On Pet Classes

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.

Fighting the undead in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIII’m a strange case in that both of those are true of me. Depending on the game, I either love or hate pet classes.

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.

My zombie posse in Lichdom: Battlemage“…Zombie goons?”

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.

My party in Dragon Age: InquisitionMMOs also usually use an over-the-shoulder camera, which causes pets to take up an obnoxious amount of screen real estate. They mess up screenshots and cause all sorts of problems.

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.

My Imperial agent and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionAll 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.

Review: Lichdom: Battlemage

I like playing caster classes in video games. Why muck about with ordinary weapons when you can rain arcane fury on your foes?

Combat in Lichdom: BattlemageBut often mage classes do feel a bit hobbled. You’re mana-starved or baby-sitting cooldowns or an immobile turret or some other nonsense. I hate that.

So when I heard of Lichdom: Battlemage, a game which promises total freedom and unlimited power as a mage, I was immediately intrigued, and I opted to pick it up during a Steam sale.

Mechanically, Lichdom: Battlemage is essentially a first person shooter with some RPG elements. True to the advertisements, your spells in Lichdom are not limited by mana or cooldowns. You can spam them to your heart’s content. You’re also free to cast while moving, and you pretty much have to because enemies hit hard, and combat is very intense and frenetic.

The RPG elements come in the form of leveling your sigils, as well as loot drops. Instead of traditional gear, enemies drop spell components that you can craft into new and more powerful spells.

Unfortunately, it does suffer from the common issue of having copious amounts of loot… most of which is utter crap. Inventory management becomes a major time-sink.

The ruins of Old Drivasser in Lichdom: BattlemageI also would have preferred if they’d just done away with vertical progression altogether and made spell crafting purely a way to customize your abilities, rather than something you have to do regularly to keep your spells up to snuff.

The spell system is a little odd. It’s very deep, to the point of being overwhelming at times, and there’s an enormous of options… but yet it still felt fairly limiting to me. Most of the spell elements and shapes struck me as too odd and niche to be worth using most of the time, though I’ll grant this may be a failure of creativity on my part.

What I eventually settled on was a fire/necromancy/corruption build that involved blanketing enemies with debuffs and then killing them with fireballs, triggering a chain reaction as each dead enemy spawned a new zombie minion and a horde of aggressive insects that would then seek and attack enemy targets.

I did love the necromancy in particular.

“Who is it?”



My zombie posse in Lichdom: Battlemage“Zombie goons.”

“…Zombie goons?”

Ahem, anyway.

The combat in Lichdom is fast, intense, and satisfying. However, it suffers from being extremely repetitive.

There is very little variety in enemy types in this game. You’ll have seen almost all of them within the first hour or two. Thus, after a while, the constant battles all start to feel the same, and I found my enjoyment of Lichdom petered off as the game progressed. First five hours? Awesome, loving very minute. Next ten hours? Luster’s worn off, but still pretty fun. Final five hours? I just want this to be over.

Another serious flaw is that Lichdom uses a checkpoint-based save system — something I’m not fond of at the best of times — and checkpoints tend to be pretty far apart, which makes death a very punishing experience and makes the repetitive nature of encounters even more painful.

A cutscene in Lichdom: BattlemageThe story is… odd.

It’s almost like a fantasy version of a Stephen Seagal movie, or maybe the weirdest Taken sequel yet.

The story begins with your sister (or wife, if you play a male character) being abducted by a death cult, so of course you go off to rescue her, but then that sort of gets forgotten after a while and you end up just pursuing the cult on a mad quest for revenge. It’s a bit disjointed, and there are a lot of things that are just left hanging.

The dialogue is less than stellar. At first I wondered if they were being intentionally cheesy, but in the end I came to the conclusion that we’re actually meant to take this game seriously, which is disquieting.

Also, I have no idea where the “Lichdom” part of the title comes from. There’s lots of undead in the story, but the concept of liches never comes up.

A mountain night in Lichdom: BattlemageOn the plus side, the backstory for the world — while not entirely fleshed out — was pretty interesting, and I was always eager to learn more about the history of the setting.

Something else that saves what would otherwise be a very underwhelming story is that Lichdom features a surprisingly stellar cast that almost reads like a who’s who of awesome voice talent: Jennifer Hale, Troy Baker, Clancy Brown, David Lodge, Jaime Murray…

Visuals are also an area where Lichdom hits it out of the park. It’s not just that the graphics are fantastic, although they are. I’ve played games that had excellent graphics but squandered them on mostly generic environments.

Lichdom’s environments are often more unusual and exude a great deal of personality. This further enhances the strong world-building I mentioned above.

My personal favourite location was a giant, frozen whirpool filled with ruined ships. It’s not something any amount of screenshots can do justice to — it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in a video game.

The land of Zasad in Lichdom: BattlemageOn the whole, Lichdom: Battlemage is a bit of a wonky, mixed-bag of a game. It has a lot of good ideas, but the execution is often lacking.

Overall rating: 7/10