Photo by: StarLadder
By now, we know that it won’t be any time soon before we see something new from Artifact. Valve has confirmed that they’re working with their heads down to deliver a major overhaul rather than ship regular updates. Knowing content release is tabled for the unforeseeable future, teams, tournament organizers, and even the most loyal content developers are losing faith in the game.
Among the latter is Jake “SirActionSlacks” Kanner, or Slacks for short. A Dota 2 host, interviewer and caster, Slacks has been one of Artifact’s most vocal proponents, defending the game since the beta days and pointing out its many strengths in comparison to its competition.
But now, even Slacks has lost faith in Artifact and his latest appearance on What the DUCK podcast is a bit disheartening even to the die-hard fans still having hope that the game will return bigger and better.
Day one concerns
It took less than a day since it launched for Artifact’s numbers to plummet. Artifact launched to a 60K player peak — which is already low — but one month later it had lost 90% of its player base. To say the game was not doing well would be an understatement and Slacks saw a couple of ways this could go.
“When Artifact launched, I said there are two scenarios here:
One, Valve is going to buckle down and actually work on fixing this thing because it’s an embarrassment to the company and that’s very hard for them. […] They would have to, for very much the first time in Valve’s history, say, ‘Guys, stop what you’re working on and let’s fix it.’ Because Valve hasn’t really had a failure before.
Option two was they take several months thinking what to do, then they announce they’re going to do something and then it turns into Half-Life: Episode 3 where they’ve been “heads down” working on it for the last 16 years.”
Valve’s delivery of updates post-launch was unsatisfactory, especially after the company led players believe they will be full hands on deck. Already in the beta, Valve addressed the issue with lack of free draft/practice mode and later made a statement about changing their card balance philosophy.
The beta and early-days updates, however, were nothing more than slow promises. Later patches featured either minor balance changes or features nobody really asked about, like making your cards talk. The core problems of the game remained unaddressed, and this went for the progression system Valve implemented to give players some sort of purpose.
Eventually the updates stopped. Valve went silent, while players continued to theorycraft how can the game be fixed and why it failed. Players who were part of the beta opened up, giving insight on the work process before launch.
“We had access to free drafts, right? And on launch, there were no free drafts. OK, what happened? There was no ladder…,” wondered Robert “RobAJG” Gonzales in an interview with VPEsports.
So when on Mar. 30 — more than three months after it had said something — Valve confirmed how they’re going to tackle Artifact in the future. Only, Slacks is not buying it. This might be another Half-Life: Episode 3.
“I think Valve personally thinks that yes, they are going to fix that game and relaunch it… I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I think it’s done.”
“But is that a bad thing? No,” he continues. “They had three months to be like, “Guys, we’re going to fucking fix this thing” and it took them three months to announce they’re still working on it.”
The rot inside Artifact
When one looks back to the short, but tumultuous months (or rather weeks) when Artifact was alive (with multiple asterisks), the question “What happened” comes naturally. Why did this fail? What was broken? Was it the monetization, or the balance, or the gameplay? The lack of tournaments or lack of support? Perhaps the RNG?
This author has argued on many of those topics before, while defending others.
Slacks himself is still on the opinion that in its core, Artifact is a well-designed product. More so, it’s the product that people said they wanted, only through their actions to backtrack on their statements.
“It pisses me off that the game is great. It’s so much better than fucking Hearthstone and its RNG bullshit. People always said they wanted something without RNG and wanted to be competitive and what did Valve do? They fucking delivered it with Artifact. And then you know what got more popular? Auto Chess, which is the most RNG bullshit in the world. People don’t know what they fucking want.”
In December, I was on the same opinion. I believed — like many pros did and perhaps still do — that Artifact’s fundamentals are solid and that at some point in the future, they will power something amazing, once Valve codes it.
Recently, however, I had to revise these words of mine as I no longer believe they’re true. The fact that so many people found so many wrong things about the game was already a strong tell and, like Slacks, I saw two options, two revisions of the car/engine metaphor.
One — Artifact has a great engine which will never have anything good to power. It’s no longer a lack of a car (think: having a proper ladder, good tournament system, etc.). This is an engine that requires a hull that will never be useful, liked or needed. This is an engine that will power a spaceship which can only fly 5 meters above the ground. Who cares if it powers it really, really well.
Two — Artifact’s doesn’t have good fundamentals in the first place. Even though the game works as intended, these intentions are already flawed. This is an engine that has boring cards engaging in even more boring system. This is an engine that has an unintuitive win condition.
Artifact also wants you to play three games at once, which are kind of intertwined, but not really, while at the same time having obscure mechanics which are both critical to mastering the game and too elaborate and non-evident for the novice player (looking at you, initiative).
This is an engine who solves problems like RNG not by truly solving them, but by making them dull and boring, and this is an engine where you can lose the game based on Turn 1 spawns alone.
I don’t know if objectively Artifact has better fundamentals than Hearthstone and the likes. It doesn’t matter actually. Everyone has voted already and the “engine” has been discarded.