It's sort of a running joke in my circle that Command Animals is going to be top tier after the patch, and that the entire Force powerset will be all but deleted from the game. Given the devs previous track record for patches, I am pretty sure that they will come up with something totally different than what everyone thinks pets need. I guess it's because they want to surprise us.
Growl! My pets are scary!
I think one of the most likely things to happen is a global increase in pet damage. I also think this is a really bad idea. There are a few good high-damage pets that I would not want to see get buffed. Collective Will and Munitions Bots deal great damage, and if they were buffed on the same scale that Tyrannon's Familiar needs to be buffed, it would be a total disaster.
The real struggle I have is that pets should not be too strong. Even if the underperforming pets do get buffed up, it might be too much. A player with many pets who also has heavy damage dealing powers like Gigabolt would be able to bring all of those elements to bear at the same time. I feel that pet damage should be buffed somewhat, but I don't want to see every pet dealing the same damage as Munitions Bots.
This also means that I don't think it's possible for "pure" pet masters to be balanced versus pet masters with Gigabolt or other high damage AoE powers. I think it's better to balance between characters with no pets and characters with pets, rather than trying to penalize pet masters heavily for taking damage powers.
Aw poochie, did those mean VIPER hurt you?
The number one statistical problem with pets is that they die too fast. PvE enemies deal lots of AoE damage, and while it doesn't usually hit multiple players, it absolutely destroys pet masters. The pet HP buff from higher Presence is tiny (something like 20% with 200 PRE), and thus even players with very pet-focused builds have pets that die constantly. Re-summoning pets is an awkward problem in and of itself, but the main issue is that pets die constantly, lowering a pet player's fighting ability dramatically.
One thing I've mentioned a lot about pet masters is that they take an opportunity cost to do so. Another player who has an extra attack power or heal always has those extra attacks or heals. A pet master does not always have his pets. Sometimes they can be dead, clipped on obstacles or stuck on terrain features. If those pets die, the pet master has lost his pet power until he can summon them back. Other characters don't have to worry about randomly losing Gigabolt to wayward AoE damage.
Getting pets back alive is also really awkward. Temporary pets, like sigils and zombies, are not a big deal; they can be re-summoned easily just by casting the power again. Long-term pets, like Munitions Bots, are another story. When a bot dies, it's not as simple as activating the bot power to re-summon them. Instead, you have to dismiss all of your other long-term pets and then summon them one by one. This is awkward and counter-intuitive. When your pets have only 2000 HP and die to getting sneezed on, it's sort of counter-intuitive to dismiss and re-summon them every fight.
The single best thing I can think of to help pets statistically is to improve their health and give them out-of-combat regeneration, so they don't require as much maintenance between fights.
No pet passive!
One of the most commonly suggested fixes for pets is to add a pet passive. I think this is a terrible idea. We already have a large number of aura passives that could be given extra functions to buff pets. Currently, none of the aura passives (Aura of Radiant Protection and Aura of Ebon Destruction in particular) have any effect on pets. This seems strange to me; the majority of pet powers are in the Mystic archetype, but the Mystic buff passives don't affect pets.
A simple solution, rather than adding another passive, would be to give these passives additional functionality for pets. Aura of Radiant Protection could easily add resistances to pets, increasing their longevity. Aura of Ebon Destruction could also easily transfer its damage buff to pets.
The other two auras, Aura of Arcane Clarity and Aura of Primal Majesty are a bit harder, since pets probably don't have statistics and they definitely don't have energy. Both should give some function to pets in-line with their flavor; possibly giving the pets regeneration or overall boosted performance. Aura of Primal Majesty is generally considered to be the least useful of the auras, so adding some extra "super" pet functionality to make it more attractive compared to Aura of Radiant Protection is a win-win in my book.
Teaching old dogs new tricks
One thing that has been confirmed in the pet pass is interface changes. While I think that improving aura passives and making pets more survivable are really important, the current pet interface is in dire need of a revamp.
Healing teammates is hard, but healing pets is even harder. Even with AoE heals, healing a specific pet in a pack of them is extremely awkward. Having a pet status bar displaying the health of your semi-permanent pets (the three Gadget bots, Tyrannon's Familiar, and Command Animals) would be a great help. Adding the Ritual pets would be nice too, since they can also be controlled.
One thing I'd like to see is the ability to write pet control keybinds and macros. I am a huge fan of this in other games. One problem I have a lot of when I am playing a pet master is dealing with mass knockback. Oftentimes my pets go flying everywhere, and gathering them back together so they can be healed easily is difficult.
Another huge problem is the inability to re-summon individual pets. I already talked about this earlier, but the long-term pet "active powers" make things exceedingly difficult when it comes to getting dead pets back. There needs to be an easier way to get pets back alive.
And everything else
There are a lot of little issues with pets. Pet rank scaling is messed up (most aren't getting the proper 83%/100%/120% they should be) and many pets don't work as advertised. Of all the things that will get changed, I'm actually pretty sure that this will mostly be resolved by the time the patch launches. Tons of balance tweaks need to be made for underperforming pets, and, honestly, I think the Ritual mechanic as a whole needs some work (being stationary is very very bad in CO).
If there's one thing we've seen from Cryptic it's that they have no problem completely changing the dynamics of the entire game in order to make things right. The pet pass is undoubtedly going to have far more radical changes than the ones I've suggested.
The next couple of weeks are likely to have a lot of pet-themed topics, especially as they relate to the current patch. We'll also likely talk about pet theory, and how you can get the most out of your pets.
See you all next week!