD terms - boots are essentially a perk that, once unlocked, can be assigned to a player of your choice.
Similarly, there's now the ability to attach 3 other perk-like items to every player, as well as a pair of boots. The standalone PES shop has been sacrificed, and in its place is an in-game alternative which offers you a selection of items that vary in terms of their impact on your team. Have a spare 50GP? Why not buy an extra point for one of your players - to be used on the attribute of choice? Have a spare 10,000 then you can improve all of a players abilities by 3, across all attributes.
Don't mistake this with the ability to throw money at your players in order to make them infinitely better - only 3 items can be attached at any one time. At the absolute maximum you can increase a players' stats for one attribute by 15 - but that would cost you 3 perks, each at 500GP. When you bear in mind that you only earn between 40 and 50GP a match, it quickly becomes apparent that this is just a facility for you to have a direct impact on the training and development of your squad with the funds that you have earned from your victories.
However, I do see agree with some arguments - it would be nicer to have a scenario training mode embedded into Master League instead of this card system. Perhaps this is a limitation of the current technology? Who knows - but what I do know is that I'd rather have the boots and items than not. Would you not want more control over your game - and your team's development?
There is one thing that I can't ignore though - the fact that players not in your control have been stripped of their boots and kitted out with variations of the stock WEPES footwear. It's not a gamechanger, not for me at least, but it's a definite oversight. Konami have made it that your entire team starts with basic boots in ML - giving you a challenge; making you want to earn more boots, but the way they've implemented that rule encapsulates your opponents too.
My first game in charge was a friendly against Zenit St. Petersburg - and every one of the Russian side's stars were wearing different coloured variations of Konami boots, whilst a glance in edit mode shows that Denisov, for example, should've been wearing ‘Nike CTR Maestri II' boots and Anyukov a pair of ‘Nike Tiempo Legend IV's.
It's up to you - whether or not you think that this corrodes the overall value of the mode or not. The look of footwear definitely adds realism, but even with this Konami are a considerable distance away from putting their foot in it (yes, that pun was most definitely intended).
Master League has 6,507 players available for selection out of the box, the best game of football that PES has offered on the current generation, the ability to choose between a European or a South American Master League (I haven't covered that here - but you can... You just need to set up your extra league and D2 to account for that, in order to get the most out of it), and new functions that will help your players develop and play exactly as you want them to, depending on your finances... I don't know what the fuss is about?!
I'll be donating the majority of my spare hours to ML this year... And with the facility to transfer Brazilian-based players into European ML - Ronaldinho, Deco or Gilberto Silva might just be making an appearance in the second division this year... Fingers crossed.