The world has turned its back on Artifact. It’s not the sort of story that flows through RPS’s news pipes, but you’ve probably seen headlines about the CCG’s plummeting playerbase. They came, they saw, they clocked out.
116 hours and counting, baby. Some of that will be idling, but still, I seldom go an evening without a match or three. My reasons are plenty, but first and foremost: it's my chillout game.
I'm aware that might sound strange. I did, after all, emphasise its complexity in my Artifact review. There's a stream of consciousness mini-play in there about stressful decisions, for chrissakes.
In some ways, the nature of that stress has changed. It's still there - and still very much part of the appeal - but now rests on a comfortable bedrock of familiarity. I'm not drowning, but I've still got to do some pretty frantic doggy paddling. That's precisely why I find it relaxing.
It's the kind of decision-making process that doesn't leave room to think about anything else. Shooters can have a similar effect, and I still dip back into Overwatch when I want to fill my brain with something fun and not existentially-challenging - but navigating a 3D space at speed will always demand more of me than pondering cards.
(Also important: I can't listen to King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard in Overwatch because I get too worried that I'll miss a vital audio cue.)
Artifact takes my mind to a similar place as Slay The Spire, but one where my actions never feel automated. I've got another mind in there with me, ready to pounce on the slightest lapse of judgement.
There's the other main draw. When I lose a match, I can usually pinpoint why. Sometimes that's because my deck is outclassed. Sometimes it's because a vital dice roll didn't come out in my favour. Mostly, though, it's because I could have played differently - or at least built more options into my deck. "If only I'd have done THAT", I think, as I launch into my next game, determined to avoid the same mistake.
I'm not sure to what extent that applies to constructed play (the mode where you bring your own decks) because I haven't touched it since my review. I spend all my time in the competitive drafting mode, where winning five games without dropping one earns me back my entry ticket plus two card packs. Since an update added an XP system that squirts tickets and card packs at you as you play, I've never needed to pay for tickets - though I've come close enough that my victories feel significant in a way that they otherwise wouldn't. Success not feeling rewarding enough used to be one of my main complaints, but now Valve have found the sweet spot.
Everything I raved about in my review still applies, of course. I love trying to predict my opponent, and still get a kick out of how matches mirror those in Dota. I love the variety, too - multiple win conditions mean matches can develop in all sorts of different ways. Though yes, at this point I am rather keen to see some new cards.
I know I'll get them. After a very welcome list of item buffs, the latest patch notes end with "Unchanged: still in it for the long haul".
So am I, Valve. So am I.