Why are pets here?
Everything has a place and every place, a thing -- or as the case may be here, everything has a purpose, and for every purpose, there is a thing. Nothing is created in any game world without some form of intent behind it -- at least, not in a game worth its weight in storage space. It's under this principle that we have to make one assumption for this entire discussion to have a point: Each warlock pet has a specific function to fulfill.
The premise does not have to be any more specific than that, and each function can be relatively simple. A pet can be designed for soloing or leveling; a pet can be made for single-target damage or AoE damage; a pet can be tailored to PvP. Yet that is the most basic of principles that we have to work under. Without this, everything falls apart.
Assumptions can be bad things, yet they can also be good when made with a foundation of logic behind them. This is one such assumption. If a warlock pet does not have a purpose, if it does not serve a function, then what use does it have in the game? None. If it has no use in the game, then why should it exist? It shouldn't. Pointless objects for pointless reasons are, well, pointless.
The basic functionality of pets
With this in mind, we look at what pets the warlock has: Imp, Voidwalker, Succubus, Felhunter, and Felguard if specced for it. From there, we have to do a bit of reverse engineering to figure out what is the purpose of each of these pets. All deal damage, yet each has different unique abilities and talents associated with it.
The Voidwalker is a rather obvious selection; it's the warlock's tanking pet. It serves the purpose of assisting the warlock in solo play by making sure our pretty dresses don't go getting soiled like a common mage's. We do have to look good, after all; we can't be running around with our clothing all tattered and bloody like some people. So, solo play/tanking is the Voidwalker's purpose -- easy-peasy.
Next up is the Imp. Well, destruction has several talents that benefit from the Imp, and there's a tier 1 demonology talent that supports it as well. Clearly, the pet is designed to be destruction's raiding or DPS pet. There's the small hiccup with the Imp's providing Blood Pact to a group/raid, which is a rather significant buff. So, the Imp's sole design isn't exclusively toward destruction DPS but also toward raid utility. This buff is also brought by warriors and priests, though, so it isn't too significant an issue.
Now we have the Felhunter. Shadow Bite has a lot of synergy with affliction, and demonology has a Tier 1 talent to benefit the Felhunter, so we can assume the intention is that the Felhunter is affliction's DPS pet of choice. The Felhunter also has an offensive dispel as well as Spell Lock, giving it a sizable amount of offensive/defensive utility in PvP, so we could consider the Felhunter to also play the niche of the all-around PvP pet -- a risky assumption, I have to admit, but facts have supported this. Dispels and interrupts are highly valued in PvP, so whichever pet has these abilities is going to a huge asset in PvP.
This leaves the standard gamut of pets left with the Succubus. Although currently affliction uses the Succubus as its DPS pet of choice due to the glyph, there's actually very little support between the two. None of their abilities interact, nor is there any talent support at all; even Demon Soul doesn't support the Succubus. That only leaves the Succubus with Seduction as her niche. Forgive me for saying, but this is a rather poor niche to have. Warlocks have CC themselves through Fear, and while it's nice to have the ability to CC two targets at once -- we are better than mages, remember? -- this perk falls rather flat in game terms.
Last, but certainly not least, there is also the Felguard to consider. Given that it is unique to demonology, this puts it in a rather awkward position in terms of fitting it. On the one hand, it would cheapen the Felguard if demonology didn't use it; it is their specialization, after all, and should be special because of that. Then, you have the other hand: If the Felguard is demonology's answer to everything, then it seems poor that the demon spec has little use for all of the other demons. I mean, affliction gets better use out of the Felhunter, and destruction reaps a higher benefit from the Imp; that feels strange.
To some extent, the Felguard is demonology's answer to everything. It doesn't have as much pure, single-target damage as a glyphed Succubus, but it has additional utility and is the only pet with AoE capabilities. AoE is actually a fairly good niche to fill in. It is important, but it isn't overbearing, either. Allowing demonology to improve its AoE capabilities via a pet works for them.
A failure in the niche
This brings me back to the one thing that has been bothering me as of late (and it isn't only me who has noticed this). The Felhunter has always held the place as the warlock's PvP pet of choice -- yet so far in this expansion, it hasn't be the DPS pet of choice for anyone. Understandably, this upsets many affliction players; it is the pet tailored towards them in terms of DPS, after all, so they should use it. Where, then, does this leave the poor Succubus?
Affliction has the Felhunter, destruction has the Imp, and demonology the Felguard. Then we have the Felhunter being used in PvP and the Voidwalker for solo play. This doesn't actually leave any place for the Succubus to fill in at. The only perk that she brings is her ability to CC an additional target, so her niche would then be trash in 5-mans when a group lacks CC?
The Succubus has no true, pure purpose; without a purpose, she doesn't have a point; and without a point, we are brought to the first assumption of this article that pointless things are removed.
Am I honestly advocating for the removal of the Succubus, the woman who so willing sacrificed herself during The Burning Crusade night after night for the warlock's pure enjoyment? Yes and no. To be honest, whether the Succubus goes or stays holds little bearing to me; what matters more is that every warlock pet has a purpose.
I would prefer for her to be given a true point to her existence -- but barring that, if she goes, then she goes. I don't cry over losing a slave.
We don't sleep in dirt
Perhaps my biggest tiff about warlock pets in this expansion is that Blizzard seems to have forgotten one core element: We are not hunters. Hunter pets were completely revamped this expansion so that each and everyone of them (within the same family, at least) has the same DPS value. You can use a cat or dog or whatever mundane throw-away they choose to associate with, and it doesn't matter to them. All a pet brings to the hunter is that pet's one unique ability.
Blizzard thought, "Hey, that's a neat idea! Let's do it for warlocks, too!" ... and then completely forgot everything else about us. Pet damage was roughly equalized, but destruction still has multiple talents that benefit directly form using an Imp to the degree that it's thousands less DPS to not use it. Affliction and demonology actually got off easy and pretty much were where they should have been, but then Blizzard bungled it again by adding the Lash of Pain glyph.
Since they had zero pet talents, affliction just used the glyph, went Succubus and never looked back. This option gave demonology some form of choice because they too could use the glyph, and Succubus for higher single-target or the Felguard for more AoE, but even that difference is relatively minor.
Blizzard really needs to wake up and figure out what it is it intends to do with pets. If it expects warlocks to use them exclusively for the utility that they provide and not for their DPS perks, then these talents and glyphs have got to go. Now, if it wants each spec to have a pet that's tailored to them and "force" these specs to use that one pet, then we need for our pet's utility to matter less, not more.
In this situation, restricting things such as Spell Lock and Devour Magic to the Felhunter is rather absurd. Destruction really needs to use their Imp, but in a PvP setting that means giving up all the delicious utility of the Felhunter. Is it a reasonable choice for us to make? Possibly, but it's not one that hunters make.
Forgive my language, but it's flatly ridiculous that warlocks are forced into this situation, and it's one of a few of the reasons that affliction holds its place as the PvP spec. It uses the Felhunter for both the superior PvP utility and DPS, yet every other warlock spec has to choose between the two? Absurd, simply absurd.
What must be done
A decision needs to be made. Blizzard needs to stop flip-flopping on the issue and take a stand on one side or the other. Either warlock pets are there for their utility, or they are there for their DPS; you cannot have it both ways. Personally, I would favor the hunter approach to the situation. Totally equalize DPS between specs and allow warlocks to choose their pets based upon utility.
Invariably, this will probably result in the Imp's becoming the raiding pet of choice due to range restrictions, but I think that's something that warlocks could actually live with. Even given that, in most circumstances there would be little to no difference in DPS. The only encounter where it might matter is Atramedes -- but even if it did, we'd be speaking in terms of low 100s of DPS. Giving up nothing significant to be able to CC an add via Seduction or to interrupt an important cast with Spell Lock would be a blessing. Or to actually have the viable choice between bringing Blood Pact or Fel Intelligence to a 10-man raid when the respective classes are missing would be a viable choice -- especially if you are like me and sometimes raid without any mages at all.
If the vote has to come down between the current system in which warlocks are restricted to their specific pets due to DPS and yet each pet has variable utility that they can bring, making pet choice matter less by equalizing our pet damage, then I vote to abolish that DPS disparity. You could choose to go the other route and equalize utility, but that frankly would end up being complicated and really messed up, in my mind. An Imp with the ability to have Spell Lock, Devour Magic, and Seduction sounds better than words, but I doubt it'd be considered balanced.
Don't get me wrong, you could create a system where each pet is limited to three "unique" abilities that you train to them, and such a system could function rather well. The downside is that it could easily lead to nerfs that warlocks just don't need. Again, having a single pet with all the best abilities that are currently scattered around sounds great but would quickly lead to a wave of mage tears that I don't feel like riding. I've already got my swimming pool and hot tub filled for the season; I don't need the weaklings crying any more.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, advise you on tip-top trinkets and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.