Well what isn’t, right? This post was inspired by Bel’s post “A Tank is…” My “thing” is pet classes, so naturally that’s what my “<x> is” post is going to be about.
We pet class nuts tend to be very loyal to the archetype. Here’s a list of many of my main characters throughout the last 16 years of MMO playing: UO Tamer; AO Meta-Physicist and Engineer; EQ1 Necromancer, Magician, and Beastlord; SWG Creature Handler; EQ2 Necro and Conjuror; LOTRO Lore-master; WoW Hunter and Warlock; AoC Necromancer; WAR Squig Herder; the list goes on. See where I’m going? All pet classes!
I’ll talk about the history of pet classes in MMOs, issues that have been raised surrounding them, and things that pet class devotees look for in a game.
In The Beginning…
… there was Ultima Online. UO was the first commercially noticed MMO, and so that’s where I begin my pet class history lesson.
UO isn’t a class-based game – your character advances by increasing skills up to a certain limit. One skill in UO is “Animal Taming.” This skill allows you to tame and thus control certain creatures in the world – from lowly chickens all the way to powerful dragons. As you adventure with your pet, it gains skills just like you do. In the past, if your pet died during your adventures, it was lost forever. Now, however, powerful Tamers can resurrect fallen pets.
This sort of set an early standard for pet classes for me – the ability to choose your pet, by taming it yourself. This standard, unfortunately didn’t get carried on, except for in one game.
That game was Star Wars Galaxies. Before the “NGE” (aka game ruining fiasco), there was a class called “Creature Handler.” This was very close to a UO Tamer – but better. Creatures in the world had extremely varying stats, and the best CH’s had very powerful pets. Additionally, another class called Bio-Engineer could custom-make pets using DNA obtained in the world. A really accomplished CH had many powerful custom Bio-Engineered pets. It was awesome!
Since then, options for pet customization have been limited. In most games, your pet type is determined by your class. Necromancers summon and control undead things, Hunters control animals and so on.
We’ve Got Issues
Of course, many issues have been raised surrounding pet classes. Most of them boil down to the belief that pet classes are overpowered. This is because a pet class character has two “objects” in the world doing damage at once – the character itself, and the pet(s).
There have been many ways employed to ensure this overpowered state isn’t true. Most of them center around the idea of either making the pet the main damage source, or making the character the main damage source. WoW for example essentially made you choose between having powerful pets or being powerful yourself.
One way EQ1 ensured pet class balance was that pets were not as useful in large group content (raids). This wasn’t intentional of course, but it did work. Pet pathing was flaky at best, so having a pet during a raid could easily cause wipes if you weren’t extremely vigilant. And pets “pushed” mobs too, sometimes causing them to get out of a good position.
Other balancing methods include making pets very weak in terms of hit points, or making pets only exist for a short period of time, requiring constant re-summoning.
What do we want?
I’ve been a part of quite a few pet class specific communities over the years, and that combined with my own pet class fervor has made me aware of the basic things pet class people want out of a game.
In general, we are damage players (DPS). We use our pets and our spells or weapons to help kill monsters. EQ1 has a single pet class that can fulfill either the DPS or the Tank role (in some content) – that class is the Beastlord (and it’s awesome when played with skill). But in general, pet class people want to fill the DPS role.
We want to be useful. If we can’t function well without our pets, make sure that group content is pet-friendly. This is a basic need; if we can’t use the most fundamental part of our class in all content, sadness ensues.
We want to be able to choose pets, either via class choice, or via a “taming” mechanism. Sure, a Necromancer is always going to have undead things as pets. A “Hunter” type is going to have tamed animals as pets. That’s cool. But make sure there’s a choice! Some people hate the idea of a Necromancer, and would always choose instead to have Elementals as pets, or animals, or similar. Some people mainly only like Necromancer types. The absolute best-case is having “set” pet classes like Necromancer, Magician, etc, and having a “Tamer” type for those that want to choose their pets.
My wife and I had a discussion once about my pet class fervor and her rogue-type fervor. We decided it boils down to a personality thing. Would you always prefer to “do things yourself?” You’re probably not a pet class type. If you’d usually rather hire someone to do something, or have a servant do it… you’d probably like pet classes. (But sometimes we like to do it ourselves too, so the character does need some power of its own.)