It’s been nearly a month since Artifact released, and it feels like it’s just getting started. Unlike Dota 2, which went through a couple of years of public beta testing before “properly” releasing, Artifact had only a few months of a closed beta and one week of a limited beta for PAX attendees. And although I’m hooked by the way it adds meaningful layers of strategic depth to the digital card game realm, it’s hard not to look at Artifact in its current state and see lots of room for improvement.
Valve has announced it’s committed to the game for the long haul, as it works to improve the game with new features such as in-game chat, colorblind options, expanded gauntlet options, and a recently-added progression system that lets players earn a limited number of card packs and event tickets. After playing the game on and off for about a month, we have some suggestions of our own for what we’d like to see added down the road as Artifact continues to grow.
Valve recently added chatting to matches, which makes Artifact feel a bit more lively (though you can disable chat if you’d rather just play in silence). Socialization is a huge part of physical card games, as chatting with a friend makes matches more fun (and occasionally buys you some time as you contemplate a tough decision). Another social aspect Artifact is missing, however, is having a friend help get you started by having them give you some of their unwanted cards.
While Valve hasn’t officially stated the feature is coming, they hinted at it during our interview with them back in April, but it’s a feature that would make Artifact less intimidating for new players. While you can already “lend” someone a deck you’ve built for a couple of matches, this prevents new players from seeing the fun of being creative and building their own decks. Trading would also give current players another outlet for extra cards, one that would come with the bonus of introducing a new player to the game.
One of Dota 2’s best features is its spectator client, which not only lets you watch any match your friends or high-level players are currently in, but captures replay data you can pour over to improve.
While Artifact’s more random nature makes it a bit harder to improve using other matches, seeing how and when a better player handles the overall flow of the game, makes key hero deployment and item shopping decisions, and abandons lanes that aren’t going their way would go a long way towards helping others improve.
It could also have the side benefit of further deepening investment in the game. With Dota, I often find myself in the mood to see some Dota play out, but not always in the mood to play it. Casually watching a match gives me something to hold my attention while I’m doing other things, and occasionally puts me in the mood to play a match later on. I can also see this being the case with Artifact, though right now I’m forced to find outside sources for live matches or replays.
When I used to play physical card games, proxies were lifesavers. After seeing what the latest set for Yu-Gi-Oh or UFS (a card game based on fighting game properties like Street Fighter and Soulcalibur) had to offer online, I’d quickly get ideas for new decks based on hunches and theorycrafting. It was hard, however, to get quick access to those cards and put those hunches to the test without spending big. Enter proxies: Cut up pieces of paper on which you write all the pertinent stats and text of the card you want in your deck but don’t have then throw in a card sleeve with some throwaway common, letting you try out new cards without buying them.
Artifact faces similar restrictions with experimentation, since you literally cannot put a card in a constructed deck unless you own it. This makes deckbuilding less playful and loose in Artifact than it might otherwise be, as you might think a card ties an entire deck together, test it a couple of times, and realize it (or perhaps your whole strategy) doesn’t work out, and pay the difference between a card’s buy and sell price for your efforts.
In-game proxies, which would let you build a deck out of cards you don’t have and test them out (against bots, and maybe friends but not online against real opponents, perhaps), you could effectively try cards before you bought them, eliminating some the risk of playing the market.
Free-to-play Phantom Drafts & Practice
The suggestion that Artifact should go free-to-play isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but assuming Valve isn’t going to let players earn cards by playing the game indefinitely, there are still ways new players could potentially try the game out for free.
Artifact’s casual phantom draft mode is a perfect fit. The mode requires no up-front investment from players and doesn’t alter the card economy, since players make their decks out of cards they can only use in that mode, and only for that gauntlet run against other opponents. It’s carefree Artifact at its best, and emphasizes the layered fusion of acquiring cards, building a deck out of them, and learning to use that deck with the game’s strategic gameplay in a single microcosm. In short, it’s the perfect way for new players to try the game out.
Of course, new players could also try their hand against AI opponents using pre-built decks, similar to how you earn two free starter decks when you buy the game. These cards (or the new leveling system) wouldn’t be available outside of the free trial, so players would be free to learn the game by battling against bots.
Artifact feels like a game catered toward the free-to-play crowd with a price tag attached, which might be why it isn’t as popular as some might have expected. Having a way for newcomers to try the game out for free is vital, and could help grow the game long-term.
More Rule-Breaking Gauntlets
The first gauntlet for Artifact, Call to Arms, features six pre-built decks that experimented with the different strategies the first set allowed. It was a quick and easy way to hop into a match of constructed play where you didn’t feel intimidated by how much more your opponent might have spent than you, but this first gauntlet felt like part of an introduction to the game than its own mode.
With the format of pre-constructed decks partially built and balanced around each other, future gauntlets could stand to do with more variety – and could even move outside the boundaries of the current card set. Because gauntlets exist outside of the collection aspect (similar to phantom draft), Valve should feel free to experiment with one-off ideas, whether that means changing up the core rules of Artifact or introducing new cards that wouldn’t have to balanced with the current card set. Gauntlet decks could be balanced around each other, leading to new ways of playing Artifact that could keep the game fresh.
Although a good match is its own reward, the increasing prominence of progression hooks and ranked leaderboards in multiplayer games has made it difficult for games without those system to feel as satisfying. Thankfully, Valve recently implemented a progression system that awards a limited number of card packs and event tickets, which is good. That said, Valve could also use when it comes to implementing cosmetics.
In their initial reveal of Artifact, Valve mentioned cosmetics may come at some point, with outside creators making items for Artifact the way they already do for Dota 2. While Artifact doesn’t have as many avenues for customization, there are already a few things cosmetic items could alter: The artwork for different cards, the animations that play for certain card effects, the look of the board, the imps that help make matches look more fun – all of these are ripe for visual changes, and could all tie into the progression system which lets you earn them by playing matches.
The lack of a Techies hero card and signature card did not go unnoticed, Valve. Sure, other heroes also didn’t get their chance in the spotlight for the first set, but I’m personally upset about this one in particular, so it’s important that you add the hero ASAP. To help expedite the process of adding him to the game and make everyone happy, I’ve taken the liberty of designing his hero and signature card for you. I haven't playtested at all, but I'm sure it's a good card. Thank me later.
3 Attack, 0 Armor, 9 Health Black Hero
Proximity Mine – Active Ability – 1-turn cooldown – Summon a Proximity Mine.
0 attack, 2 health creep
Detonate – reactive ability – at the of this round, deal 2 damage to all of Proximity Mine’s neighbors and condemn Proximity Mine. If Proximity Mine is unblocked, deal 4 damage to the enemy tower.
Signature card: Blast Off!
4 Mana Black Spell
Move an allied black hero to any empty spot in this lane. Deal 4 piercing damage to that hero any unit blocking it.
For more Artifact coverage, check out our review.