The concept of reviewing a game like Artifact seems flawed on the surface. Sure, the game itself likely has merits and flaws, like games tend to. It seems to be a genuinely interesting adaptation of Dota 2, as well as a meticulous and deeply strategic product from the designer of Magic: The Gathering, still probably the best known card game of its kind. It has a 76 on Metacritic, which isn’t great but isn’t terrible, either. In other circumstances, it would likely be a base upon which to build a game that could still be successful in the long haul.
In other circumstances.
Artifact is a bizarre disaster of a monetization strategy, something that was obvious as soon as Valve pulled the curtain back on just how the thing would work. It is neither free-to-start, free-to-play nor free-to-continue-playing. In a world where plenty of card games are willing to be generous enough to give players the cards they need to have fun in hopes that they’ll spend money later, Artifact attempts to borrow the “monetization” strategy of a physical card game, minus the physical cards. $20 lets you start playing and gives you two full decks as well as 10 booster packs. If you want more cards, you’ll pay for them either by buying booster packs or participating in Artifact’s online marketplace, where Valve takes the kind of hefty cut it is accustomed to taking. Even playing competitively requires you to buy tickets. In a world that seems to be moving away from lootboxes and other overly-aggressive monetization tactics, Artifact has made an experience seemingly defined by monetization rather than the other way around.
It’s not hard to see how this has impacted the game’s prospects these few days into its life. It currently has an abysmal 52% on Steam Reviews, earning it both the dubious distinction of “mixed” reviews as well as a whole bunch of red thumbs down when you click on the page. Again, I doubt this has anything to do with whether or not it’s fun to play Artifact. A lot of the complaints I see do, in fact, mention gameplay, but I’ve also seen a Steam review or two in my time. When something hits the gaming community in a bad way, it gets bad Steam reviews. If Artifact were the exact same game with different monetization mechanics, it would likely have good reviews.