“Valve is making games again” was the general commotion when the first teaser for a new title from Valve’s official Twitter came out. This was something to get excited about because Valve was the pioneer of the modern digital storefront, and also the makers of some of the most beloved classics of all time – Portal, Half Life, Counter Strike and Team Fortress, and much, much later, DOTA. The Internet still has plenty of conspiracy theories and memes about the 3rd part of each franchise, which never came out (essentially because Valve decided to shift focus to game distribution instead). The latest title after a decade of silence proved to be Artifact, a card game based on one of their most successful franchises – DOTA 2. People on the Internet were instantly divided, with some saying Valve has the right to experiment by developing new games, whereas others were angered at the lack of a sequel to any of the other franchises. How good (or bad) is Artifact really?

Artifact is a credit card….err…collectible card game from Valve. The game came out on the PC on 28 November 2018. The game is scheduled to come to the Android and iOS sometime in 2019.


Artifact

Detailed Review


Modes

Artifact is a card game but can be played in a variety of ways. Valve seems to have taken into consideration all prospective players before designing the game. You can either draft a deck from random cards or play using a pre-made deck against the AI or human opponents. If you’re the competitive type, you can host your own tournaments, or join other tournaments too! Modes are grouped into Casual and Expert modes, with each mode allowing either drafts or using pre-made decks. You do not need to have all the cards in your collection to try a deck against the AI. However, competitive players may find the need to expand their collection if they wish to play more new decks and experiment with what’s good and what’s not.

Expert modes reward with card packs if you manage 3 wins or more. But remember – two losses, and you’re out! It’s always wise to take time with games rather than rushing them if you’re one who’s in for the rewards, and for making the way up the competitive ladder. Phantom Draft and Keeper Draft are sorts of alternatives for the “arena” mode for popular CCGs like Hearthstone and Magic Arena, where players make a deck from random cards and use them to try and pull in wins. The only difference in the two drafts is that in Keeper Draft you are allowed to keep the cards you add to the deck, but other than that, it pretty much balls down to how skillfully a player can pivot a random collection of 60 cards towards victory. If you’re a more of the “constructed” type, you can battle with your own deck against other human opponents for the spoils of victory. Note that the Casual mode against the AI does have the same Phantom Draft and the Keeper Draft as well as constructed modes too, so you can practice and hone your skills before making it to the ‘Arena’. The AI plays pretty well depending upon the difficulty level, so it can prove to be a nice mental exercise before a player opts for playing against a human opponent.

The social features seem to be quite decent for a CCG. The game supports tournaments from launch, allowing both large and small organizers to host their own tournaments. The game even allows you to challenge a friend from your Steam friends list, and see who’s the better player.

Mechanics

The game plays pretty much like – well, exactly like what DOTA 2 would have looked like on a game board. The game has the same mechanics as DOTA 2, too, with the only catch being that you get to control elements on the field or trigger abilities using cards.

The player starts with 5 heroes, like your average DOTA 2 game. There are three lanes, where your heroes are deployed to at the start of the game, with a number of creeps in each lane. The game plays out as a battle of the Dire and the Radiant. There are towers on both sides of the field, just like in DOTA 2, and when one of them is destroyed, it reveals the Ancient – the powerhouse of either side of the field. The winner is the one who either takes down two towers or who destroys the opponent’s Ancient. There are a variety of cards to assist in this. Depending on the ferocity of the duel, most duels last longer than an average Hearthstone game, so Artifact isn’t something that you can play on the go.

The card collection the game starts with is called “Call to Arms”, apparently the base set for the game. The base set contains 310 cards, which is a lot of cards to experiment with. There are five types of cards – heroes, spells, items, creatures, improvements – each with their own unique functionalities. On the other hand, each card has a drop rate (from packs) of its own, and they can be grouped broadly under Basic, Common, Uncommon, and Rare.

Gameplay Elements

The game is played in turns. In each turn, you play cards which affect a particular lane, trying to ensure minions and/or heroes hit the enemy tower. This is much tougher than it actually is in DOTA 2, because there is a question of ‘alignment’, spells cast by you and the opponent, as well as improvements and other minions deployed to the lane. This makes the skill ceiling a lot higher than your average card games. This might be a huge deterrent for players new to CCG’s, as the tutorial does not explain many of the mechanics properly. Being a Hearthstone player for 2 years, even I faced problems while understanding the mechanics properly. With that being said, the game can prove to be very rewarding if the interactions are clear.

The game does deviate from DOTA 2 quite a few times, especially when it comes to naming hero cards as well as the ability to summon creatures, which isn’t possible in DOTA 2 without mind controlling neutral creeps with the help of special items. All heroes and minions have an armor, attack and health rating. Health determines the amount of damage it can take before it vanishes from the lane, while attack is the amount of damage it can deal in combat. Most combat damage in Artifact is done by a creature or hero to the enemy directly in front or diagonally closest to it unless a spell or special effect prevents that. Any damage not blocked goes to the tower, damaging it. Deal enough damage and the tower falls, revealing the Ancient. Since hero, as well as creep deployment (except for creature deployment, which offers a limited choice), is mostly random, maintaining control of your lanes is a tough job, which is compounded if you don’t properly understand the mechanics properly. This particularly makes the game dependent on your draws too, since there might be occasions where you might not be able to respond to a lane in trouble at all.

Spell cards are special one-time use cards that are discarded after a single use. Spells can have a variety of effects to help control the board but are bound by one crucial limitation. All spell cards have a mana cost associated with it. Mana increments at the end of each round. All cards in Artifact have a color, which supposedly indicates their play style. You can only cast spells if you have a hero in the lane which has the same color as the spell. This makes it difficult to recover lost ground, particularly if all heroes on the lane are eliminated – making you helplessly look at your tower being destroyed. Comebacks are much more difficult, thanks to this, making it increasingly difficult to stabilize and regain control over a lane.

Artifact employs the concept of the secret shop too, which allows items to be equipped on units. Items can be purchased only with gold at the end of one round, and the gold comes from killing enemy heroes and creeps in combat, just like in DOTA 2. Item cards are one of the mechanics that does allow the player to have some degree of some control over their board, so spending gold wisely is a key strategy for winning.

Decks seem to revolve around colors which reflect ‘civilizations’ of sort. The main colors are Red, Black,Green and Blue. Each color has a different strategy for taking down the enemy. Red consists of heroes with good stats whose main purpose is to win the game through tempo swings by maintaining controlling of lanes. Green’s strategy is to summon big (very big) creatures to the field and putting on an increasing amount of pressure on the opponent in the later turns. Blue is the class of board clears and spells, which help in taking down enemies to seize control of the lanes. Black relies on manipulation and siege damage (in other words, directly damaging the tower instead of passing through the creatures or heroes). The colors seem to resemble their roles in Magic The Gathering, which makes sense since Artifact and Magic: The Gathering are made by one and the same guy – Richard Garfield. There is no limitation on how many colors can be used in a deck, though adding more colors make it more difficult to cast a spell or summon a minion unless a hero of the same color is present in the lane. Most decks stick to almost two colors to carry out their plans as efficiently as possible. Each color has their strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to diversify. This freedom of deckbuilding allows for a large number of decks to be viable in the competitive metagame.

Other Features

The game features a tutorial that makes you play cards to fight an AI opponent while explaining the mechanics on the go. Sadly, like most CCG’s, Artifact’s tutorial fails to explain the mechanics properly, making players wander off to Twitch or Youtube for support.

The game does an extremely poor job with the monetization though. If you want to play Expert modes, you need to expand your collection. The only way to add cards to your collections seems to be winning in the Expert modes, which isn’t something a lot of players who want to play casually can opt for. Even those who play have to remember that breaking even requires 3 wins without 2 losses – which is a feat in itself. There’s no real way to get packs other than that – and loosening up the straps on your wallet. It seems like the game was made so that people would be made to spend more money. Access to the Community Market does mean that you can trade your cards off for others, but in most of the cases, you’re literally The main consideration seems to have been done to ensure an economy like TCGs – which looks very poorly thought out. Most people on the Internet don’t have the exposure to TCGs like Yu Gi Oh, Duel Masters or Magic : The Gathering, so making a community-based economy – an economy where consumers decide pricing of individual cards and cards can be sold or purchased on the Steam Community Market – where a very small fraction actually understand it is stupidity. Of course, there is a sense of possession in TCGs, whereas in CCGs, there’s always a risk of your digital possessions disappearing overnight. Steam isn’t going anywhere soon, but the risk still exists. (our article about the monetization dissects the problem with all necessary details). However, Valve seems to have noticed the issues, and have made the grind slightly easier by adding a level-based system which rewards the user with profile icons as well as event tickets and packs. The only con seems to be that for leveling up, only duels played online against humans are counted. The question that remains is – was this so impossible to implement from day one? A suggestion might be waiving the $20 cost for the game and adding the packs, event tickets, and theme decks as a sort of one-time purchasable Welcome Bundle having a price of $20 to make it more accessible to players, but though Valve seemed against the idea of making Artifact free-to-play, it might be something to consider in the future as the game steamrolls on to Android and iOS too.

Sound and Music

The sound effects for animations go along well with the card effects. The sound of spells in a clash between two sides in the eternal conflict is ample to keep the senses engaged. The most satisfying sound is the clash of the creatures and heroes at the end of a round.

The game’s music particularly goes along well with the other sound effects of the game.

Graphics and Performance 

Card games aren’t typically games where you look for eye candy. Despite that, Artifact manages to provide decent visual quality. The animations on cards and card effects are particularly well done.

The game was tested on the following specs:-

CPU : Ryzen R5 2600

GPU : GTX 1080

Memory : 16GB DDR4

The game ran flawlessly without any form of notable performance issues.


Verdict

Artifact is Valve’s attempt to take on the behemoths called Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. The game is a blessing in disguise for anyone patient enough to walk through the mechanics, learn and eventually master them. But its long tedious matches means that it can’t be played while on the move, as it requires your full concentration while playing it. The monetization model makes it even more difficult for players without exposure to TCGs (or other digital CCGs) to get into the game. If you’re one who is ready to spend small amounts of money from time to time and want to switch over from another card game, Artifact is worth a try. For most others, the game isn’t worth it, not even in a sale.

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