Assassins Creed Mirage Cover Image
source: Naavik

Assassin’s Creed Mirage (AC Mirage) is the latest game in Ubisoft’s long running AC franchise, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. It was first planned as a trilogy of games, but AC stands today as one of the industry’s biggest franchises, with over 200M units sold across 28 games. The last mainline title, Valhalla, was supported over two years with post-launch content and became the first game in the series to gross over $1B in revenue.

Released on Oct 5 2023, Mirage is a standalone mainline entry that comes at a time of transition for the franchise. Mirage is the shortest major AC game released since Rogue in 2014, a more action-focused entry similar to Syndicate (released in 2015). It’s also the cheapest recent mainline AC game at $49.99 for the standard edition. The critical reception has been generally favorable, but sales are at nearly half the previous game Valhalla, and on par with Odyssey.

Let’s take a look at the past and future of the AC series, and how Mirage serves as a stepping stone to the next evolution of the franchise.

History is our Playground

source: Naavik

Ubisoft sees the AC games as three different phases, with the first covering the stealth action-adventure roots of the franchise. This period saw one major release every year starting with AC II. Though multiple studios around the world worked on these titles, two primarily led development: Ubisoft Montreal, which created the franchise and took the lead on 10 of the 13 mainline games, and Ubisoft Quebec, the first other studio to handle primary development for an AC game starting with Syndicate. Quebec later also led the Odyssey project.

By the end of phase one, AC games were taking more cues from the changing business environment. They experimented with microtransactions, loot boxes, and continued post-launch support. These included a season pass bundle sold at launch for additional story-driven DLC and IAPs for additional outfits and gear.

In phase two, AC games got longer – 100+ hours – and had more post-launch support and microtransactions. The core gameplay changed from stealth-action to RPG-action where players’ stats and gear triumphed over skill-based combat. Progress also moved from being fairly linear to open worlds with maps drowning in icons and things to do. This change also meant releasing fewer titles that had longer lifetimes (and recurring revenue): only three games, Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla were released in the seven year period from 2016-2022.  

source: Naavik

Ubisoft Bordeaux took charge of Mirage, its first time as primary developer on an AC game. This could partly explain why Mirage is a shorter, more action-focused entry released after sprawling 100+ hour RPGs have become the norm. The other reason to experiment with a ‘back to its roots’ game is the fact players have complained that the RPGs are too bloated.

With phase three coming, Ubisoft is seeking long-term engagement and retention by transforming AC into a live game ecosystem through Infinity, a hub for all future games. 

Codename Red, a game set in feudal Japan, is being primarily developed by Ubisoft Quebec, and Codename Hexe is helmed by Ubisoft Montreal. Codename Invictus will serve as the primary multiplayer experience available on the Infinity hub, something Ubisoft has tried in earlier titles, to tepid response.

What is known about the Infinity platform is that it is being designed to be the player’s personal Animus device, an in-lore virtual reality machine that allows users to play in the game’s various historical settings. Technically when a player launches a new game, it would first load the AC Infinity dashboard, displaying the new games as new DNA memories to purchase and experience, a one-stop shop for the franchise going forward. 

Alongside these big-budget premium experiences that reaffirm the brand, Ubisoft plans to support Infinity with shorter, self-contained projects from other studios like Ubisoft Sofia, Bordeaux, Chengdu and Singapore. In that context, it seems Mirage was the first major experiment with a smaller studio leading development of a new game in Ubisoft's flagship franchise. After canceling seven games since last July, the company clearly wants to focus its efforts more on the AC franchise.

With this context, it's clearer to see Mirage as a stepping stone as the franchise readies itself for another seismic shift. It's a game from a smaller studio, with its own take on the series’ roots, and is priced lower than the norm to mitigate comparisons to the sprawling RPGs that have come to define the series recently. And given the generally favorable reception of Mirage, the AC franchise seems well set to onboard players to its live service platform. At its worst, though, Infinity might end up being a playable title screen with ads for other AC games that players ignore before jumping into the experience they actually want to play.

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Game of the Week

  • Tears of Themis
  • Platforms: iOS, Android
  • Developer/Publisher: miHoYo
  • State: Worldwide Launch
  • Genre: Role-playing/Card Collection/Otome

What you need to know:

  • Tears of Themis, which celebrated its second anniversary in July, is one of miHoYo’s lesser known titles. It’s a narrative detective mystery game which mixes together investigations, debates and court trials, reminiscent of the beloved Ace Attorney Series. With its card collection and card raising, it is a unique take on the otome genre.
  • An otome game is a story-based title targeted at women. Generally one of the goals is to develop a romantic relationship between the female main player character and one of the usually male, secondary lead characters.
  • Otome games have been rising in popularity in the West at acceleratng rate, with more than twenty Japanese titles being localized and published for the Nintendo Switch and PC in 2022 and 2023 alone. Numbers are growing on mobile too, with the latest Chinese otome title, Netease’s Lovebrush Chronicles, reaching more than 300k pre-registrations to date.
  • Tears of Themis is like miHoYo’s other games in terms of production values: it has stunning graphics, a well-written and engaging story, and a stellar Japanese voice cast.
  • It has been engaging players consistently since its launch with an abundance of daily activities, numerous time-limited events and various gameplay types including logic puzzles and other activities like sudoku.
  • The game has a gacha system containing cards of various rarity. Despite the controversy surrounding gacha systems, they have been predominant in mobile games oriented towards women.

The Verdict:

  • Despite being an otome game, ToT’s main story has no romantic interactions and presents a great, immersive narrative with a complex plot which can be enjoyed by both male and female players without the need to pay.
  • Unfortunately, some of the most interesting stories, which are voiced in Japanese and most likely to appeal to the female audience, are locked behind the gacha system. Although this probably drives revenues from paying players, it also risks putting a barrier up for non-payers.
  • ToT features big time-limited events a couple of times a year, which offer unique cards with alternative storylines. They also encourage players to buy more by introducing exclusive rewards for reaching spending thresholds and attractive IAP bundles. At the start of the current event, Mysteries of Bakerlon, the game’s daily revenue in the West rose from an average $2.5-5K per day to above $70K. This is testament to the effectiveness of miHoYo’s live ops.
  • To promote spending, miHoYo has also introduced yet another system which rewards paying players with gifts on a daily and weekly basis, and offers one-of-a-kind rewards for whales.
  • Given the success of miHoYo’s other games, its successful live ops management of ToT, its loyal community, and the growing popularity of otome games in the West, we expect this game to continue on its steady course. After all, even Honkai: Star Rail’s Pela is a fan.

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