November 13 2012
Admittedly, when I first heard that Blizzard was going to add pet battles to World of Warcraft, I was a bit skeptical. There was already a lot to do in the game (more than most people could ever find time for), does it really need mini-games as well? On the other hand, like so many of the title's other features, it's an entirely optional activity. Assuming it's properly handled, what serious objection can there be to adding more variety to WoW?
Pet battles allow you to take your character's pets into turn-based contests against NPCs or other players. These pets have actually been running around Azeroth for a long time, but unlike certain class-specific pets, they serve only to look cute, or cool, depending on your perspective. Some people have always enjoyed collecting mounts and pets in WoW, even though there is little incentive to do so. Pet battles give them something to do with their pet collection and makes the prospect of accummulating a stable of pets much more enticing.
The battles themselves bear a striking resemblance to Pokemon, and it's a remarkably good fit for this kind of mini-game. You can find new pets and battle with them out in the wild, as well as queue for matches with other players through the pet management interface. You have 3 pets at your disposal in combat and switching between them counts as your move for that turn. Pets can currently progress through 25 levels, unlocking abilities as they go. Each ends up with 6 skills, of which 3 at a time are chosen for use in the battle. I don't have any pets at the level cap yet, but the average battle seems to a last a few minutes at most.
Unlike your character, the health of your pets doesn't automatically regenerate. While in battle some pets have healing abilities, and outside battle you can heal them in the pet management window every 8 minutes, or at a Stable Master for a small fee. Given that there are dozens of different pets with an impressive variety of skills, it's a much deeper system than you might expect.
As with most things World of Warcraft, pet battles have been thoughtfully implemented, even if it is an unusual feature to add to a MMORPG. Beating NPC pet battle masters in various locations around the world grants typical quest rewards as well as consumables for your pets. Like the archaeology profession, achievements, or the Argent Crusade, there's no doubt a lot of players will simply choose no to participate in pet battles, but I can see them being a hit while people are waiting for errant raid group members to show up.
Pet battles are truly casual at it's finest, and those who jump in tend to take it a lot less seriously than the end-game gear grind, which is as it should be. The hardcore raiders will scoff at this sort of thing, and it's not going to be the growing mass of burned-out former WoW players back to game, but there is clearly a segment of the player population that adores this kind of thing. While pet battles aren't for everyone, they are quick, fun, and engaging, and I suspect that's all that matters in the end.