PAX West 2018: Valve’s Artifact Balances Skill & Luck Perfectly

PAX West 2018: Valve’s Artifact Balances Skill & Luck Perfectly

Valve’s approach to a card game is one that should be globally accepted and credited by the gaming community. They appear to be hitting the right demographic with the game, debuting Artifact’s gameplay experience to attendees at PAX West.

A tremendous amount of the game is about luck, and the timing of the players’ actions. As the player continues playing, a system determines how many “Heroes” and “Creeps” the player will receive at the end of the round. These are randomly distributed across the game’s three lanes, which can really change the tide of battle. Not to say there isn’t any skill involved, but it forces the players to consider the random placements of heroes and creeps when adapting a strategy to take down their opponent’s towers.

See, the player wins when they take down any two towers among the game’s three lanes. It doesn’t matter how you take them down – what matters is taking them down before your opponent does the same to you. Now, luck doesn’t have to be a bad thing in a strategic game like this. As a Valve employee pointed out to me, it forces the player to adapt to different situations, as the tide of battle always changes. This creates a change of focus, whether or not the player has decide to protect particular heroes, or stack specific lanes.

I’m not saying other card games don’t involve a fair amount of luck, but there are many avenues that a player can take when building a strategy for their opponent. Similar to Artifact’s competitors, the choice of deck building, color/type devotion, and a healthy balance of cards is required to make a competitively viable deck. However, unlike other card games, the way you receive these cards is balanced by the amount of luck you have. In every phase of the game, from Action to Shop phases, the player needs to choose their items very careful, as to adapt to every situation. Of course, players can opt-in for the riskier “Hail Mary” situation, choosing an item or hero for placement in a specific one-off situation, but careful planning is required as luck can change the tide of battle, fast.

Other card games are vapid in my experience. They offer specific win conditions with minimal ways to achieve them. I’m a fan of Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering, and dabbled in other games such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Hearthstone, and Pokemon, but Artifact plays in a way that challenges a veteran like myself. While Artifact was developed with the help of Richard Garfield, one of Magic: The Gathering’s creators, it takes on a whole new approach to the strategic endeavour that is, at it’s core, card games. Not to mention that the representation of Valve’s Dota 2, which just hosted it’s eighth international tournament, is well represented in Artifact with the game’s three lanes.

Another aspect of the game we have to consider is it’s accessibility to new players, a problem that popular MOBA games like Dota 2 have had in the past. While card games have a deep learning curve, especially when it comes to card rulings, Artifact takes the guessing game out of particular aspects, such as damage calculation, card rulings, flow of the game, and the game’s phases. Due to the nature of a PC title, Valve can utilize your computer’s calculations to make the game easier to learn, similarly to Blizzard’s Hearthstone or Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls: Legends.

The way it works is there are three “Lanes” of play, all active at once. Each turn, a player goes through these lanes, one by one, and plays spells dependent on their mana. This starts at “3” on round one, but ramps up by one every round. After they are done playing spells, the damage phase takes effect and the cards fight each other. After this process is complete in three lanes, players then “Purchase” cards with gold earned from defeating your opponents creeps and heroes. These items are used to assist with your game, from increasing attack, destroying specific enemies, or healing your allies. Once you have selected your items for purchase, you proceed to round two and start playing spells again.

The development team acknowledged that the game still requires balancing, something they are hoping to obtain with the game’s beta release in October. TI8 & PAX West attendees were able to get their hands on beta keys, and we have some more in the coming days if you want to get in on the action yourself. Be sure to keep an eye on our Twitter page for announcements regarding Artifact‘s beta keys.

Valve’s Artifact releases this holiday season with a beta scheduled to launch in October.