Gaming, Hands-On

Artifact Hands-On: Valve’s Dota 2 Card Game Is Wonderfully Complex & Costly

When it comes to digital card games, not that many titles are as prominent as Hearthstone. In fact, I reckon that’s the game most people will think of when it comes to online card game. In a bid to take some of that spotlight from Hearthstone, Valve is introducing its first card game: Artifact.

Officially available on Steam today, Artifact may seem like the card game version of Dota 2, but it is so much more than that. It doesn’t play like your usual card game either, and it is both complex and simple enough for newcomers to take a stab at the game.

However, those who plan to really get into Artifact will have to invest quite a bit of time and money, though the monetary investment can be offset if you’re extremely proficient at the game. I’ve spent some time exploring Artifact, and while I don’t particularly love its intricacies, Valve’s new game is definitely worth checking out for card game lovers.

Unlike conventional card games, Artifact has three distinct “lanes,” much like Dota 2. Each lane is a board of its own, and they all have a tower with 40 health. If a tower is destroyed, it will reveal the Ancient, which has 80 health.

To win the game, all you have to do is destroy two towers, or destroy an Ancient. Simple, right? Nope, not exactly.

The idea is simple, but the process to deal damage to the towers and Ancients is quite complex. You start off the game with five heroes (most of which are existing Dota 2 heroes) in your deck: three are placed at each individual lane randomly, and the fourth and fifth hero will only enter the game in the second and third rounds respectively.

And then there’s another layer of intricacy. Depending on the colour of your hero on each individual lane, you can only play cards of that colour. For example, Axe is a red hero, so you can only play red cards on that particular lane. If you don’t have any hero on the lane, you…basically can’t do much.

If this sounds familiar to seasoned card players, it should: it’s very similar to Magic: The Gathering’s mana colour restriction. This comes at no surprise either, as the lead designer of Artifact, Richard Garfield, is the creator of Magic.

Okay, so heroes can obviously deal damage to towers and Ancients, and creeps can do the same thing too. However, this is only when they are not blocked by an opposing creep or hero. Damage will always go through them first before it is dealt to towers, though there are certain exceptions to this rule.

Given all of these restrictions and complexities, a single game of Artifact can easily take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes – that’s a very lengthy period for one match. This is especially the case if we compare it to other card games like Hearthstone, where some games can wrap up in less than five minutes.

That being said, Artifact does teach players the mechanics very efficiently in the two tutorial matches, so those who are new to the game won’t feel lost out of the gate. On top of that, Artifact’s complex mechanics is not necessarily a bad thing either. In fact, some players will love the many different facets and strategies the game offers. Once some form of meta is established, I imagine Artifact will get even more interesting.

But I’m still not a huge fan of Artifact’s complex nature. It’s easy to learn how the game works, but it’s hard to really master it. To be fair, I’ve only spent a few hours in the game, so my sentiment of Artifact may change as I play more matches. I would really love to get into the game and be somewhat proficient at it, but I’m hesitant for one reason: it requires a lot of investment.

Needless to say, time investment is a given, but what I’m hesitant about is the price of entry. In Malaysia, Artifact costs RM85 just to start playing. Of course, the price also include two starter packs, 10 packs of cards, and five Event Tickets. But chances are, these are not enough to build a viable competitive deck.

That is, unless you’re amazing at the game. If you are, you can basically spend your time in Expert Play mode to keep getting more packs and Event Tickets to complete your card collection. If you can consistently get five wins in Expert Constructed, you’ll gain two packs (for free, basically) and your Event Ticket back.

For less skilled players, there are a couple of ways they can complete their card collection. The most obvious choice is to buy packs for RM8 each, which is a bit of a gamble. The more cost-efficient way, on the other hand, is to just buy them on the Steam Community Market.

The thing is, there is no daily quests or challenges “free to play” players can complete to earn packs in Artifact. The only option, as I’ve mentioned, is to be really good at the game. If you can get at least four wins without losing twice in one of the Expert modes (which require one Event Ticket to enter), you will gain one free pack and your Ticket back.

If you opt to complete your card collection through the Steam Community Market instead, you will have to spend quite a bit of money. Take the Axe hero card, which is currently going for RM60; that’s the price of only one¬†card. Thankfully, you can only put in one copy of a hero card in your deck, so you really only need to buy one piece.

There’s no doubt that Artifact is a very polished digital card game, and anyone who’s a fan of card games will find a lot of things to love. But these folks also know how expensive card games can get, and Artifact is one of them.

I will be playing Artifact a lot more in the coming weeks, though I’m doubtful I’ll ever put in more money into the game. Nonetheless, I do enjoy playing the Casual Phantom Draft mode. While I wouldn’t be gaining any pack from it, I’ll still be getting the full drafting experience.

And if I’m confident enough, I may even use one of my Event Tickets to try out the real Phantom Draft to win some packs. Just maybe.