So I've prepurchased Guild Wars 2, and the first beta weekend has just come to a close.
Of course, the first class--er, excuse me, profession--I tried out was the Ranger. I won't go into details about what I think about the game itself--there would be far too much to talk about--but I did get a chance to compare the GW2 Ranger pet system with that of the WoW Hunter one.
So, how does do they compare?
In WoW, you have a finite number of stable slots, and a "roster" of Active Pets you carry around with you. There are also hundreds of pets to choose from, and in order to tame them, you have to go out into the world, find them and capture them (which can be challenging if it's a tough beast).
In Guild Wars 2, you have a "pet list." This list is a panel that shows all the available pets; they start off grayed-out. Only your starter pet is "lit up," and so it's the only pet that you can slot into the Active Pets interface. As you roam the world, you will sometimes find Juvenile versions of those tameable beasts. These are green-named (friendly) and you can interact with them (by pressing F in Melee range) to Charm them. Once Charmed, the beast is unlocked forever; you never need to find another one.
|Choosing which Unlocked pet to Actively slot.|
In WoW, you can switch between your five Active pets whenever you want. To get to any of your other twenty, you must travel to a town and talk to a Stable Master to move pets from the Stable to your Active slots and vice versa.
In GW2, you can move Unlocked pets into your Active slots any time you're out of combat. You can switch between your two Active pets while in combat, albeit with a short cooldown (the cooldown changes depending on your pet's HP level, so if you switch a very badly-hurt pet to save it, you won't be able to switch back for a time until it's recovered).
Regarding the Active Slots themselves: GW2 has four Active pet slots. Two are "Terrestrial," two are "Amphibious." The game automatically switches to your Aquatic pet slots when you're underwater. Some pets are Terrestrial, like Wolves, so can only be used on land. Some are Amphibious, and can thus be placed in either type of slot, for example Drakes and Polar Bears. Some pets are Aquatic-only, for example Sharks. Available pets include Spiders, Devourers, Bears, Canines, Felines, Birds and more!
|The Snow Leopard|
Pet Abilities, Power & Management
World of Warcraft has a large amount of hunter-pet synergy. There are a number of pet-based skills and customization, micromanagement options & multi-role-filling. WoW pets are also very hardy. The pet controls are also very good, and macroable--you can recall your pet at will by hitting Follow (unless you have DoTs on the target, which makes a pet on Assist ignore you >.>), or position it in place for a screenshot. The pet follows tight on your left side at all times in a proper obedience dog Heel position.
GW2 has a more fire-and-forget system. There are no pet talents. Each pet family, as in WoW, has a couple of general skills; each individual pet type within those families also has a unique skill. For example, all canines have a similar skill set, but the Howl has a different effect for Alpine wolves (a Chill), Fern Hounds (a Regenerate) etc. There are no real synergistic skills you can use, although the unique skills, as in WoW, can be activated at will--so you can use your Drakehound to root a warrior that's coming at you, for example.
|A Charr and her Jungle Stalker--sisters?|
GW2 pets are also a very noticeably amount squishier, with DPS pets unlikely to survive two or more mobs. GW2 has no dedicated tank classes--only control--so there are no tank pets, either. A good Ranger will need a great deal of micromanagement (in the form of pet recalls and kiting) to keep the pet alive. At end-game the pets do seem sturdier, but as the Beta was limited to level 20 or so, I couldn't compare in PvE. In PvP at max level, they are great--survivable and very potent damage-dealers--but at low levels, most of the combat focus is on keeping the pet alive, even with the limited heals available.
Another issue with the GW2 pet system is that ALL pets seem to have a mechanic that spikes their threat dramatically, or even taunts--and this includes DPS pets sent onto a world boss which already has dozens of players pounding it. This is likely a bug, or just a design flaw, and will hopefully be fixed by release; but as it stands, all of the big world events feature ten or more "downed" pets limping around after their Ranger masters. My hope is that all aggro generation will simply be removed from DPS pets before game launch.
You can switch pets when your pet is downed (or about to be), but this incurs a cooldown; sometimes the second pet is also down before the cooldown is up, and your options are to run, kite or try and revive the pet while being whaled on.
Lastly, the GW2 pets seem to follow in different positions; some heel, some charge ahead. This is a serious problem when moving about the world--on occasion (and I'm sure this is a bug, and will hopefully be fixed by release), I would stop moving, but my pet would carry on for a good twenty yards, coming to a stop in a group of enemy mobs. All of these complaints, though--about squishy pets, and so on--will hopefully be addressed and rectified before launch.
The Hunter/Ranger-Pet Connection
So for those of us who like to feel that the pet is an important part of their character's life, how do the games stack up?
In WoW, the loyalty system (sadly, in my opinion) is long-gone; the time of feeding the pet and monitoring Pet Happiness is past. The pet is a tool, for the most part--a highly-customizable tool, and a cute one, but a tool nonetheless. But you can name your pet, and we give them personalities in our imaginations, and the aesthetics of the art and models lends them a great deal of charm.
In GW2, the pets are unlocked, and the "pet card" lists where the pet was Charmed. You can name your pet (Beta Bug: pet names are forgotten when the pet's cycled, whoops!), and you can use the "special" skill. You can toggle Fight/Passive to try and call the pet back, and you can keybind "send pet" (although that's about it; the GW2 keybind mechanics seem severely flawed right now). That, however, is all the micromanagement you can do, aside from using a heal.
In the end, I think the "connection" is about the same. Calling a pet from an invisible stable feels much the same as calling it from an Active Pets panel. The only personalization in either game is naming the pet. The only real difference, in the end, is that GW2 has far fewer pets to choose from (around forty)--but that number will surely go up down the road.
WoW's art style is obviously very, very stylized. The devs were smart; they knew that graphics become outdated quickly. They designed WoW's beasts, along with everything else, to be blocky, unrealistic and have a sort of cartoonish feel. Had they aimed for realism, the game would have been aesthetically unappealing to new players after maybe two years.
|Outdated but still artistic: the very old WoW hyena model.|
GW2 has a strange aesthetic overall; it's almost like a western RPG (think LotrO) with a tiny dash of JRPG (in the form of flared skirts and large eyes--thankfully there's not too much of this... I'm not a fan of the overrepresented Anime style, personally) and a sort of watercolor-on-homemade-paper look. I can't describe this last one very well, you will just have to see it for yourself; but the terrain has an almost brushstroke feel in places, and the lines are soft, but well-defined, and everything has a colorful bloom. The atmospheres of different areas are heavily affected by this; dark and spooky areas are full of floating "sheets" of fog, and bright areas have almost panels of flashy trees. At times, it is almost like moving through a pop-up book.
|Hyper-realistic but still stylistic, the GW2 Hyena--mange and all.|
This translates to pets by making them highly realistic, and for the most part very anatomically correct and well-modeled, but also stylized in a smooth-textured (not furry), brushstroked and high-bloom sense. There are still errors--for example, one of the bear's jaws is extremely undershot (likely a bug, again), and the eyes of Alpine Wolves aren't visible through their squint--but overall the pets are very, very good-looking. The animations are also extremely smooth and realistic; the bears have a rolling, lumbering gallop; the Moas have a hawkstrider-esque ostrich run, etc. My only complaint is with the cat heads, which have far too much vertical movement in motion.
All in all, there are more similarities than differences between the two games' pet systems. You have to go out and find your pet, they can be defeated, revived and named, they have unique and family-shared skills, and they have a small list of stances and commands. I think that hunters moving to GW2 from WoW won't have much trouble at all with the GW2 system. In the end, the pet system won't have an impact for most pet fans choosing between the two games; decisions will likely come down to other aspects, like end-game, PvP, graphics and so on. Each game has its pros and cons, but I can't see the pets being a decisive factor either way--they're great in both games!