When I was in San Francisco weekend before last, I had some time to watch my friend play his warlock. I was surprised at the bond he had developed with his voidwalker. It wasn’t a deep emotional bond — this is a manly hard-core gamer, after all — but he spoke to it often, encouraging it in fights and chiding it when it (he) did something stupid. He also told me that he really wishes he could name it, like we do with hunter pets. The game may imply that he is summoning a new demon each time he gets the previous one killed, but to him it’s a continuous personality.
But this got me to thinking. I had assumed this connection with the pet was a hunter thing, somehow tied into our fuzzy kitties and happy puppies (and beautiful wind serpents and friendly boars and …). I’ve tried other pet classes — I have a lore-master in LOTRO, a mastermind in CoV, a conjurer and a necromancer in EverQuest II, a … well, a necromancer pretty much everywhere there is one. And I’ve tried to start a warlock in WoW several times. But none of them gave me the feel of a hunter. None of them felt right.
I had assumed it was because you can’t really bond with a demon or a zombie — but here is my friend bonding just fine with a voidwalker. (Did I mention he talked to it just like he talks to his cat?) So then I thought that perhaps it was because I am an animal person (as opposed to a zombie or demon person) and so I just bonded better with an animal companion. But then I should get the same feel from my conjurer or lore-master, right? And I don’t.
So after some thought I think I have identified the differences — two reasons why I adore my hunters and merely like my conjurer and lore-master. The first reason is the underlying playstyle, which I will come back to in a later post. The second reason is the element of choice — a hunter selects their pet from a vast array of choices. A lore-master starts with a raven and later gets a bear. (I don’t know what comes after that.) A conjurer starts with a green beetle. You can, spending some money, upgrade to a blue beetle, but if you do you can’t ever go back to your green beetle. And soon enough you are on to a centipede, then other odd little bugs and things.
But a hunter can choose a companion –for life or just for now — and can choose not only the color but also the type of creature that best suits their personality or their character’s personality. I mentioned some time back that I have a Grand Master Plan to level 20 hunters, between them covering all of the pet families. But did I also mention that each of these hunters has a personality suited to the family they will cover? (I play on an RP server, and although I don’t do much heavy RP, each of my characters has their own personality and stays more or less in character while I play.) I can do that because I can choose a laughing hyena or a dour scorpid or a grumpy bear or what have you. My poor little lore-master, on the other hand, has a raven. Period. I can name the raven, but it’s still a raven just like everyone else’s raven.
So my friend has a bond with his voidwalker, but I am pickier. I don’t just want a voidwalker like everyone else has — I want a Twilight Runner named Cloud that I chose with great deliberation at level 23 and have kept by my side ever since. The bond — the play experience — is probably very much the same as far as these two pets are concerned. But by supporting both, WoW has captured my imagine in a way that other pet classes — and other games — have not.