burn down the stables (or: the bland pet conundrum)

Two and a half months ago, I started writing a post on the topic of WoW hunter pets. In their present incarnation, they are boring and unbalanced. They’re difficult to learn how to use effectively and make tremendous time sinks.

In the time since I started this post WotLK has gone into beta and a lot of things have changed. They seem to be making similar choices to those I was guessing at, only much cooler 😉

However, since I hate to waste a good rant, I’m going to dust this thing off before it goes entirely stale. Let’s see what I can salvage.

Lately, there seems to have been a lot of discussion on the topic of hunter pets – especially in the wake of recent patches that have broken longstanding aggro mechanics.

Znodis seems to think that sweeping normalization of pets is inevitable – ie, all pets will eventually have identical stats and have access to the exact same set of skills. Mania agrees in part, but is hoping for a middle ground solution – where all pets become viable not by giving all pets access to all abilities, but by guaranteeing that all pets have access to at least one ability of a given variety.

I think that any sort of large scale normalization that negates Blizzard’s (now long-standing) trend of slowly releasing unique abilities for individual races of pets… would be a mistake.

The core of the argument seems to be thus:

  1. Some pets are useless.
  2. Because of this, people tend to gravitate toward 2 or 3 distinct sets of pets – even though there are some 20+ varieties available.

You don’t see warlocks rioting in the streets because they have never had even the illusion of choice in their pets. Warlocks get a handful of pets, each of which is completely identical to any other comparably leveled and specced warlock’s version of the pet. They have a few novelty pets that come out for parties… but they generally stick to 2 or 3 different pets for 99% of all situations.

Hunters at least have a choice. They can use monkeys and flamingos and crabs if they want to. Not that there is any compelling reason to do so, other than the fact that staring at an endless array of cats, bears, pigs, and birds over the course of one’s entire hunter career gets a bit boring.

This is apparently a bad thing.

I think the only bad thing here is that Blizzard is wasting effort releasing pets that almost nobody uses. Why bother making spore bats tamable in the first place? No hunter big enough to tame one is going to waste his limited pet slots on… well, a complete waste of a slot. Not when there are pets out there that can hold aggro and eat conveniently available food and maybe do some damage while they’re at it…

The proposals I’ve seen from other hunters:

  1. Do away with useless pets forever.
  2. Make all pets the same.
  3. Make all pets mostly the same.
  4. Take the time to balance each pet type and encourage people to use them.

Nobody’ll bite the first option. They’re in game, it doesn’t do any real harm to leave them in.

Two and three are really the same thing. Turn pets into pretty skins around an otherwise identical blob of function. We’re already frighteningly close to this. Different attack speeds were done away with. Different travel speeds were done away with. Large pools of shared trainable abilities were added to allow hunters to respec around a pet’s natural deficiencies.

And nobody thinks that option 4 will fly either – nobody seems to think that Blizzard cares enough to dedicate the resources. And while I’m loathe to agree… I’d like to think that a compromise will be made. Blizzard clearly wants us to use different pets, they just don’t want to make them very interesting.

I’d like to suggest my own wacky solution.

burn down the stables

Stables are a pain, and they’re an unnecessary restriction on the class. Who else has to run back to an inn (or even more inconvenient location in some towns) to change their equipment? I mean, if a feral druid knows they might need to switch into a healing role for part of an instance run, they can always just carry a change of clothes.

This restriction becomes even more arbitrary feeling in the face of Death Knights possibly being able to perform little ‘mini-respecs’ in the field. Warlocks can cycle through pets during combat – they can even spec to improve this process, why does a hunter have to run all the way to the back corner of Orgrimmar to trade their bear in for an owl?

But even worse than the arbitrariness of the stable system is the simple fact that it’s had a glaring bug since beta that nobody’s bothered fixing. Non-hunters can buy stable slots. They can’t use them for anything. So unlike a mage portal trainer who refuses to talk to non-mages, the stable master is more than happy to talk to and steal money from non-hunters.

And the stables don’t even always work. I’ve had pets get stuck in the stable and require GM assistance to extricate. And then there’s the elusive virtual pet slot that sometimes exists and sometimes doesn’t, depending on how you juggle things…

The system was clearly a rushed job that hasn’t had an ounce of polish in over three years. I say get rid of it, and replace it with something that works.

so now what?

Well, now we let hunters switch pets in the field. Just like mini-pets take up a player’s inventory, I’m willing to sacrifice some inventory room for the ability to take 3 or 4 pets adventuring with me.

This could be justified by giving the hunters a number of ‘whistles’ that are associated with new pets as they’re captured. If they abandon a pet, the whistle becomes disassociated.

Allow hunters to capture pets even when they don’t have a free whistle slot (similar to a warlock’s enslave). Pets captured in this way do not gain loyalty and cannot be fed, so they’ll run away after a while. They do not persist through a logout, and they cannot be raised if they die. Since they have no training points and do -25% damage, they’re not useful as permanent pets – but they are useful to learn abilities and as a means of crowd control.

Well, that wasn’t terribly outdated after all. Most of the changes (beta changes, so not entirely guaranteed to go live, of course) that obsolete some of my opinions are:

  1. Mini-pets are going into your spellbook.
  2. The stable might have been increased in size by 2 slots.
  3. All pet races have a unique ability.
  4. Bite has been nerfed to act as simply another name for claw (a focus dump). Every race gets one or the other.
  5. Pets now magically learn new abilities as they level, thus eliminating the need to go out and tame a lvl 63 ravager to teach your level 64 boar rank 9 gore…
  6. Pets automatically level up to a minimum of 5 below their owner when tamed.
  7. Loyalty is quite probably going away, so that’s no longer a concern for the ‘enslaved’ pets I was pondering.
  8. Along with loyalty, the often confusing training point system is gone and has been replaced with a much nicer and more familiar talent system. Each pet family falls into one of 3 trees.

So what does this all mean? It means that Blizzard is normalizing pets in the best possible way. It means that there will finally be a real reason (other than aesthetics) to choose weird pet races. It means that I’m absolutely going to maintain a minimum of 3 pets now, and will have an easier time of doing it.

It also means that we have a slim chance that they will actually burn the stables down (by making pets into spells, just like mini-pets and mounts). I’m guessing that they’ll try to live with the broken stable system for a bit longer (as evidenced by their expanding it to 5 slots from 3), but I’m hoping that this is just a temporary mechanism that will be done away with when the expansion goes final (or in the patch immediately following).

I mean… they’re already getting rid of the pet trainers… and they’ve already written most of the systems we’d need for it… so why not get rid of the stables as well? Here’s to hoping.

Because encouraging us to keep more pets around without similarly increasing our access to said pets is just plain mean 😛

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