From the latest patch notes:
- Tame Beast now tames pets to match the hunter's level, rather than 3 levels below.
- Bloodthirsty no longer generates Happiness.
- Carrion Feeder no longer restores Happiness.
- The Feed Pet ability now instantly heals 50% of the pet's health. Cannot be used in combat. Requires diet-appropriate food.Guard Dog no longer causes Growl to generate additional Happiness.
- The Happiness/Pet Loyalty System has been removed. Hunters will no longer have to manage Happiness for their pets, and the previous damage bonus for pets being happy will now be baseline for all tamed pets.
I was rather dismayed when I saw these patch notes.
One of the things that Vanilla WoW did really well was emphasize the idea that a hunter pet was a separate entity from the hunter. You had to go out into the world and tame your pet from the wild, even the very first pet. The pet had it's own experience bar, and leveled separately. You had to keep your pet happy and feed it with the appropriate food. If your pet grew too unhappy, it would actually run away from you. The pet had a "loyalty" statistic that measured how attached it was to you.1 You had to train your pet with new skills that you learned by taming other beasts.
There was this whole "tamagotchi"/virtual pet aspect to hunter pets at the start of WoW that was very attractive. It was a small mini-game within the class that didn't really have anything to do with combat or raiding or pvp. In many ways, that mini-game has been bled out from the class in the name of streamlining, and I think that is a real shame. The hunter pet has, more and more, become a mere extension of the hunter, rather than something with its own personality.
Obviously, some parts of the old system, particularly training new skills, were a little excessive. The pet talent trees are much better. And your pet running away from you was harsh, because feeding your pet wasn't exactly intuitive at level 10. But I think that rather than going in the current direction with pets, Blizzard should reconsider, and go in the opposite direction and play up the virtual pet aspect more.
If it was up to me, I would keep pet happiness in the game. Indeed, I would remove pet happiness from the talent trees, so your pet wouldn't automatically stay happy. Instead there would be more emphasis on feeding your pet and using the Mend Pet glyph to keep it happy. The hunter should actively control her pet's happiness.
I would also keep the 3 level difference on taming, to emphasize the separate personalities.
I would also not have the hunter start with a pet. Instead, the level 3 hunter class quest should be to tame your first pet from the wild. Though it would still be a guardian, like it is now.
I think Blizzard needs to slow down with its streamlining of classes. Not all inconveniences need to be eliminated. Sometimes the inconvenience adds something. Having to deal with pet happiness is sometimes an inconvenience, but in the long run it makes the hunter class more interesting.
1. Infamously captured in the Loyalty Level 6 controversy. For those who weren't around at the time, Loyalty Level 6 was the highest rank of loyalty your pet could attain. It was also the name of a piece of fan art that depicted a scantily-clad female tauren hunter hugging her pet lion. The WoW community--never high-minded at the best of times--immediately jumped to the most salacious conclusion.