I have often seen people ask “Will there be a pet class?” before an MMO released and it appears that this is the deciding factor in whether they’re interested in the game. I personally am torn when it comes to these classes: I actually enjoy playing a pet class sometimes, but not as my main class. It’s mainly because the pet AI (and most of all, the pathing of pets) annoys me too much. “Get back here! Stay here! No, don’t go that way! Don’t pull more mobs!” – At some point, the convenience of having your own tank with you all of the time is outweighed by the amount of additional mobs it keeps aggroing. But once in a while, it’s fun and it can feel a little bit less lonely when you’re travelling through the big open MMO world of lower level zones when everybody else is doing endgame content. :p
Other than the convenience of having that companion tank, a big selling point for me is having choices: I want to be able to choose between several pets (and be able to give them a name)! Some games give you the choice, but it’s not based on what kind of pet you want, e. g., a bear or a cat, but which role it should fill, e.g., damage or tank.
Lord of the Rings Online, for example, has two pet classes. The captain has a passive herald following them around which is basically just there to carry a battle standard. You choose which kind of standard you want and that’s the herald that follows you. But since this is actually a human, I am not too comfortable calling this a “pet class”. It’s a passive companion, after all. The other class is the lore-master and they have real pets that are fighting with you. It is quite limited, though: Seven different pets and you choose them based on what skill you want. Still, seven isn’t too bad a number. But compared to games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, it’s not too attractive for me. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 both give me a lot of different pets to choose from – and in both games, you also need to go out into the world and tame the pets you want. For me, this gives me a different kind of “bond” that I have with the pets.
Originally, the pet in World of Warcraft levelled with you and grew. Yes, it literally grew. I still remember my white raptor (it’s beige, I know, but I had a crappy laptop at the time and it appeared white, so I’m sticking with that…) that I tamed with my troll hunter. It was so little in the beginning, but the more I advanced in levels, the taller it got. It kind of made me bond with that pet even more. I know, I know… pixels. It’s not real. But my troll hunter isn’t real either. Blizzard changed it in the meantime that you do not have to level your pet anymore and it’s always the same level than your character. If I’m not mistaken, the pet doesn’t get taller anymore now, but is immediately at its maximum size, no matter which level your hunter has.
In both World of Warcraft and in Guild Wars 2, I need to go and tame pets and can then choose which one I want to use. There are some differences in where the strengths and weaknesses lie and both games work with “pet families” (or World of Warcraft used to, at least). Some kinds of pets, e.g., felines, are used when you need a pet that deals more damage or you gain access to certain skills that only this pet or pet family has. Usually bears are the tanky kind. But I can still choose which colour bear I want or if I maybe want another tank pet like a turtle, a boar and so on. The amount of pets you can potentially get in World of Warcraft is amazing. I haven’t played that game in quite some time (apart from the occasional free seven days of play time Blizzard gives you), but this page lists all the pet families that are available. This isn’t even the list of pets themselves! Additionally, you can choose whether your pet should have a damage or a tank-focused specialization and you can switch between them whenever you want. So the little mechanical rabbit that my gnome got as a starter pet can function as a tank!
Guild Wars 2 had a few flaws in the beginning. You could name your two active pets, but as soon as you put them away to have another pet in your active slot, they forgot their name. So when you chose the pet again, it was nameless. This is basically just a small inconvenience, as you could just rename it, but it took away the aspect of “bonding” which I think is a very important factor with pet classes. They have since fixed this, though, so it’s not an issue anymore. The variety of pets you can choose from is adequate, I would say, but different pets have different skills that are more or less desirable when playing in groups and so you are somewhat limited in your options again. But at least, you have options!
Here’s where Rift shows a huge weakness in my opinion: My rogue gets a boar as tank pet. At a certain skill level, I get a bigger boar with more armor as my tank pet. But that’s basically it. There is no taming process and there is hardly any choice. One difference compared to the other MMOs mentioned here is that in Rift, almost every calling (warrior, cleric, mage, rogue, but not the primalist) gets a pet class that you can play if you like. So in that regard, you can at least choose which kind of pet class you want to play.
At some point, Trion introduced pet skins. So I can now buy (for real money) a different skin for some of the pets. Some skins just give me a different colour for the pet’s armor, though. There is also the hellbug bundle which lets me choose a hellbug skin for almost every pet available. Unfortunately, the newest pet addition to the warrior, which is the pet that you need to play with if you choose this build, doesn’t have any skins to choose from. I actually like the way the bird looks and would like to play with it, but its wings keep making a very loud and very annoying “flap flap flap” sound that you cannot get rid of. This bothers me so much that I cannot play that build.
At least, I can name my pet. That’s some level of individualization. But I really wish I had more choices. A bear as a tank for my rogue would be nice. I love those fluffy furballs! Even if it meant getting it for real money. The choices we have in Rift at the moment are scarce (and tied to money). While it’s not a complete dealbreaker for me (unless the sounds it makes are too loud, like the warrior’s pet) and I will still play the class even if I can’t choose a different pet to tank for me, I would still much prefer if Trion gave us the choices that other MMOs give their players. In the end, playing my beastmaster in Rift is a lot less fun than playing WoW’s hunter and Guild Wars 2’s ranger.