Valve scraps revamped Artifact, dumps free, unfinished “2.0” version on Steam

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never forget TI7 —

Rebuilt game had been in closed beta for one year before Valve pulled the plug today.

Sam Machkovech

Two posters, two free end-of-life games.

Enlarge / Two posters, two free end-of-life games.

Valve

The weird, woeful, and nearly redemptive development of Valve’s digital card game Artifact has ended. Effective today, Valve has launched the 2018 game’s total-overhaul “2.0” version as a completely free—and “unfinished”—card-battling game dubbed Artifact Foundry, and while it’s playable, it’s effectively dead on arrival.

That means the game (formerly known as Artifact 2.0) no longer requires signing up for a closed beta—and is immediately available for anyone to download and play with zero microtransactions or restrictions on ownership. The apparent catch is that this near-total overhaul of the original game’s ruleset and card abilities will not receive a single substantial update going forward. While Valve admits that Artifact Foundry could still use more “polish and art,” its devs insist that “the core gameplay is all there.”

Additionally, the game’s original version has been left as a playable option, in case you preferred its specific spin on Magic: The Gathering-like card combat. The biggest change is that it has been updated to remove all microtransactions, while anyone who paid for the original game or its cards has been given a curious perk: a series of “Collector’s Edition” cards, which can now only be traded and sold for real-world money within the Steam Marketplace ecosystem. Within the game itself, “marketplace integration” has been removed, since the original concept of buying blind card decks has been nuked from orbit. Every card in Artifact 1.0 is now free and instantly doled out to players.

To review: two versions of Artifact are now available on Steam, and both are totally free, sans microtransactions. Neither will receive updates going forward. They’ll both still be playable online through traditional matchmaking.

From $20 to beta to free

Artifact Foundry had clearly been built with a more favorable and digital-friendly card economy than its forebear, since today’s new version only lets players unlock new cards for their battling decks via gameplay. Players must beat solo campaign missions and versus matches to get more cards, as opposed to buying or trading them on a marketplace. It’s unclear whether Valve would have sold the game as a flatly priced “buy once” model, or whether it might have eventually included some form of microtransactions or DLC pack purchases.

  • At the most zoomed-out level, every Artifact 1.0 match begins like this: with three lanes of combat, across which you will arrange five heroes in a mission to destroy towers. Sure sounds a lot like how Dota 2 works, doesn’t it? (Not shown here: the “flop” of your creeps that are randomly added and arranged between every round.)

  • Now we’re zoomed in on a lane. Based on the attack, armor, and health stats on the board, the game will show you how the round will end should no other cards be played or mana/gold be spent. The bottom player has one unblocked hero, who will directly attack the top player’s defense tower. Both players still have all three points of mana for this lane, which they can spend on any three-or-less card in their hand that matches the color of any hero(es) in the same lane. The top player is out of luck if they don’t have any black cards in that value. Tap the “pass gong” in the bottom-right corner if you would rather not play any of your cards.

  • This flashy animation is a result of Luna’s incredible hero-specific ability “Eclipse.”

  • Sometimes, due to sacrifices in previous rounds, you may wind up with zero creeps or heroes in a lane, at which point your opponent can wail on your tower. (Much like when things go bad in a Dota 2 match.) But again, like that game, sometimes letting one tower go is worth it in terms of swinging your momentum to the two other lanes, as you only need to drop two towers to win. (When you destroy a tower, by the way, it comes back with 80 HP instead of the standard 40 HP. Your foe can just hang around and re-destroy that boosted “ancient tower” to count as a second downed tower and win a match.)

  • The top row represents equippable items that you can add to your heroes through the course of the game, and this zoom shows that the equipped sword and ring boost this character’s attack and health stats.

This followed Artifact‘s messy 2018 launch, which tried to create a card economy, fueled by real money, that resembled real-world Magic: The Gathering cards—yet also required an up-front $20 client purchase. Once the game went live, its online play was marked largely by card prices exploding within the Steam Marketplace and immediately painting competitive players into a corner, in terms of how they might build competitive decks. This issue was compounded by a significant lack of updates from Valve to pump new, strategy-boosting cards into the game’s ecosystem. That development standstill wasn’t helped when game co-creator Richard Garfield was laid off from his contract position at Valve less than four months after its launch.

Weeks later, the remaining Artifact development team announced plans to go “heads down” on revamping the game, instead of shipping regular updates and patches, as its concurrent player counts dipped from tens of thousands to merely hundreds. This was followed one year later, shortly after Half-Life Alyx‘s launch on PC-VR systems, by the announcement of Artifact 2.0 development beginning in earnest. Two months after that, Valve opened up access to this massively refreshed and tweaked version of the game as a closed beta, which saw regular development updates and an emphasis on developer transparency. The newer game included a clearer tutorial process and more focused card abilities; instead of making players juggle exactly how cards in separate lanes might bounce around, each lane was easier to parse as a standalone battling zone. The tweak felt promising in our closed beta tests, even if it watered down the game’s uniqueness compared to digital card-battling rivals like Gwent.

In today’s announcement, however, Artifact Foundry‘s team admitted that interest in this beta version wasn’t fruitful enough: “We haven’t managed to get the active player numbers to a level that justifies further development at this time.” Hence, many of Valve’s biggest ambitions around Artifact, particularly a global tournament with a $1 million grand prize, will never materialize.

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