Let’s just get this out of the way now: the Pet Battle System introduced in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is a massive Pokemon ripoff. And that’s totally fine by me. For years, fans of the Pokemon franchise have cried out for a Pokemon MMO. The thought of an open world filled with hundreds of adorable little monsters to find, battle, collect and train is tantalizing at the very least and yet Nintendo has never capitalized on it.
Well, you snooze you lose, Nintendo. Blizzard stepped up to the plate and has mimicked the Pokemon model, or at least the core elements of it, to a tee. The little non-combat pets players have been able to collect since World of Warcraft’s launch now each come with a potential move-set of six abilities, and a passive ability determined by the creature’s type. Mechanical creatures, for example, will revive themselves after they’re killed with a small amount of health, while beast-types will deal extra damage when their health drops below a certain threshold.
Stats are simplified down to health, damage and speed, and each pet can only use up to three different abilities in battle, making the whole system much simpler than Pokemon’s. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually simple. There’s complexity to the Pet Battle System, and it stems from the way pet abilities can affect the battlefield. Only in recent years have Pokemon games begun to experiment with persistent effects, whereas WoW has happily adopted weather effects, lingering poison clouds, and healing mists that remain regardless of who switches in or out of the fight.
The result is a system which, thanks to the huge number of pets out there to use, gives players a gigantic number of feasible team composition options.
I’ve experimented with damage-over-time teams and teams with lots of evasion. My current setup is built around outlasting the opponent through copious healing and damage-over-time. And it’s extremely easy to see how well your team stacks up against others, as the in-built matchmaking does a surprisingly good job of pairing you up against a team of approximately equal strength.
There’s a whole series of sub-quests that will take you across all of the continents to battle AI-controlled trainers too, though the difficulty curve seems to have a few speedbumps. Unlike the Pokemon games, which often makes levelling your pets feel like a side-effect of your journey across the region, most players will probably find times when they have to buckle-down and grind out a few pet levels. And while there are many, many pets to catch, unlock and level, the locked-down skill system means that you won’t ever really be able to surprise your opponent with a fire-elemental that spits ice.
That said, of everything in Mists of Pandaria, the Pet Battle System has attracted the most interest from me, if not the most time. I instinctively check my my mini-map for new pets, and become actively excited when I encounter a powerful new one. And unlike the PvP or Dungeon systems, Pet Battles are something I can do while I’m having my lunch or waiting for the rest of my guild. It’s a Pokemon ripoff, yes, but it’s a well-executed one that fills a niche without feeling overtly tacked-on. Kudos.