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I Just Started Playing Artifact And I'm Already Tired To Spend Money

Image: Valve (Artifact)

Valve finally has a new game out. Can you believe it? A card game based on Dota 2, Artifact launched today on Steam. After having messed around with it many hours, I can report that there really is a ton of stuff going on in Artifact, but that's also one of the more accessible card games I've played, at least when first starting out.

Although it draws obvious comparisons to Blizzard's Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering (whose creator is actually Artifact'S lead designer), it plays much like a real-time strategy game translated into cards. That must not be surprised given Artifact is inspired by Dota 2, a MOBA that originally started life as a mod of Warcraft 3.

At the same time, it's remarkable just how much Artifact Feel like a card game in name only. Sure, you open card packs, and then hope you start a good start hand once each match starts. But during the moment-to-moment play itself, every decision and potential trade is measured in terms of how it will affect the positioning and relative troop strength on the battlefield.

I swear the game's not nearly as complicated as it looks.
Screenshot: Valve (Artifact)

Here's how Artifact is played. Two players start with decks made up of at least 40 cards, but as many more as they want. Each one has five hero cards, which are color coded as red, blue, green, or black. Each match takes place on a battlefield that's divided into three lanes, with one turn involving action on all three, from left to right. These individual lanes have a tower on the side with 40 health. Players' heroes are placed on them, dealing damage against the tower every turn unless blocked as other creatures and spells are played. When a tower is destroyed, that player's ancient, which has 80 health, is revealed. One side wins by either destroying enemy towers on two separate boards, or the Ancient.

Make sense?

Probably not. And that's the way that the towers produce mana, which is required to play a card in a given lane, and that at the end of each turn, the number of creatures you killed determines how much Gold you get in order to buy item cards which can be played for free. Artifact'S tutorial does a great job of explaining everything, mostly pre-scripted, matches against bots without getting too deep into the weeds.

After finishing the tutorial and after going on to play a bunch more against human opponents with both pre-built and custom decks, here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Artifact must be free-to-play. It's not. It costs $ 20. That gets you two starter decks and 10 packs of cards, each of which normally cost $ 2 on their own. You also get five event tickets, which can be used to enter drafts to win more cards. But for the most part, you'll likely be getting your cards through buying new packs or purchasing them individually on the Steam Marketplace. That means that that initial $ 20 is more than a down payment than the full price of the game. I have a hard time seeing someone getting into Artifact without continuing to spend more money on it to progress since, unlike Hearthstone, there's no daily mechanism for completing challenging or collecting in-game and using that to slowly build your collection. You'll just have to keep spending. And speaking of which …
Everyone is desperate to get their hands on this guy.
Screenshot: Valve (Artifact)
  • I'm already itching to spend $ 16 on Artifact's most expensive card. Ax is one of my favorite heroes to play in Dota 2. He's big, strong, red, and, as you can imagine, carries a giant ax. In Artifact, there are special hero-adjacent cards that automatically populate in a deck when a certain hero is selected. Ax players get Berserker's Call, which lets them have one of their heroes battle with one in front of them. In a game that's primarily about positioning, that's a huge deal.

    As a result, Ax is currently the most prized card in the game, which is why he's so expensive to buy outright. At the same time, my gut, along with some back-of-the-envelope math, tells me I'd be better off paying that $ 16 (or less, if I really wanted Ax rather than spend that much on card packs in an effort to get him. That's the magic of a collectible card game that's attached to a digital marketplace.

  • Artifact strikes a good balance between being entertaining to see and not crowding the screen with too much information. The game only shows you one time, and it's pretty seamless clicking between them or zooming out to the whole board at once. It's much less Dota 2 and much more Hearthstone, which is fine in my opinion, since Hearthstone has possibly the best user interface of any game ever.
  • I love how worried these little things get when you're totally screwed.
Sorry bro!
Screenshot: Valve (Artifact)
  • The big red X over things that are about to die is helpful. I'm not as sharp as I used to be. Especially when playing a complex card game at 2:00 a.m. Artifact This is a great way to get to know what's going to happen before you get into what's going to happen, happens.
  • Artifact Feel like a new type of card game. We've had glimpses of different ways to do card games since last year when Hearthstone launched its single-player Dungeon Runs, and more recently with Slay the Spire, a dungeon crawling roguelike whose battle mechanics are all card-based. Artifact Feel like an extension of both of those ideas, taking things like mana costs, and tower defense and using them to try and recreate a strategy game experience in a slightly different context. While I'm not sure I'll end up falling in love with Artifact in the same way I did Dota 2, it already feels far and away like the best of new video card game. Sorry, Gwent.

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