Pet classes in RPGs tend to provoke strong reactions. Most people either love pet classes and play them at every opportunity, or hate pet classes and avoid them like the plague.
For example, you’ve probably heard me complain bitterly about pet classes in World of Warcraft. Yes, one of my most played characters is a warlock, but I started her as a leveling challenge to see if I could play a lock without pets, and once Grimoire of Sacrifice became a thing, I’ve used it as much as possible. The pets have always been my least favourite part of being a warlock.
Similarly, pets are one of the bigger reasons I haven’t spent much time playing a hunter, and it’s not entirely a coincidence I started losing interest in my mage around the time they made frost a pet spec.
On the other hand, when it comes to single-player games, I tend to embrace pet classes with open arms. When the Van Helsing games revamped their classes, I went straight for the Constructor and terrorized Borgovia with my army of dismemberbots.
I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the gameplay of Diablo II, but one of them is definitely having a posse of skeletons following my necromancer around. In D3, I never quite managed to click with the witch doctor, but I have done my level best to rekajigger my crusader into a pet class (a “zoosader”). At a maximum, he can be accompanied by three swordsmen, four archers, Kormac, and a demon minion summoned by his sword.
And let us not forget my zombie goons in Lichdom: Battlemage.
Then there’s party-based RPGs to consider. We generally seem to separate companion characters from pets, but practically speaking, they’re pretty similar. AI minions who assist you in combat. And I definitely enjoy party-based RPGs — I prefer them to games where you only control a single character. In fact, my most common complaint about them is that the parties aren’t nearly big enough. Dungeon Siege spoiled me with its nine party slots.
So what accounts for this split?
Honestly I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think it’s necessarily one factor as much as a combination of them.
Broadly, it seems to be a difference between single-player games and MMOs.
For one thing, MMOs never really seem to take pets into account when balancing the difficulty in the open world, so while pet classes are at no particular advantage at endgame, they’re brokenly OP when soloing, and since most MMOs tend to make their solo content rather insultingly easy to begin with, it just makes the whole experience a snorefest.
On a related note, most tab target MMOs have incredibly stilted combat with little meaningful interaction between the player and their opponent. You kind of just ignore whatever the enemy is doing and mindlessly drill through your rotation. Having a pet tank hits for you exasperates the issue.
Meanwhile, a lot of the single-player RPGs I favour use an isometric camera, which makes pets far less of an encumbrance.
Perhaps due to less concerns about lag, single-player games also tend to allow you to control much larger numbers of pets, and I definitely prefer a swarm of minions to just one.
It could also have to do with the rigid threat mechanics that tend to exist in a lot of MMOs, but not in single-player games. Most MMO pets have taunt abilities that ensure enemies will focus on them almost 100% of the time. This, again, robs you of any meaningful interaction with your opponent.
In single-player games, pets usually don’t have taunts or threat modifiers. At best they’re a physical barrier between you and the enemy. Even in Dragon Age, where the warrior in your party will likely have taunts, it’s rare for them to hold aggro on every enemy. This means that you still have to look to your own defenses and survival at least a little.
Another divide is that MMO pets tend to require a lot of micro-management, at least in group content, whereas single-player pets and companions are almost always fire and forget. I definitely do not want to have to spend a lot of time baby-sitting my pets — that defeats the purpose as far as I’m concerned.
All that said, I can still find exceptions that muddy the issue even further. I quite like the companion characters in SW:TOR, for instance, and they’re essentially pets. In that case I suspect it’s a combination of the fact they’re meaningful characters within the story and the fact I already dislike the combat in that game, so how much worse can the companions make it?
In ESO, also, I’ve leaned heavily on my Clannfear pet, perhaps because unlike most MMO pets it doesn’t require much management. Then again it’s also worth noting that I have been moving away from using it recently — it doesn’t fit my character’s RP very well, and it bugs out a lot.
It’s definitely a very muddled alchemy that determines whether or not I will appreciate pets. The one thing you can be certain of is that I will always have strong opinions on pet classes one way or another.