3 out of 5. Strong level design in combination with novel concepts creates a fun risk/reward Metroidvania experience, even if a lot could be improved in terms of technical polish.
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How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Besides the loss of artifacts upon death, Artifacts follows the typical metroidvania pattern very closely.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Artifacts was provided by the developer

More Info

Developer: Eric Laber
Publisher: Eric Laber
Sub-genre: Misc Metroidvania
Features: Map System, Multiple Difficulty modes, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat
Difficulty: Medium
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Steam
Release Date: 2020/09/15
Available Languages: English, Spanish

Store Links
Note: A Demo is available on the Itch.io site.

    Steam    itch.io    

Buy Artifacts if you like…

  • High-risk death mechanics
  • Adapting to randomized abilities
  • Low handholding
  • Uncovering Secrets
  • Novel Mechanics

▼ Review continues below ▼

Strictly looking at the level design, Artifacts is a more traditional metroidvania game with another fun world to explore. On that merit alone, it’s easy to recommend the game to anyone just craving a new map to complete. What sets Artifacts apart from the competition is the way its equipment system works. Its unique mechanics create a high tension risk/reward system that adds a nice amount of spice to a design that might have become mundane to some. The only thing holding Artifacts back from being one of the greats is that it suffers from some presentation issues. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something slightly different, Artifacts delivers, and it won’t hurt your wallet too much to try it out.

Instead of having a bunch of permanent skills you collect in order to move forward, there are several active and passive abilities to choose from, with the opportunity to lose any of them if you should ever die. On Steam, Artifacts has the “Roguelite” tag perhaps to describe this feature, but initially the artifacts aren’t random, and the layout of the metroidvania world is set regardless of how many times you play. The randomness only kicks in if you die. You can only get back any artifacts you lose through pure chance upon defeating specific enemies or rebuying them from the local shop. Enemy placement is also random. You could walk into a room full of spiders on your first visit, or the room could be completely empty the next time you go in. Occasionally a glowing enemy will spawn, and those are the ones that carry a random artifact out of the ones you’ve already found. Sometimes instead of an artifact, loot droppers can also give you a coin that you can use in the hub area to buy one of three artifacts available, but this shop only restocks its options when you die. In other words, dying ensures variety in a way similar to a roguelike, but strictly speaking this isn’t exactly a “Roguevania” title.

Some artifacts you find have trade-offs to them. For instance, there’s an artifact that grants you additional damage with poison and necrotic attacks, but reduces the damage you deal with fire and lightning attacks. There are other artifacts that you can’t ever lose, like your main weapon or the movement upgrades critical to progression. There are movement upgrades that can be lost, but nothing that would prevent you from using at least one of the many pathways to new areas. The direct and indirect association the artifacts have with each other makes the gears spin in your brain, enticing you to collect artifacts that are optimal to whatever build you want to try, while ignoring the ones that aren’t. This feeds into the tension of dying, because you may lose out on your perfect build if you make a fatal mistake.

Unfortunately fatalities aren’t always your fault – or at least it feels that way sometimes. On a surface level enemies telegraph their attacks well, and bosses have well-designed patterns for you to adapt to, but the physics in the game never quite live up to the standard that design sets. Animations could lock you into a state where you can’t move, and the cause of this seems inconsistent. Hitboxes don’t always connect where you would expect, which can create seemingly unfair moments. The camera is the strangest victim of this lack of polish. As it desperately tries to track your playable character, it cuts around like the framerate has been affected by processor lag. Given the hardware specs I was running Artifacts on, this seems to be more an issue with the game’s engine rather than a physical limitation. I played the game on “Insane” difficulty and can attest that with some perseverance every trial can be adapted to, but that doesn’t change that the game doesn’t feel quite right for much of the action. I definitely don’t recommend playing on the harder modes unless you find yourself really clicking with the game’s controls. Unfortunately once you start a game file you can’t change the difficulty unless you uninstall the game completely since there’s no title menu where you can delete your file.

The death mechanics can be especially frustrating if you do find yourself struggling with any of the game’s content. You don’t ever lose everything unless you didn’t have a lot in the first place, but when you’re already having a hard time with a boss, having to face off with them again with less power only exacerbates the anguish. On the flip side however, I did discover that you could visit old areas looking for loot droppers to restock your artifacts, and returning to a troublesome boss fully equipped was wonderfully cathartic. Even if I hadn’t done that, there seems to be some kind of fail safe design at play where the path back to the boss is almost guaranteed to contain at least one loot dropper, or a spirit enemy that can grant temporary HP upon defeat. Also, like in any good metroidvania game, until the final boss you always have the option of exploring somewhere completely different if any content stops being fun.

The world of Artifacts is ingeniously designed to support its high consequence death mechanics. There doesn’t seem to be any specific sequence to most of the game’s content. Artifacts that you could lose might get you into some areas earlier than you may without them, and every zone has at least two entrances with different abilities in mind for accessing them. There are also some zones that are locked by keys – of which there are a limited number in the game’s world – that you can subvert by finding a different means of entering them. Conquering the game’s world with knowledge and thoughtful exploration is the best thing you can’t lose if you die.

Exploration also expands the number of artifacts you have in the randomized pool. While you do not choose which artifact a loot dropper gives you or what is in stock at the shop, the possible options are determined by what you’ve already discovered. The first time you get any artifact is absolutely guaranteed. Checking walls for illusory passageways, or just testing every dead end often reveals a new toy to add to your collection, or a straight numeric damage or health upgrade to make you even stronger. Finding new bosses to kill is also rewarding because you get more artifact slots with each one that you defeat. By exploration, just taking in the world of Artifacts and making it your own is easily the best part of playing this game. As a bonus, the more you know about the challenges you might face, the more likely it is you can avoid death on a replay, making it especially fun to collect everything and become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

Artifacts clearly demonstrates novel and meaningful game design with both its metroidvania world and its unique mechanics. If you can look past some technical issues I think it’s a game that can provide a lot of fun, especially for the low starting price of $4 on Steam. Its combat may not be the best, and losing artifacts when you die is going to be of niche appeal, but the well designed exploration and trying out new builds was more than enough to make up for it for me. If you’re still not sure, there’s a demo you can try in-browser for free over on itch.io. I definitely recommend giving it a shot.


Final Score

3/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 2.5

Bosses have well-designed patterns, but the physics and animations are a bit loose

Platforming
– 3

Platforming isn't ever a challenge as much as it is just a means for exploring its world

Exploration
– 4

There are a lot of great secrets to uncover which lead to some novel variety through the artifacts

Puzzle
– 2

Puzzles are definitely not a focus

Story
– 3

There is some backstory to discover, but nothing that puts the game's narrative up as a selling point.

Graphics
– 2.5

The game's camera sometimes has issues keeping up with the action, and the animations sometimes fail to convey the action well

Music
– 3

The melodies convey the atmosphere of the area you are in well, but none stick out as particularly memorable.

Replayability
– 4

There are four difficulty modes and a fairly good chance you wouldn't be using same set of Artifacts twice


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