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Hello Gorgonites! We're in the final stretch working on the next big game update, and I wanted to give you some insight into one of the update's big features: a major rewrite of the Animal Handling skill.
Animal Handling has never been a weak skill. It doesn't do the most damage possible, but the damage output has always been very respectable, especially for soloing. So why does it need a major rewrite? Because it's boring and kind of clunky.
The idea behind the skill is that you and your pet are working together as a team, but in practice you've mostly just been fighting side by side, each doing your own thing. You might occasionally give buffs to your pet, but the coordination has been lacking. So in the rewrite I wanted to provide more control over your pets' behavior in combat. It would also be great if different kinds of pets were useful for different scenarios or different gear builds.
So first off, pets no longer have Rage, nor Rage Attacks. If left to their own devices, they will just use their basic attack. But each pet has two special abilities that you can command it to use: a "special attack" and a "special trick". These vary wildly between types of pets. For instance, plains rats have a special attack that reduces the monster's Rage (much like the sword ability Parry), and a special "trick" that heals you. Here's some more examples of what pets can do -- this isn't a complete list, it's just trying to give you an idea of the sorts of things you'll find:
Sewer Rat: special attack reduces Rage. Special trick debuffs the target's poison resistance
Fey Panther: special attack deals extra damage. Special trick heals you
Razorslash Panther: special attack debuffs target's slashing resistance. Special trick roots the target in place
Grimalkin: special attack causes trauma bleed damage. Special trick "lures away" the pet's target by temporarily taunting it and then fleeing in the opposite direction
Old Fangsworth: special attack deals extra damage. Special trick deals LOTS of extra damage
Pets use Power for these special abilities. They have a Power pool just like players do. If you order your pet to use an ability when it doesn't have enough Power, you'll just get an error message, so there's a bit more for you to watch and coordinate. As you reach higher skill levels you'll find many ways to help pets manage their Power. There's equipment that can help, such as by giving them more Max Power or Power Regen, or by making your Feed Pet ability restore Power. But you aren't limited to just what you can find in the Animal Handling skill. Since pet Power works just like players' Power does, any abilities that restore Power can be used on them. And pets count as allies, so your group members can easily give them Power via abilities like Power Wave.
Along with rats and cats, in this update you'll be able to tame bears as well. Bears tend to be on the tank-ier side, with strong stats (like health and armor) and abilities that taunt the enemy or help keep the bear alive, but with reduced damage compared to cats. But there are exceptions to the rule, and a few kinds of bears are lethal killing machines. You'll need to explore different possible pets to see what's out there, and perhaps fill your stable with different pets for different roles.
The Animal Handling revision also cleans up a lot of weird little bugs and problems, like how you would automatically turn to face your pet when giving it buffs in combat (very distracting!). In fact, one of the reasons I've delayed the patch for a few more days is to have time to play with these new pets and make everything flow a little more smoothly. A lot of the old Animal Handling abilities and gear are changed dramatically, and there's lots of new treasure effects to find. And, of course, the skill will now be able to be raised to 60!
Because these mechanics are all brand new, attempts at balancing them are likely to miss the mark. That's just the way things go in alpha! You can expect more tweaks and changes as we move forward, and your feedback will help make sure that there's eventually a pet for every play style.
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