Not So Massively: Why ARPGs, not MMOs, are where pet classes truly shine

    
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I noticed something odd when I started playing Grim Dawn aways back: I went straight for the pet builds. This is interesting because this the exact opposite of how I tend to play traditional MMORPGs, where I tend to avoid pets.

I have played MMO pet classes and enjoyed them at times, but even then I do so despite the pets rather than because of them. One of my most-played World of Warcraft characters is a Warlock, but I’ve used Grimoire of Sacrifice as much as possible from the moment it was implemented. The pets are not what attracted me to the class.

But yet things are different in ARPGs. In those games, I not only tolerate pets; I actively enjoy them. I don’t exclusively play pet classes, but they are one of my preferred archetypes, and if I have the option to get more pets, I’ll usually take it. I even managed to turn my crusader in Diablo III into a makeshift pet class through my beloved “zoosader” build.

The more I think about it, the more I think ARPGs are the genre that does pet classes best.

My problems with pet classes in MMOs are many and varied. One of the simplest is that pets take up too much screen real estate. With an over the should camera, your pet is always going to be blocking a significant portion of your view, to say nothing of how they mess up screenshots. As an avid virtual photographer, I find that’s a big deal to me.

By contrast, the top-down view favored by most ARPGs makes pets much less an eyesore. All characters are smaller in such games, and since you’ve got a bird’s eye view, you don’t have to worry about seeing over your minion’s bulk. They can still mess with screenshots, but it’s hard to take good screenshots in ARPGs anyway, so they can’t make things much worse than they already are.

In MMOs, pets also seem to detract from your character’s power more so than they do in ARPGs. You’re balanced around the combined power of you and your pet, meaning your character often ends up feeling fairly weak, with the pet picking up the slack. In theory this must also be true in ARPGs, but such games make players so much more powerful than they are in traditional MMOs that the difference just isn’t felt.

Another factor — one of the biggest, in fact — is the number of pets. Now, it may seem strange to complain that MMO pet classes don’t give me enough pets, especially in light of my other complaints, but nonetheless it’s an issue.

For me, the appeal of a pet class is the ability command a whole posse of minions, with you at their head. But with a handful of notable exceptions — such as the Mastermind archetype in City of Heroes — most MMOs limit pet classes to just one pet at a time. Two if you’re lucky. That’s not a posse.

I think, in a way, this ties into the issue of character power. Game balance being what it is, five pets isn’t likely to make you more powerful than one pet, but it feels a lot more powerful. Seeing your minions sweep across the battlefield feels exciting in a way one wolf gnawing on the boss’s ankle doesn’t.

ARPGs pet classes are far more likely to deliver that kind of experience than those in conventional MMOs. In Diablo III, the Necromancer can at a single time have up to eight permanent pets and double digits’ worth of temporary pets, not counting your companion or any other minions summoned by your items, and a lot of people still complain that isn’t enough.

For me, I think the sweet spot is about eight or nine pets at a time. More than that and you start to run into screen clutter issues, even with the isometric camera. Less than that just feels underwhelming.

I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that Dungeon Siege was the first RPG I really enjoyed growing up. Pets in the traditional sense weren’t a big part of that game, but you could have up to eight NPC companions in your party. Or perhaps it’s because of my love for the RTS genre. Either way, I don’t want a pet; I want a small army.

The one final factor in why I think pet classes are so much better in ARPGs has to do with how combat differs between ARPGs and MMOs.

Pet AI is dumb. This is true in every game. Your pets are likely to stand in bad, run around biting whatever they can get their teeth into, and generally make fools of themselves.

In MMORPGs, this is a problem because combat in such games tends to be a carefully choreographed affair. You want to be maximizing your DPS on this add before it blows up the raid, or not hitting that CCed mob, or focusing down the boss on a burn phase. Pets attacking the wrong targets can be a huge problem in these situations, so you have to carefully micro-manage them, usually using an incredibly awkward UI.

ARPGs, by contrast, generally give you little or no control over what your pets do because you don’t need that control. Combat in ARPGs is anarchic by nature. There’s enemies everywhere, and you just have to do your best to mow them all down as quickly as you can. Doesn’t matter that your pets aren’t coordinated; as long as they’re hitting or being hit by something, they’re doing their job.

In MMOs, pets feel like a chore to be managed. In ARPGs, they don’t have the same downside. They’re a helpful boon to have.

All these factors come together to make playing a pet class a completely different experience based on the genre. In an MMO, most pet classes make me feel like a weak character forced to spend all my time baby-sitting an ally that’s more of a burden than an asset. In an ARPG, a pet class makes me feel like a powerful commander whose hordes sweep the battlefield clean of all who dare to oppose me.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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Robert Mann

The technical network and AI limitations are highly valid. MMO and ARPG combat standards are at least somewhat valid… although both generally give you too much power for my taste (in non-boss fights, and often too little in boss fights).

Multi-pets (or leading a group) is a whole different experience than just running around solo (or even with one additional character) and there are even sub-genres across gaming based on that difference.

I am of the opinion that there’s a lot of potential with MMOs if they didn’t have to focus on the balance of player and pet so much, although the technical aspects would need addressed (and honestly the last time an MMO performed decently with U.S. internet it used 8 year old graphics with new netcode standards…)

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Anton Mochalin

The main reason was not mentioned, and it’s technical: it’s really hard to have well-performing network and AI code when there’s “massive” amount of players with pets in one place.

Also, many MMORPGs have a stupid practice of trying to push players to team play by artificially making them rely on each other’s abilities (classes designed to form “holy trinity” together and all that shit). Pets tend to make classes more self-sufficient and that’s contrary to that stupid belief that players don’t know how to have fun and should be manipulated into forming groups to keep oxitocin levels high.

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YD Wes

D3 Zuni set with correct gear and skills gives about 20+ pets on screen at once LOL

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tyler Donaghy

In Diablo 2 as a necromancer you can have over 30 pets so from diablo 2 to diablo 3 8 pets isnt much

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Schmidt.Capela

Funny, Bethesda single-player RPGs have all the same issues with camera and clunky controls, and despite that one of the most popular mod categories are the NPC frameworks that allow you to add to your party every single follower in the whole game at once (and often also a number of other non-follower NPCs to boot). I guess a lot of people love feeling in control of an army even when it completely breaks the game.

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Richard de Leon III

I wish MMOs had more multi-pet classes. Balance be damned, I’d rather have fun.

kjempff
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kjempff

I think (guess-work in progress..) there is also a technical reason why we don’t see multi-pet classes in mmos. It is demanding on the mmo server side to have many entities to control, and even though arpg theoretically should have the same problem, they are usually much less advanced and so require less resources (server side) to manage. I bet PoE devs will disagree on the less advanced part .. but nothing in PoE is less advanced so /shrug :D
On top of that a mmo has to be strict with balancing and preventing players taking advantage of the system.. and with more entities, that gets harder to control.

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Anton Mochalin

PoE has much less players in one place – in the vast majority of cases it’s played as a singleplayer game.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

“My problems with pet classes in MMOs are many and varied. One of the simplest is that pets take up too much screen real estate. With an over the should camera, your pet is always going to be blocking a significant portion of your view”

Seriously dude – ZOOM OUT!

Most MMORPGs let you put the camera where you want it. If your pet is taking up that much of the screen, you are zoomed in way too far. Just pull the view back.

Pull it back up in the air a bit even if you like that ARPG view. While I don’t know about WoW, most of the MMORPGs I play let you pull it up in the air and have an ARPG type of view if you prefer that.

Although where you have your view is usually player preference, it’s often MMORPG newbies that leave it at a view that is zoomed in too much. Experience tells most people to pull the camera back a bit.

For your pet to take up as much of the screen as you’re making out you must be zoomed in fairly hardcore.

To complain about something that is completely adjustable would make me question someone’s MMORPG experience. Do you really just settle for the default view in the games you play?

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Paragon Lost

Wanted to post this but you got here first. :) Also, he isn’t happy with how much screen space that they take up but he wants “more” pets? “Eight or nine” being his sweet spot, made me do a “err wha…? Tied into having just read how he wasn’t happy with the screen space that a pet takes up.

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Robert Mann

And when taking a screenshot you do know you can park your pet and not have them in it (to continue the nitpick of that part).

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Bruno Brito

There are several pet classes done right in MMOs. They’re not “wrong”, exactly, but they tend to have more hiccups and bad mechanics/builds.

I don’t play ARPGs, so i can’t compare.

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Minimalistway

I wish MMO work on pet AI, in ARPGs there isn’t much to think about, smash everything, in MMO you need to carefully control your pet so it does not aggro the wrong mob or the boss, Blizzard simplified some of the pet control by making them immune to AOE attacks for example, but from few MMOs i tried, developers need to work on improving pet AI and control.

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Castagere Shaikura

I played the pet class in Grim Dawn but deleted him because it was so boring. Your character pretty much just stands back and watch. The boss fights in Grim with a pet class is a joke. Your pets just kill everything in sight. Back in the day, I did love my Wow Hunter though. But right now the most fun pet class I’m playing is the engineer in believe it or not Hellgate London on steam.

Covynant001
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Covynant001

Totally can relate, when my necromancer in POE enters a boss encounter and I am threatened with imminent destruction, my response is “say hello to my skeleton army” (37 or so) and turn the horde loose.

Then on top of it send in my 6 uber zombies, 12 summoned skeletons and 3 spectres on top of the rest and its utter mayhem.

Great fun every time, but you are correct, gets very busy on my screen for sure.

Do love it when my necro chimes in at the end of the fight, “everything must die.”