Pet classes! They’re a very important part of MMORPGs, the opportunity to not just go into combat alone but to march in alongside a companion who can help you fight through hordes of foes. While not completely unique to MMORPGs, they’re definitely one of the more distinct genre touchstones, and it’s important for us all to know the history of these important parts of our shared genre.
This piece was originally written for a mainstream gaming site (you can guess which one) and brought up to that site’s standards for fact-checking and editing, but it was ultimately edged out in favor of another piece. There are a wide variety of bad feelings on my part, which is why I decided to just adapt the entire piece for use here as a Perfect Ten. Of course, all of these facts are unassailable and absolutely true, and there’s no need whatsoever to go check any of this with Google or further research or even your own memory. You can trust me.
1. Ultima Online: Before pets
The first online game ever in the history of computers and the product of work solely by Richard Garriott, who goes by “Lord British” even though he’s American, was Ultima Online. (It was going to be Ultimate Online but game retailers used to charge publishers per letter in the title.) There were no pets in this game, so no one could play a pet class.
This meant that if you wanted to summon a pet instead of actually participating in combat, you would have to tell your friends, “prithee, wait, for I must first summon my pette, forsooth.” Your friends would all be like “what” and then you would get killed by a guy whose name was an ethnic slur and would subsequently take all your stuff. We all figured it was groundbreaking because we were complete idiots 23 years ago.
2. EverQuest: The Enchanter
The second MMO ever, EverQuest, introduced the Enchanter, the first ever pet class. It was present at launch for two months, then it was taken out and added to the game’s first expansion, EverQuest: Fine, Play An Enchanter, You Loser. Since this was a time when five EverQuest expansions would release per year, no one really minded.
The Enchanter introduced the idea of having a pet who could fight for you, join parties for you, and even file taxes for you. They were fantasy taxes, but you had to pay them with real money, except you could then send your pet away to actually do jobs in the real world. I logged in to play this briefly but got bored before killing anything; when I logged in on my Enchanter again 18 years later, my pet informed me that he had grown up and was taking a boat far away, the family business would die with me. As he sailed away, the game played a chiptune rendition of “Fathers and Sons” by Cat Stevens. It was very moving.
3. Final Fantasy XI: Beastmaster, the Worst Class (until the next one)
When EverQuest released, a Japanese man named Hiromichi Tanaka was brought into existence, already 35 years old, and he barged into the Square-Enix offices and suggested that they do EverQuest but more everything (except not ugly). So Final Fantasy XI was a game in which you needed a party to do anything. Missions? You need a party. Leveling? You need a party. Walking to the auction house? You need a party. Logging off? The log off parties were legendary.
Beastmaster was designed as a way in which you could break that requirement to level a class solo, which you did by taming a pet, having the pet actually fight things, then dismissing it at the last second and hitting the enemy once to kill it. This was indescribably boring and stupid, but it was all worth it when you reached max level solo and realized that you still couldn’t do anything else without a party and so it was also pointless. I think they deleted the class later.
4. City of Heroes: The Controller, the Worst Class
As the fourth MMO ever, City of Heroes knew that it needed to live up to the legacy of pet classes. Then it so badly screwed it up that everyone still cries when thinking about it. Controllers were the game’s “pet” class, except they really weren’t, and you had to first reach a high level and prove your worth in a battle of wills with the developer to even get your pets.
Once you did have a pet, it did all of the actual work of killing things, taking hits, and so forth, while you stood back and waved your fingers and insisted that making the enemy 5% less likely to critically hit was significant. In summary, Controllers are a literal crime and everyone hated them. If you play one, you are sent to actual prison. There was no hope left for pet classes.
5. World of Warcraft: Hunters make everything better
Fortunately, World of Warcraft emerged as the new first MMORPG ever to fix everything with Hunters, which allowed you to have a pet who tanked for you and let you just stand back and make “pew pew” noises while rolling Need on every item you saw. But then it got even better because Hunters also could specialize. You could choose to be a Beast Mastery Hunter, which meant that your pet got stronger while you remained the chump tagging along after the pet, or you could choose two other options no one ever picked because then you’d have to play the game or something.
In order to facilitate pretending that your character was relevant, WoW added a variety of elements to pet management, like feeding your pet, managing its loyalty, healing your pet, and sending you a sternly worded letter if you start calling your pet “Mommy.” This did not work. To this day, WoW is covered in Night Elf Hunters who figure that dungeons are pet work but will still roll need on melee weapons.
6. City of Heroes: Masterminds
Suddenly, out of nowhere, City of Heroes released an expansion. This was very surprising to everyone, especially the programmers theoretically working on the expansion who later confessed they all thought they were working on a new Leisure Suit Larry game for some damn reason. City of Villains brought with it the Mastermind, which figured that if the problem was not letting the pets do enough, you could just have all the pets.
Masterminds summon roughly seven thousand pets with various functions you control in a manner not unlike a real-time strategy game while you occasionally shoot things or heal your pets. If you get a party of all Masterminds together, your computer will melt. It’s the best thing ever, and I think my Mastermind is still gaining experience even with the servers having been shut down. Good work, gang!
7. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Pets but sexy
In a groundbreaking move, Star Wars: The Old Republic introduced a new pillar of MMO gameplay in the form of making everyone a pet class, except now your pets weren’t animals or summoned creatures but people. That means now you can have sex with your pets without being a hideous monster! And everyone did.
SWTOR companions from the initial campaigns come in one of five flavors. You have The Serious One, The Silly One, the Nonhuman Mascot, the Horrible Tool Who Gets Very Pissy If You Aren’t A Giant Asshole All The Time, and the Who Cares I Already Have My Healer. Of course, later expansions would buff this to about twelve million companions, but you always just bring along either the one you want to get naked with or the robot who murders people.
8. Final Fantasy XIV: No, Summoner is ruining everything!
Final Fantasy XIV clearly doesn’t get it because its latest expansion wants you to, like, hit the pet abilities and doesn’t let your pets tank and forces you to be responsible for timing those abilities. It’s like having to play the game and not just letting the pet take care of it! In summary, I hate it and it’s bad and I can’t wait until we go back to the good old days of letting me keep Titan-Egi summoned while I ignore the tank asking me to please, please summon an actual damage-dealing pet.
9. Riders of Icarus
Fortunately, Riders of Icarus fixes everything again by letting you have your first companion be a squirrel-kangaroo that glows and whom you can ride around. That’s your tutorial pet. It is a darling and it is the best.
This is why ROI is a massive international smash hit and FFXIV is not.
10. My actual pets
I have two kitties and I love them very much.