After a shaky start on the Beta, the pet battles are now up and running, more or less as intended. There are still some glitches, such as pets all dropping down dead the instant you begin a battle, and the occasional utter freeze up so you have to forfeit a game and relog, but on the whole it’s a smooth experience. Although you can only revive your pets yourself once every fifteen minutes, most stable masters dotted around the landscape will also do this for you, for the modest sum of 10 silver for your entire stable to be healed and revived.

First, I have to say this is one of the best things brought into WoW for a long time. It’s fun, absorbing and extremely addictive. Like with Archaeology, you have to travel around a bit to track down and train up your pets, but it’s nowhere near as boring as the aforementioned. Each time you begin a battle with a wild pet of the appropriate level, you have the option to capture it once it goes below 35% health. And what turns up in your trap is a surprise: the captured pet can be of grey, white, green or blue quality, i.e. poor, common, uncommon or rare. What this means is that a ‘poor’ pet will have the lowest stats in comparison to a rare, and therefore is not really worth keeping. If you want a particular pet for your team, it’s best to farm the relevant creature until at least an uncommon one turns up in the trap. I didn’t realise this to start with, so am really glad I’ve been messing around with the battles on Beta so that by the time it goes live I’ve got more idea of how to build up my stable and not waste time levelling a ‘poor’. I’m assuming there might well be epic or purple pets in the game too; just not come across one yet.

Pets that you buy, have earned through achievements, or other means within the game, do not have a ‘quality’, but from what I have seen so far, they seem about on a par with an ‘uncommon’ or ‘green’ quality pet from the wild. I bought a Jade Crane Chick from the pet battle trainer in Stormwind (think it’s a limited supply, occasionally available purchase) and it’s one of my best pets.

I also found that pets you might consider a bit drippy and pathetic such as fawns, mice, squirrels and rabbits are no such thing. Squirrels are hard as nails, with their AOE nut barrage! Rabbits and hares can burrow underground and are not weak foes. Mice and rats get a stampede ability to assault your pets with an army of rodents, and fawns, well, don’t get me started on those gits! The standard Fawns you find in places like Elwynn Forest are bad enough. They heal, they annoyingly heal. I got one for my team, but have yet to find a decent quality one, mainly because they’re virtually extinct owing to player numbers in that area. Once I got to Eastern Plaguelands with my pet capturing, (when I had a team of pets around level 10 or so), I was confronted with the infinitely more evil Infected Fawn, which is an Undead pet. This does a soul siphon on your pets that heals it virtually to full for 4 turns on the trot while decimating your valiant critter. I of course swiftly captured one of these for my pet stable. The Giraffe Calf, found in the Northern Barrens also has an AOE heal skill that lingers after they depart the field, as do crabs – who also mix it up with an effective shield to make themselves doubly annoying when you confront them, but handy in your own team. I assume that eventually I’ll come across pets who have silencing abilities that will offset the strengths of healing pets.

Pets also have strengths and weaknesses depending upon what kind of adversary they’re facing. There are several different families of pet – beast, elemental, dragonkin, critter, flying, undead and so on. Some pets perform better against certain families than they do against others. You’re advised of this by a red or a green arrow next to your pet’s skills when they go into battle. A green arrow means your attacks will be strong, a red that they will be weak. Therefore, as you learn about which pets do best against what, you can assess a fight before you start it and choose pets for your team best suited to it. You can only have 3 active battle pets at a time and can’t change these in combat. But you can swap the 3 active pets around as much as you like in between combat ‘turns’.

Another thing I didn’t realise at first is that although only 3 pet skills show on their individual action bars, they will gain more as they level up. You can only have 3 active at a time though, so you need to click on the arrow beneath each skill in the Pet window to select the skills you want to use on them.  I think it’s about level 10 when they get their 4th skill, up to a maximum of 6 at top level.

Once you get beyond the starter level areas, such as Elwynn Forest or Durotar, and you have worked on your pets enough to have 3 available at a time in your team, wild pets will come at you in pairs when you initiate combat. This might make it rather random as to whether your team will work well against the second foe in the fight, since you’re not aware of its exact type before you start, but it will be a creature found commonly in whatever zone you’re in.

The best way to level pets that are lower level than others you might have is to put them in a team with two stronger pets. Put the lowbie into battle first and swap it out before it’s killed (i.e. after one turn most likely). Finish the battle with the better pets, and the lower one will then get bonus experience for the kill. This is the quickest way to level a new pet you might get that’s only available in lower level areas. Rares can turn up anywhere. I got a level 1 rare ghost from Tirisfal Glades.

On the subject of rares, I am finding them in my traps fairly regularly, and am somewhat sceptical this will carry over into live. Pets can be sold on the AH, and Blizzard does love its gold sinks. Commonly dropped rares wouldn’t really hold a price. What astonished me yesterday concerning the AH is the amount of idiots putting pets on there for 500K or more. In fact, few of the pets on the AH are cheap. On a Beta… Why? The only explanation must be that these are people who aren’t on there to test the game, merely treating it like a preview of the real thing. What is the point of trying to make millions on a Beta? Every single bit of gold will disappear into oblivion the minute the Beta is halted. You don’t get to keep anything you acquire on there. I despair of people sometimes. Still I suppose we have to take this as an indication of what prices will be like initially when pet battles go live. It would be great if it’s not too onerous to farm up your own pets rather than rely on the AH (shuddery, horrible memories of my short time in Diablo III, urgh!), so I’m hoping the drop rate for good pets doesn’t plummet too drastically once Mists of Pandaria is released.

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