Many would remember the lukewarm response that the community showed Artifact when it was revealed in TI7. Fans expected Valve would finally give them what they wanted the most: Half-Life 3. But now the tables have turned, and Valve is again building up hype for another would-be success. The community’s response during Artifact’s demo play available in PAX West 2018 last weekend is the biggest proof of this.

Since the game’s first playable public demo was only available to a relatively small audience in the PAX WEST 2018 convention, we came up with an article that will help our readers here in the Philippines get up to date on what exactly got people excited over Valve’s new game.

First look at the three lanes

Artifact’s setting exists in the same universe as Dota 2, and players coming from Valve’s MOBA might see something similar when they first boot up Artifact. Just like in Dota 2, Artifact will be played across three lanes, or boards. Although each board will play independent from each other, some effects of cards coming from one lane could also affect other boards. Just like in Dota, each lane will have a tower on it. We’ll tackle more about the specific mechanics of each lane later on.

Just like in Dota 2, Artifact will have three lanes of battle – Photo by Valve

The game’s board state might feel overwhelming at first, but playing through the game and becoming familiar with the mechanics are rewarding. As professional Magic: The Gathering professional player and game designer Brian Kibler would say in a tweet, it becomes enjoyable once you get your bearings, despite being a bit overwhelming at first.

A professional MTG player and game designer’s first impressions on Artifact
Destroy the enemy ancient

Artifact’s core mechanic is similar to Dota 2 in that it is a race between two sides on who gets to destroy the opposing Ancient first. Two players control a side each, battles over three lanes, using cards that represent heroes, creatures, items, improvements and spells to their advantage. Each lane has one tower that protects it. Heroes and units primarily act as guards to these towers, and are also the main damage dealers that could take down the towers. Once a tower in a lane gets knocked down, its side’s Ancient becomes exposed. The first player to either take down their opponent’s Ancient or destroy two towers wins the game. As such, players may decide between two core strategies when thinking of their win condition: are they going to focus down on a single lane in a bid to destroy the enemy’s Ancient? Or would they rather spread out their resources to quickly push down two lanes of towers?

Destroying the opponent’s tower will reveal their Ancient. Pictured here is an exposed Dire Ancient.
Building a deck

Artifact is special in that it requires players to construct two separate decks to play the game. The first deck they have to construct is the Hero Deck, which contains the player’s heroes, spells, creatures and improvements. Although the minimum cards that the Hero Deck could have is 40, there is no maximum deck size. However, players can only have five heroes in their Hero deck, and only up to three copies of each unique card.

The second deck that players play with is the Item Deck. In between battles, players have the chance to purchase items using gold they earn from killing heroes and other creatures during battle. There will be three items available for purchase at a time, one of which is chosen randomly from the player’s Item Deck. The other two items are randomly generated from a pool of predetermined cards, called the Secret Shop Deck and the Consumable Deck. These two latter decks are not created by the player, and are instead provided by the AI during the game.

A screenshot of the Shopping Phase. The first item comes from the Secret Shop Deck; the second from the Item Deck; and the third from the Consumable Deck – Photo by steemit
Bodies of work

The hardworking people that protects your towers and Ancient from your opponent consist of your Heroes and your creatures. Although heroes are your strongest cards, they would need the help of your creatures to cover some base. Heroes are categorized in four different colors, which indicates the type of gameplay they play around with. Black is for stealthy assassins, Blue is for control, Red is for aggressive warriors and Green is for support. Some spells can only be cast based on the color of the heroes that are currently in the field.

An example of a Hero Card. Axe is a Red Hero equipped with a weapon and a health item. His stats are 15 Damage, 15 Health and 2 Armor.

Heroes and creatures have three attributes: Damage, Health and Armor. What sets Heroes apart from creatures are their higher stats and their innate abilities. Abilities could either be reactive abilities, akin to passive skills in the Dota 2 mechanics, or active abilities that requires the player to manually trigger for its effects to take place. If a Hero were to die in combat, they return to the Fountain, in which they stay in for two turns until they could return back to the battlefield.

Phase Boots

Artifact’s gameplay is divided into five phases: Action Phase, Combat Phase, Shopping Phase, Deployment Phase and the End Phase. Most of the work happens in the action phase, where each player take turns playing cards into the current lane or board. Each player may play as many cards as they could until they run out of mana. Cards being played cost mana, and each lane has its own mana pool, which gets refreshed at the beginning of an action phase.

During this phase, players could play improvements to strengthen their heroes and creatures, play creatures to add more beef in their side of the upcoming battle, use items to gain an upper hand, or use spells to turn the tides of battle. Once both players pass in consecutive turns, the action phase ends and moves on to that lane’s combat phase. Since there is no maximum hand size, and since you could fit as many heroes and creatures as you want into the field, then most of the time players pass when they no longer have enough mana to play any more cards.

The combat phase comes and goes quickly, simply showing you how your placement of heroes and creatures affects the board state. Heroes and creatures placed on the field will have an arrow indicating where their damage will be applied. If it were directed towards another hero or creature, their damage would then be applied to that card’s health. Once the health reaches zero, that card dies. However, if the space the arrow is pointing towards is empty, then their damage will be applied straight to the opponent’s tower or Ancient. Towers start with 40 health, while the Ancients start with 80.

After the combat phase of the third lane is finished, both players will be given time to buy items in the Shopping Phase, as mentioned above. Once both players end their shopping spree, they proceed to the Deployment Phase. During this phase, each player assigns their available Heroes to any lane they want to, secretly. Simultaneously, two creeps will be randomly assigned to any of their three lanes. After deployment, both players enters the End Phase, where they draw 2 cards and gain one additional mana for each of their lanes.

The game would continue cycling through these five phases until one player wins – either by destroying the enemy Ancient, or by destroying two of their opponent’s towers.

Like the good old days

Unlike the most recent examples of digital card games, Artifact will veer away from the free-to-play model. Instead, it will be more similar to the economy of physical trading cards. As such, nothing in Artifact will be free: the game itself comes with 10 packs of 12 cards and two initial decks of 54 cards each and will cost $19.99. Each additional 12-card booster pack will cost $2, with each pack containing a guaranteed Rare. Cards you own may be traded or sold on the Steam Marketplace, and as such any card in existence can be bought from the marketplace as well. The game will launch with more than 280 different cards divided into three rarities, including 44 heroes.

Richard Garfield, left, was the creator of the first ever trading card game in history: Magic: The Gathering. He was specifically selected by Valve to become Artifact’s lead designer, hoping to use his magic in making their latest game a massive success – Photo screenshot from ArtifactTV

Artifact is set to release on Steam on 29th for $19.99. Beta keys are available for select TCG professionals and esports industry people, and some organizations have already started creating their own Artifact teams ahead of the release date. Once the game is released, who knows just how many people will end up playing and enjoying Artifact?

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