After a shaky introduction at The International 7, Artifact is finally getting its time in the limelight.
Artifact, the Dota 2-themed trading card game, is technically Valve’s first game release since Dota 2 left closed beta. It’s already become a whispered topic in the Dota 2 community, as several players and industry members reportedly have been playing the beta. Now that Valve is more confident in its product, it’s time for the gates to crack open ahead of its confirmed 2018 release.
Valve brought a number of industry veterans across several publications — including reporters from IGN and PC Gamer, and Geoff Keighley of The Game Awards — for a private event to reveal Artifact. It began with a presentation by Gabe Newell himself, in which he made several big reveals (to be discussed) about development and gameplay, followed by a play session.
There were no embargoes on these discussions and gameplay, so now we have plenty of information to work with. Here are the vital bits of what was revealed about Artifact.
Immersive and complex gameplay
Even before getting a peak at the finer details, card game veterans have had their eyes on the release of this game, as the project is spearheaded by Richard Garfield, the renown creator of real-world trading card games Magic: The Gathering and Netrunner.
But this game will go beyond traditional expectations — and those who attended agree this isn’t just another Hearthstone. Timothy Clark of PC Gamer likely has the most expansive description of gameplay yet, along with Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica and Mike Minotti of Venturebeat.
No doubt, many familiar concepts of traditional card games are present, including characters, an “attack/defense” score, and spells. But Artifact also introduces a “three-lane” system, where players are expected to pay attention to three boards simultaneously. There are over 280 cards to boot, with 44 heroes — including some that have yet to be introduced to the main Dota 2 game. You need 40 cards in your deck, but there are no limits as it stands.
It’ll still be a defensive game, but the idea of “player HP” is themed differently than most traditional card games. The goal of the game mode demonstrated is to take down two towers, or a tower and an Ancient (the latter of which has double the health). However, this is the only game mode demonstrated at the event;
There won’t be blocked-out “turns” as we know them, instead, players will play one card each until one chooses to pass. Then, minions attack, and the turn moves over to the next lane.
Hero gameplay will be similar to their MOBA equivalent. Players equip items to their Heroes, and any heroes that are taken out will “respawn,” in a manner of speaking. They’ll come back with the same items and abilities they earned in previous turns.
Overall, there was agreement that the game was complex but enjoyable. Maybe Artifact really will be the Dota 2 of card games.
Much like their Dota 2 reveal, it sounds like Valve is going straight for the throat of competitive gaming with another tournament. The devs will allegedly hold a $1 million tournament in 2019, meaning stakes are high for players off the bat.
One reporter shared that only about 40 players are in the beta right now — and that the game may change between now and release.
they're not showing any live gameplay of the closed beta yet, because some cards just aren't done yet or are still being fine-tuned to be considered public-ready. only 40 testers are on the game as of right now.— Sam Machkovech ⏰ SXSW (@samred) March 9, 2018
A collecting game
Artifact will not be free-to-play.
Gabe Newell explained to press that he wasn’t fond of how free-to-play games currently function, calling the time-grind a “consequence.”
“If time is free, or an account is free, or cards are free,” he told press, “then anything that has a mathematical relationship to those things ends up becoming devalued over time, whether it’s the player’s time and you just make people grind for thousands of hours for minor, trivial improvements, or the asset values of the cards, or whatever.”
And some of that Artifact time that would be otherwise wasted may be put to good use by dedicated players. Artifact will be the first AAA “trading card game” where you can actually trade your cards with other players. While it seems like an easy choice for the owners of the Valve Marketplace, this means that some gameplay may center around the factors that come with this implication.
For one, it sounds like Artifact will be focused on the out-of-game deckbuilding aspect. But hopefully, fans won’t need to worry about hoarding expensive cards, as rarity won’t be linked to power by design. That’s to say, commonly-spawning cards can be as powerful as those that show up less frequently. Newell explained that the team will “steer away from pay-to-win” and, as mentioned in the context of free-to-play models, will focus on rewarding players for the time.
“From a really high level perspective, we really want to stay away from pay-to-win,” Newell said at the event. “We think that that actually has a pernicious impact on the design of the game and the evolution of the community over time.”
Prices and the like were not shared at the event. However, it seems that there will be a “starter pack” for entry into the game, and money from booster packs will partially be used for tournaments. (Like a Battle Pass, without expiration dates.)
The full presentation by Gabe Newell was shared by PCGamesN:
We have the technology
Valve hasn’t taken the time to expand their first-party game library much, in recent years. Where original content has lacked, though, the technology for the few IPs they own has improved. Valve released Source 2 with the Dota 2 Reborn update in summer of 2015, and since then, Dota 2 has been the only game to utilize it.
Artifact not only changes this, but also demonstrates the actual power of the Source 2 engine. Long story short, Artifact runs on Source 2 — and will be playable on mobile. This will likely be an impressive experience, as screenshots and videos show gorgeous 3D graphics, including card animations and small dragon-like creatures, animated across the screen.
But more interestingly, it seems it’s not just this game that can run smoothly on portable platforms. One reporter shared that, apparently, they got the main Dota 2 game running on a tablet via Source 2:
The most interesting tidbit of the day is that Valve has their Source 2 engine running on mobile hardware. They also have DOTA 2 running on a tablet. Doing anything with this beyond using it to bring Artifact to mobile isn’t something anyone at Valve is focused on currently.— Eli Hodapp ♂️ (@hodapp) March 9, 2018
It may come as no surprise to those who are fans of “potato computer” jokes, but it does have major implications for Valve’s game engine — and any future games they opt to develop.
Expanding the universe
Artifact never, for a second, lets you forget its influence from Dota 2, and the relationships of lore and aesthetic between the two are mutual. From the very beginning, the dev team teased lore fanatic Jake “SirActionSlacks” Tanner:
At the event, we got a peek at the surface of this trench. Of course, there are the little dragons hopping around the screen; while they resemble Greevils remotely, we have no idea what they actually are.
Players at the Artifact event have found three new heroes to play. None have been given names, nor did attendees appear to share them, but screenshots and paintings reveal the gorgeous new characters alongside those already known:
I got to play Artifact and I’m incredibly impressed. I’ll have my full thoughts on it up on IGN tonight or tomorrow! We have plenty of new info on it on IGN now too and a brief gameplay video on IGN’s Instagram story! pic.twitter.com/ymy9Jc1EHj— Miranda Sanchez (@HavokRose) March 9, 2018
In this release, the three new heroes appear to be:
- Sorla Khan, Axe’s replacement in the Red Mist Army
- Kanna, the shadowy horned creature with little to no history as of yet
- Rix, a wolf-like fighter with alleged ties to Legion Commander
Of course, this accompanies a slew of new items and abilities designed specifically for the game. As if about 200 items weren’t enough, a few more have been crafted to fit this specific environment. PCGamesN has an extensive list of many of these new pieces.
All of these factors will interact with each other in a similar manner to the voice lines already present in Dota 2, according to an interview with Valve dev Jepp Barnett for PCGamesN. They hope the story shines through these moments of banter.
“There’s a lot of story that comes through in that: they talk about the places they’ve been and the wars they’ve fought,” Barnett explained. “Our writer is really great and has already pushed a lot of that story into Dota patches that have shipped to set the stage for what we’re doing.”
On top of the mountains of lore and new content being hinted at, traditional card game players will fawn over the art being produced for the cards. Attendees were given exclusive press event art, including art intended for each outlet, done by a variety of artists.
To wind down your time with, and give you time to process, all this information, here are a few pieces of card art. We tried to select those that didn’t appear across all the outlets, as each one was given some unique card art pieces, but we recommend visiting each site for all the good stuff.