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.

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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