Disclaimer: this is gonna be a quite extense and biased post. You have been warned.
Back in November, the WoW community was caught by surprise when creative director Alex Afrasiabi tweeted a screenshot of a character screen indicating that not only Gnome Hunters will be coming to the game in the next expansion, but also mechanicals as a new Hunter pet family. Players initially assumed that this would work as an exclusive racial feature for Gnomes and Goblins, perhaps expanded to all Engineer hunters. In fact, mechanical pets will be available for both Gnomes and Goblins from the start, but it appears that hunters of every other race will also be able to learn how to “tame” and control these creatures, thanks to a special device crafted by Engineers- much like the Ancient Tome of Dinomancy from MoP, which allowed us to tame Direhorns.
(Note: this item appears to have been changed to Mechanical Transponder.)
While I don’t believe hunters will be able to tame non-beastly mechs like XT-Deconstructor from Ulduar or even the Fel Reaver itself (sorry folks), there are many other possible mechs such as chickens, bear cubs, mechanostriders, scorpions and so on. It’s also been announced that gnome hunters will be starting their journey with a giant mechanical bunny. And more recently, when the Legion Alpha came back online early this month, new mechanical wolf models were also datamined. A list of these models is currently available at Petopia, although it is worth noting that none of these are yet final. There are a lot of artificial beasts for hunters to choose from and I can bet that even more models will be making their way into Alpha in due time. Also, Blizzard has pointed out that these pets (or at least some of them) won’t be so easy to obtain as they will require the hunter to solve puzzles and use their class abilities in order to locate and acquire them.
So… my opinion in all of this?
It sounds fun, but doesn’t make much freaking sense.
I know I’ll probably be chased with torches and pitchforks but to me, the concept of Hunters has always revolved around being “one with the wild”, with or without companion. To bound with nature and natural beasts. This makes the idea of “taming” and controlling artificial intelligence sound pretty out of place to me, if not a little dumb. Blizzard has been insisting on the concept of ‘class fantasy’ as a main focus for Legion class changes, but it is my impression that mechanical pets actually help to dilute Hunter fantasy, instead. Of course, a few exceptions would make sense lorewise. Gnomes and Goblins are innovative thinkers and constantly messing around with technology. They know they can always do better. So why not make use of their particular engineering skills to replicate a normal animal and program it to follow their commands in battle?
While this does make sense, it still feels very confusing to me that every single hunter can acquire such knowledge by injecting nanobots into their own body (why would people do that in the first place?, Arianwen wonders). And yes, the idea of mechanical pets does sound cool and refreshing but, in my humble opinion, they didn’t belong to Hunters.
Instead, mechanical pets would belong to Tinkers.
With the release of new expansions, new classes have been increasingly more challenging to introduce in a way they don’t overlap the fantasy of already existing ones. A popular case on which I’ve wrote recently is Dark Rangers, a hero class which has been at the top of the community’s wishlist for several years. However, many people (and probably the developers themselves) have come to the conclusion that they don’t seem to hold enough distinction and uniqueness and would feel more like a death knight/hunter hybrid while in action. In this situation, a small adaptation within the Hunter’s current fantasy does make sense, even though this still provides a few issues.
However, Tinkers make up a quite unique class theme comparing to options currently available in the MMO. I don’t think Hunters were necessary to bring this sort of pets to the game as Tinkers themselves have a lot of potential as another dps (and tank) class. If anything, WoW needs more options for a ranged physical dps class and a technology based one like the Tinker would make a nice addition in counterpart of the typical ‘swords and sorcery’ of fantasy games. This would, therefore, be the first class to really emphasize the steampunkish atmosphere of WoW by focusing solely on mechanical and gadget weapons- and mechanical minions would make a perfect complement, not simply as a customization option, but as a distinct feature which is core to a different and compelling fantasy.
In my concept, Tinkers would make use of specific resources like steam, similar to energy/focus, as a three spec class. These being:
- A tank spec based on machines and steam powered suits. Think Gazlowe in Heroes of the Storm and Mekgineer Thermaplugg;
- A physical dps spec, melee or ranged, relying on turrets as well as the art of demolition with explosives and missiles. And yes, I am glad the ‘Sentry Turret’ SV talent got replaced by a spitting cobra in the latest Alpha development;
- A second physical dps spec, ranged, based on guns, zapping and mechanical pets.
Alas, we could keep talking about Tinker concepts all day but- maybe I’ll just leave this for another time instead.
In conclusion (aka TL:DR): I have very mixed feelings about the upcoming mechanical pet family for Hunters. While I appreciate Blizzard’s attempt at expanding the Hunter class to better match the existence of Gnomish and Goblin tech in the game, the result doesn’t seem to favor the core fantasy of the class. I feel like the extension of the Hunter fantasy to include Tinkers in some sort is balanced out by Marksmanship Hunters being limited to the fantasy of Elven Rangers (not that I don’t enjoy it). So while MM Hunters simply cannot have pets, end of the story, Blizzard is being so much loose by allowing Beast Masters, a spec which should be based hugely on the affinity to the wild, to “tame” creatures which aren’t even technically alive. It just doesn’t fit the theme in the slightest. Hunters are not, and will never be Tinkers.
But remember, this is just my opinion. Of course one can argue- if you don’t like the idea, just don’t make use of it. Mechanical pets are not mandatory. So I’ll just get off my horse, I guess.
How do you feel about mechanical pets for Hunters? Will you be using them? Maybe carry a remote control to the battlefield? Haha, just kidding. 😉