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How Blizzard could bring back Hunter pet loyalty

Hunter pets back in vanilla were convoluted by today’s standards. You couldnt’ simply tame a pet and use it. You had to worry about several things:

Pets did not level up to your level. If you were level 60 and tamed a level 10 pet, you would have to manually level them up. Very slowly, since they weren’t able to do any tanking for you when they’d get killed in a few hits.
Pets had 6 loyalty levels, which also had to be leveled up. The more loyal they were, the easier it was to keep them happy.
Pet Happiness had to be kept up by feeding your pet regularly, if you didn’t keep your pet happy they would do less damage. If they stayed unhappy for too long, they would permanently abandon you.
In today’s WoW this simply wouldn’t fly, but there was something good buried under all that. Hunters tended to pick a single pet and stick with it (helped that we could only have 2 other pets in the stable at the time). Rak’shiri was my main pet through a good part of vanilla. Your pet was your best buddy because you worked so hard to get them there. Not like today where it’s almost become a collection mini-game.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy collecting pets, but I still think something was lost from the spirit of the class. Pets feel more disposable than ever.

It got me wondering if there was a way to bring back the idea of a hunter bonding with their pet, without all of the baggage that made it not fun.

Why Pet Loyalty?

Let me be clear: I do not want the old system back as it was. Leveling up your pet to make them usable, or having to keep stacks of vendor food in your bags and worry about their Happiness buff dropping off in the middle of a boss fight would be awful.

Loyalty, on the other hand, could be done in such a way that it simply rewards you for using the same pet for an extended period of time. I’m not proposing that you need to grind out your pet’s loyalty in order for them to become usable. I think their base loyalty level should be exactly what they are today. There shouldn’t be a gameplay or power punishment for choosing to not participate. It should all be cosmetic.

Hunters want their pet to stand out from the crowd, and at this point the only real way to do that is to hunt for one of the few ultra rare pets (mostly from Northrend). Any time you see a hunter with one of those pets you know they care a great deal about their hunter. Why else would they camp for days or more just to have a special looking pet with no real combat advantages?

What if there were other ways to make them special? Why can’t you make your plain old brown bear pet, that you started with at level 1, just as special? Why does a bear have to be Arcturis to be special?

I think you should be able to look at someone’s pet and immediately know that it’s one of their favorites, and not just another copy.

Unlike other classes which have pets, hunters are the only class that — from a lore perspective — share a bond with their pets. They aren’t summoned demonic or elemental servants. We name them. Why not emphasize this fact a little more?

How could it work?

I’m not sure if it would need to be 6 levels again. I think 3-4 levels could be enough, but the perks I’m about to present could easily be spread out over any number of levels.

Pet loyalty could work like it did before: XP based, only with more options for gaining this XP. Whatever system the Barracks bodyguard leveling uses could probably be re-purposed.

For starters, each pet would need its own loyalty level. That’s the whole point! Identify your hunter with the pets you choose to make loyal.

Gaining Loyalty

Very small amounts of loyalty gained for simply having your pet at your side.
Loyalty gained from killing level-appropriate mobs.
Loyalty gained from killing level-appropriate players.
Greater loyalty gained from killing level-appropriate dungeon and raid bosses.
Loyalty does not decay and is never lost.
Rank 1: Submissive

The base Loyalty level that every pet starts with. Your pets would be exactly the same as they are today. There should be no downside if you choose not to participate.
Rank 2: Dependable

Time to level: A week of natural play, or about a day or grinding with the same pet.
Your pet now has a title: Annatar (just an example) instead of .
Your pet can be assigned a gender (simple drop down menu on the pet interface) to use for emotes.
Your pet will now use emotes. These would have to be visible only to the hunter in order to prevent clogging up raid chat and whatnot. Here are some examples:
“Annatar wags her tail.”
“Annatar wants to play.”
“Annatar wants to be scratched behind the ear!”
Your pet randomly kills a nearby critter, followed by “Annatar brought you a present!”
Your pet will respond to your emotes (like Dog from the Pandaria farm).
Pet Emotes can be disabled in chat window settings if you don’t want to see them, just as if you were to filter out any other channel (or as a toggle somewhere in the pet spellbook).
Rank 3: Faithful

Time to level (from rank 1): 2 weeks of natural play, or a couple of days of grinding with the same pet.
You can now choose what buff your pet brings, including any stat buff or blood lust/battle rez/damage reduction shield. It could use an interface identical to the Lone Wolf buff selection, but found inside your pet’s spellbook.
This would replace your pet’s existing family buff, so no extra buff advantage. Defaults to the pet’s original family buff.
Exotic pets would simply have a “buff 1” and “buff 2” selector to maintain their extra buff advantage, allowing you to choose a combination of any 2 buffs.
This only replaces your pet’s actual buff(s), any unique family abilities like Spirit Mend or Prowl would stay.
Rank 4: Best Friend

Time to level (from rank 1): About a month of natural play, or several days of grinding with the same pet.
Feat of Strength reward (no achievement points, unfair to other classes)
Your pet has a new title: Annatar (just as an example).
Your pet now has an option of displaying one of several cosmetic effects, using the same slide-out interface as the buffs. Some examples:
Fire or Frost footprints (Path of Flame)
Ghost form (Ai-Li’s Skymirror or Personal Hologram)
Smoke trails (Deceptia’s Smoldering Boots)
Desaturated (Kang’s Bindstone)
Any other visual effects that could be pulled from existing toys and re-purposed.
krusherpet

I did my best to only suggest things using existing game interfaces or effects. All of these things could work. It still requires developer time — perhaps too much for a single class — but there’s no harm in brainstorming fun ideas. :-)

There might be some concern about pet families becoming pointless when you can just choose the buff they bring, but the extra buffs hunters bring are already irrelevant in most raids. Most (all?) specs bring 2 buffs to the table now. I can’t remember the last time I had to use a specific pet for a buff, so why not just let us pick one for our solo or dungeon purposes? Is there really any harm in a Turtle bringing a Mastery buff? I don’t think so.

As for the cosmetic effects, this kind of thing has been desired by hunters for a long time. Why do you think we went to such drastic measures to glitch tame pets like the Oil Stained Wolf? There are plenty of cosmetic effects in the game that can work on literally any model.

The important thing is for there to be no actual gameplay advantage, and for it to be completely optional. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I bet most hunters would love a way to customize their pets. I don’t think anything like this is in the cards any time soon, but it’s fun to think about.

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the slow decline of a guild

I know that some people guild-hop, and to many their guild is simply a means to an end – a way of getting into weekly raids at their chosen difficulty level.

My guild is the social structure around which my whole WoW experience was built. I’ve been in this guild since I dinged level 55 in vanilla WoW, and I’ve been the guild leader since the Karazhan days of Burning Crusade. I can’t even imagine playing the game without it.

Sure, we’ve gone through ups and downs. We’ve seen slow periods when few players logged in. We’ve gone through entire raid tiers when we couldn’t field a raid team. This time feels different.

Patch 6.2 came out, and there was no spike in player logins. The same handful of people are logging in sporadically. There is no guild chat. No “grats” at achievements. No guild chat about Tanaan Jungle or guild groups being formed. Even our long-term most dedicated players have not come back with the new patch.

A bunch of our players who were at least logging in occasionally have left the guild. They went to another social guild. I’ve checked, and that guild doesn’t have significantly more activity. I think that social guilds are generally falling apart right now.

I’ve considered the idea of taking some of my alts out and going to a different guild to try and raid. At the moment, I don’t have the heart for it. I think I’d sooner quit WoW than leave my guild, even when it’s empty. Besides, that’s not necessary since the Group Finder has given me the ability to play without a guild structure.

I can’t see anything improving in the near future. I think the rest of this expansion will play out along this pattern. By the end I may be the only one (out of hundred of guildie account) who is logging in. Maybe Blizzcon will have some amazing announcement that will bring people back. Maybe not. Time will tell.

It’s unusual to feel lonely in an MMORPG with seven million players.

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Game of Thrones Episode 5 trailer is a Nest of Vipers

The fifth episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, titled Nest of Vipers, has received a trailer.

So far, I have played none of Telltale’s Game of Thrones episodes, so I have no idea what’s going on. It’s probably spoiler-heavy, though! There’s a guy in the snows beyond the Wall, and a lady chatting with Cersei, and Tyrion makes an appearance, and there’s some stuff in Meereen, and… yeah, look, I’ve got no idea.

One can assume that this trailer means that the episode itself isn’t too far off. Beyond that, though, I’m clueless. You probably don’t want to watch the trailer below if you’ve yet to play the series, but otherwise, cast your eyes downward and take a look at what’s coming in the series’ penultimate episode.

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The new Humble Bundle is pretty great

Today’s Humble Bundle is really rather good, particularly if you’re interested in 4X strategising or action-y platforming.

Paying what you want (read: $1 or more) will net you copies of Outland Special Edition, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, and Mercenary Kings. Up your bid to beat the average (currently $4.17) and you’ll get your hands on Endless Space: Emperor Edition, The Stanley Parable, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2. Finally, $18 will add the Early Access Space Engineers to the lot. And, yes, there are more games coming soon.

Pretty much every single one of these games is rather bloody good. Outland is a gorgeous, staggeringly well-designed Metroidvania platformer that relies a lot on “shifting” between light and dark to absorb enemy attacks and environmental traps, or deal extra damage. Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is a really solid stand-alone expansion to Fallen Enchantress, and is basically the point where that fantasy 4X series got good. Hell, it’s basically Fallen Enchantress with more stuff. Aaand Mercenary Kings is a largely enjoyable Contra-esque romp through a jungle, with crafting.

Then there’s the next tier up. Endless Space is a really good space 4X, The Stanley Parable is a hilarious and subversive twist on narrative story-telling in which you can really upset the narrator, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 is a decently solid ARPG lootfest. Then there’s Space Engineers, which… I haven’t actually played, so, uh, no comment.

So yeah, pretty much every game in this newest Humble Bundle is at least a bit good. This one is certainly worth considering.

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EVERQUESTING: FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EQII’S PROGRESSION SERVER

When it comes to a launch, rough winds are pretty much expected. But surprisingly, EverQuest II’s progression server launch on Tuesday was pretty much smooth sailing — especially compared to its older sibling’s run just a couple months prior. The server was up right when expected, players could actually log into said servers despite the load, and a lack of crippling lag made play possible. Even better than all that is the fact that folks landed on the infamous boat that started the original journey over 10 years ago. In many ways, it really is a blast from the past, albeit with a few changes.

So now that the opportunity to recreate those glory days of starting EQII for the first time is here, how does the experience measure up to personal hype?

Smooth sailing
There’s no doubt about it: For a launch, this one went surprisingly well. Sure, there was some lag involved (how could it be an authentic experience without it?), but at no time did I find the game completely unplayable, nor did I hear any such complaints from others. Heck, there wasn’t even a queue to log in, and I had logged in both right when the servers came up at 3:01 p.m. EDT and then twice more later, once at prime time before my launch-day stream. It wasn’t because people weren’t playing; within minutes, the server load on PvE Stormhold went from light to medium, and before terribly long it moved on up to heavy.

It could be that Daybreak learned from mistakes made during EverQuest latest progression server launch. However, EQII also had a few advantages, not the least of which being an instanced beginner island that could spawn new ones to handle the load. At one point there were 19 different instances of the Isle of Refuge — and that’s just one faction! More than just getting into the game, the existence of so many instances was key to actually getting the chance to play it; the island itself is pretty small, and having other instances you can easily move between via the bell on the dock or your group window helped lessen the tripping-over-other-players feeling that usually happens when everyone is starting at the same time, doing the same quests, and needing the same mobs. Basically, the Isle of Refuge is the perfect way to give folks the space they need to accomplish their goals while still granting access to plenty of other players if they need them.

Do I think this launch was a success? Oh yeah! It delivered what veteran and new players alike were craving: That true EQII beginning. A couple of days later the crowds on the isles have thinned out a bit as players have moved on to the cities, but there are still multiple instances to hop between, a fact I just took advantage of in order to find a mob that I needed for a quest but was farmed out on my current island. Even at 10:00 a.m. EDT on a Friday morning, there are still three Overlord’s Outposts to choose between.

Thanks for the memories
While starting over from scratch with none of the cool goodies years of veteran status and play affords is not everyone’s idea of fun, there is definitely something to be said for visiting the Isle of Refuge. I know players who had no interest in playing long term but made a character anyway just to ride the Far Journey again and help Captain Drake Varlos when the drakota (a smallish dragon) swoops down and sets things on fire, loosing the rude little goblin who begins chasing the first mate. It’s hard to resist the allure of skipping along the waves with the captain, then helping out the reps on either the Queen’s Colony or the Overlord’s Outpost to curry favor with your chosen city. I admit, I literally stood on the boat for hours before moving on. As such, I didn’t really experience any of the lag some folks were noting initially. I just wasn’t ready to leave the boat in a hurry; I soaked up the ambiance until I simply couldn’t resist the pull of the island any longer.

Oh, the Isle of Refuge! Saying it has been incredible seeing all the familiar places again is an understatement. After 10 years, there are some differences — the experience isn’t completely true to the the 2004 island adventure — but that doesn’t diminish the waves and waves of nostalgia that crashed over me. Once again, I swam seeking Bladefin, I climbed the treehouse, I visited the cemetery, I collected shinies, and I gathered resources. I ascended the stairs of that little mage tower, and I descended into the tradeskiller’s workshop below it. (I may not be able to die at the forge again, but I can certainly smile at the memory of it.) And I traversed every single inch of the space, not just to make sure I hit every single discovery but to revel in being there again. I also took not a few screenshots!

Of course, as the two versions of the isle are quite different, I had to run both instances of the isle. I made both an evil and a good character, which necessitated both deleting an old toon I hardly used and also buying a new character slot! On Overlord’s Outpost, I stood for a moment and just listened to the statue of Lucan D’Lere, taking a moment to remember the man who truly brought the Vissage of the Overlord to life (thank you Christopher Lee for sharing your amazing talent with us). The whole time I was delighted at each new rediscovery.

In all, even if I didn’t want to continue with the time-locked expansion server, which I most certainly do, the 15 bucks it cost to have an All-Access pass for one month was well worth it just to revisit this haven of memories. Possibly the only thing I didn’t miss was the hideous beginning armor! I can’t wait to change out of it into something better (thank you, appearance slots!).

The difference is in the details
Although much about the starter experience is the same if not similar, those who played way back when can pick out the differences. For one thing, as in the current iteration of the game, you pick your class at character creation; there are no archetypes and advanced classes. The crafting is also the same as it is in the live game, without the subcomponents and the chance of death by needle at the hands of the vicious loom.

Another difference that I personally took advantage of is the fact that players on the Overlord’s Outpost can choose to go to Neriak instead of just Freeport. When the game launched, there was no Neriak to go to, but since I created a Tier’Dal, it felt better to send her to her racial home instead of the streets of Freeport. Speaking of the main cities, I can report that they are their revamped selves, not the original iterations.

Other differences include selecting races that weren’t available at the game’s initial launch. It actually was a teeny bit jarring to see an Aeraykn on the isle, reminding me that I wasn’t back in 2004. Of course, Frogloks are also available, as are Freebloods for those who have purchased that unlock. As for added classes, however, those two have been locked to the expansions that introduced them: Age of Discovery for Beastlords and Tears of Veeshan for Channelers.

On top of all this I don’t remember the island being quite so easy. Obviously 10 added years of play in EQII — and MMOs in general — could account for quite a chunk of that; so many things are second nature now that were brand-new to me back then. Even so, it still seems much easier than that. If it weren’t for my wanderings to soak up the ambiance, I would have pretty well blown through the content in no time. And as the island truly is soloable the whole way, traveling with even a single companion makes it that much easier, never mind playing with a group of friends. Luckily, I am in no rush, though I am looking forward to seeing how life after the isle stacks up.

The future’s so bright
I see a great future ahead for this progression server. New players and returning veterans alike can get in on the ground floor and not feel constantly behind the curve. Current players have the chance to be a part of building a new community and experiencing each step of the way without having to feel rushed through 10 expansions. And plenty are taking advantage of this opportunity; it is amazing to see chat light up constantly with requests for groups.

Well done, Daybreak! I’m already having loads of fun here, and the journey is just beginning. Have you taken the plunge? Soon, we’ll have a guild based in Qeynos on Stormhold. And from there it is only a hop, skip, and a jump to taking over Norrath!

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THE DAILY GRIND: ARE YOU TRYING A DIFFERENT MMO THIS SUMMER?

I find that summer is a great time of the year to let my gaming wanderlust run free, giving me permission to try new games and return to old ones that I haven’t seen in a while. I’ve been on a tear of samping different titles, from the obscure like Villagers & Heroes to well-known favorites like Star Wars: The Old Republic. I even got a bit of Final Fantasy XIV in there, although I concluded that it’s not the game for me.

Are you trying a different MMO this summer? Are you picking up one of the recently launched titles or returning to a comforting favorite? Let us know your plans!

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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