Valve’s next video game, a card-battling computer game called , will be a tricky one to review for a few reasons. For one, it inevitably comes with the baggage of being “Valve’s next video game.” Whatever is, it isn’t one of the company’s innovative first-person shooters.
But the bigger issue, for a review’s sake, applies to any modern card game: cards, cards, cards.
The genre’s fun and strategy depends on hundreds of these things. Exactly how many are there? How do they interact with each other? And how do players get their hands on more of them?
We can start answering those questions with the beta, into which Valve sneaked us ahead of the closed-beta period (that period is supposed to start on Monday the 19th for anyone who claimed a beta key at various expos like PAX West). With only one day of play under our belts, we cannot come close to “reviewing” what’s on offer thus far.
But we sure as heck can show you what is inside the beta—and it’s more than a beta. For all intents and purposes, this is the game’s final client in terms of tutorial, modes on offer, and (most importantly) its willingness to take your real-world money.
Let’s start with the tutorial, which asks players to click through two simplified matches against a dumbed-down bot. You may have seen our coverage of earlier this year, which includes a baseline explanation (and videos) of how the game works. But this is arguably a better beat-by-beat refresher of basic systems and rules that govern gameplay. We’ve captured most of the important bits in the above gallery, so click through that to get a refresher on how the game works.
We’ve already covered the -ness of at length, especially its use of “hero” cards and tri-lane structure (which are both similar to and distinct from other digital card games, but they are decidedly different from the popular likes of ). Worth noting for diehards: heroes are now split into four color categories (red, blue, green, black) instead of the three categories in the original game (red/strength, blue/intelligence, green/agility). But the flavor is otherwise quite rich with this one. In addition to heroes being lifted wholesale from the source game, ‘s creeps, spells, and equipment borrow heavily from the source MOBA game.
You’ll want to run through the tutorial, in part, to unlock ‘s starter set of cards, which comes with a purchase of the game. Meaning, this is not a free-to-play game. Your $20 includes a base pack of two fully formed decks (which you can remix as you see fit), a set of 10 random card packs (which are each guaranteed to have certain valuable or “rare” pickups), and five “tickets.” You’ll use tickets to enter specific competitive game modes, shown in the below gallery, and victories in these modes net more tickets and card packs, depending on exactly how well you do. Failures in those modes, on the other hand, mean you lose the ticket outright.
Should you want more card packs or tickets, Valve will sell them to you. $1.99 nets you a card pack, which includes nine random cards and one “hero” set—which includes a hero card and any other cards that come with said hero. To review: every Artifact card deck requires five hero cards, and these, as seen in the tutorial, determine which kinds of cards you can play in a given lane. All hero cards come with at least one hero-exclusive card, which is always shuffled into your deck should you equip that hero.