Review: Assassin's Creed Memories is an engaging and strategic mobile experience

Platforms: iPhone, iPad

Considering how popular Ubisoft’s Assassin's Creed series has become, it’s no surprise the developer would want to get the franchise onto as many game platforms as possible. Gaming consoles and computers have been obvious choices, but the Assassin’s Creed IP has also enjoyed a substantial run on mobile devices as well. Most of these past mobile outings have simply been spin-offs of their console/PC brethren but with Assassin's Creed Memories, the newest mobile game to join the lineup, Ubisoft is aiming its sights a bit higher. Developed in partnership with mobile companies Gree and PlayNext, Assassin’s Creed Memories combines several different gameplay systems and narrative locations into a compelling mobile experience that, while not the most intuitive or newbie-friendly, shouldn’t be missed by fans of the franchise.

Assassin’s Creed Memories combines several different gameplay systems including card-collecting, isometric real-time-strategy, inventory management, character customization, rapid-tap chase sequences, and tactical player vs. player asynchronous battles. It also features locations and events from all four of the core numbered Assassin’s Creed games as part of its player vs. environment offerings with more original settings (such as Sengoku era Japan and Imperial era Mongolia) coming in future updates. But how exactly do all these elements come together? For the sake of cohesion, I’ve broken this review up into several sections for Assassin’s Creed Memories’ PvE, PvP, and utility gameplay systems.

Player vs. Environment

A bulk of your time playing Assassin’s Creed Memories will be spent in its PvE mode (you’ll see why later in the PvP section). In the PvE mode, your main objective is to move between different periods of history and guide each period’s Assassin protagonist towards their respective target. Within a given historic period, you are presented with a section of a game map and must tap on obscured icons in order to discover objectives that have a set percentage chance of either succeeding or failing when you tap on them (success awards gold coins, experience points, and a small bonus to your next attempt, failure resets the bonus).

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The basic idea is to move through each map completing objectives until you find your target and attempt to chase them down and assassinate them in a little screen-tapping mini-game. However, as is the case with most mobile games, you only have a limited amount of energy to use while traversing each map and an energy unit is used up each time you tap a map marker (in addition to objectives, map markers can also reveal currency bonuses). There are ways to both reveal what the map markers hide before tapping them (Animus Hacks) and to bypass the energy limitations (Energy Packs) but such methods come in short supply and should only be used sparingly.

While getting to play through both new and familiar Assassin’s Creed historic time periods is a nice touch, the small number of scenarios does get a bit repetitive after a while, especially since the actual gameplay never really evolves past tapping various icons on the screen or those rare moments when you get to tap the screen rapidly during a chase. While Assassin’s Creed Memories’ PvE does serve as the primary method for leveling up your profile and amassing in-game currency, most of the game’s more intuitive gameplay is found elsewhere in both the utility and PvP offerings.

Utility

As you progress through the PvE scenarios, you’ll level up your profile and earn in-game currency which can be used to purchase various cards. These cards are split into three categories: weapons, armor, and allies. Cards come in various levels of rarity (from common up to ultra rare) and can be equipped in order to provide your character profile with various bonuses to offense and defense as well as unique ally-specific powers (again, more on all this in the PvP section). The weapon and armor cards you collect can also be used to cosmetically customize your character profile and you can attach weapon and armor cards cosmetically even if you don’t have them equipped to your profile.

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Earning experience points and leveling up allows you to allocate points to the weapon, armor, and allies categories, allowing you to equip more and better cards since each individual card has an equip cost. Any unneeded cards you have can either be sold or “augmented” into cards you do plan on using, destroying them but making the card they were augmented into more powerful. While there are microtransactions which make earning rarer cards easier, they are never intrusive and certainly not necessary in order to build up a powerful character profile. Some players might be annoyed by the fact that ultra rare cards can only be gained via microtransactions but, again, ultra rare cards are by no means a necessity.

My one other gripe with the card rarity mechanic is that it also robs the previously-mentioned rapid-tap chase mini-games of any sort of tension. Successfully completing a chase mini-game awards you with a card version of the target which means if you know the target’s card rarity, you know how good your chances are of actually catching the target regardless of your performance. If the target is a common or sometimes even a rare card, you’re good to go. Anything higher than rare however and you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail no matter how rapidly you tap the screen.

PvP

So why are you spending so much time chasing down targets, leveling up, and equipping all these cards anyway? What’s the point of building your character profile up if it has no bearing on the PvE gameplay? Well, my friend, that is where PvP guild battles come into play. In addition to building up your character profile, you can also band together with other players in customized guilds and take advantage of various social features such as in-game chat and emotes. At certain times of the day, you can also rally your guild and go head-to-head with another guild in fierce tactical matches that can feature up to twenty different players on each side (though, in my time with the game, these matches never really went beyond 5 vs. 5 due to the small size of most guilds).

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Using a limited pool of “Ability Points” (or AP), players can perform both melee and ranged attacks, use specialized skills earned through PvE play, and even unleash the unique abilities of their equipped ally cards. Taking actions against the opposing guild awards your guild with “Battle Points” (BP) and at the end of a thirty minute period, whichever guild has the most BP wins and is awarded with both experience and currency bonuses. A daily refill of AP means you’ll be able to participate in at least one guild battle each day and you can also earn small AP bonuses via PvE map markers and by saluting both your allies and enemies. It’s a shame guild battles can only be fought at certain times of the day since they are by far the game’s most engaging mechanic (especially if both guilds give it their all).

Final Thoughts

Assassin’s Creed Memories may not have the most diverse or engaging gameplay mechanics but it does do a great job of blending familiar Assassin’s Creed elements in with new gameplay systems and concepts. While the game does often try to steer players towards indulging in a few microtransactions, it also offers plenty of freebies to dedicated players and keeps the rewards coming at a steady enough pace that it never feels like a pay-to-win title. With its well-implemented combination of PvE and PvP gameplay as well as the many methods through which players can apply their own personal touch, Assassin’s Creed Memories is a great way to keep fans sated as they wait for the releases of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and Unity later this year. And with the upcoming additions of new time periods and other features, I imagine Assassin’s Creed Memories will be sticking around for quite a while and will only get better with age.

Update: Shortly after this review was written, Ubisoft added the first post-release PvE time period, Sengoku Japan, into the game. The update features a new time period to explore, five new assassination targets to hunt, and a slew of new cards to collect, but otherwise doesn't alter the basic gameplay elements outlined in this review. The Sengoku Japan cards feature both Assassin heroes such as Hattori Hanzo and Templar villains such as Oda Nobunanga.

My Views

Here are the criteria I feel are most important for judging Assassin’s Creed Memories.

Presentation: 9/10

The game’s menus are slick and rife with cool visual effects. If you enjoyed the visual style of past Assassin’s Creed games, you’ll find plenty to love here.

Interface: 8/10

The game’s menus are easy enough to navigate but the simplistic gameplay might turn off players who prefer more varied experiences.

Accessibility: 6/10

Even with the opening tutorials that explain the game’s various systems and mechanics, the learning curve can still feel just a bit too steep for new players. The game also requires a constant internet connection so make sure you’re never too far from your wireless router.

Long-Term Value: 8/10

The game offers plenty of incentives to keep logging in (daily bonuses, contracts, guild battles) but these incentives will likely only appeal to a small demographic of players in the long run. Future PvE content updates should keep the game afloat for a while but here’s hoping Ubisoft has other major additions in the works as well.

Overall: 7.8/10

While Assassin’s Creed Memories likely won’t suck up nearly as much of your time as the core games in the series, it is still a fun and innovative take on the franchise that certainly shouldn’t be missed by devoted fans who have access to a mobile device. Future updates will expand upon the game’s lore as well as its gameplay, making Assassin’s Creed Memories into a solid long-term experience for mobile gamers. If you’re looking for an engaging new mobile experience that offers both social and single-player features and doesn’t twist your arm to get access to your wallet, I’d highly recommend giving Assassin’s Creed Memories a try.