I have been doing a bunch of pet battles in WOW this past week. I wonder how this system got implemented in the first place, because a fantasy game where you run around and slay monsters for treasure doesn't instantly make you think of a turn based tactical game where you pit your squirrels, war robots, and baby dragons against your opponent's wolves, walking pumpkins, and zombies.
And yet pet battles made it into the game, and I think a lot of people are using that part of WOW. For me it is a fun way to pass the time because it is an entertaining puzzle to solve without the normal click pressure that WOW entails. My hands hurt if I play too hard or too long so the 1 click every ten seconds speed of pet battles is perfect as a way to rest. The depth of the puzzle is quite large too, as there are hundreds of pets of ten types, with each pet having six different abilities to select from. The abilities have types as well as a huge variety of effects, and when you combine the type bonuses and penalties with the effects the combinations boggle the mind.
However, pet battles are a lot like the rest of WOW in that you have to pour a ton of time into the game before the actual tactics portion begins. Slaughtering low level pets in the wild is trivial, but you have to do that for awhile to get yourself going, in the same way that levelling up your character in WOW is boring but you have to do it in order to play the endgame.
It doesn't speak well of the genre that I characterize the levelling up process as boring and a chore, but that is where it is at these days. I think Blizzard, and maybe the whole community, needs to figure out some way for this to be better. Back in the beginning when the game was harder levelling up was actually a lot of fun for me, but the new systems where you just follow the quest trail and every monster is trivial just isn't gripping.
Pet battles are the same way. You could just take a group of level 1 pets and level them up together against random monsters but honestly that game isn't much fun. It is just a brainless grind. Instead of doing that I wait until pet battle bonus week and then do all kinds of tricks to powerlevel pets like crazy. (Plump Turkey to sleep level 25 enemies, rotate in level 1 pet, and then run WoD pet masters with 2 tanks and a pet to be carried.)
When I actually have a max level stable of pets though the game is quite enjoyable. Lots of puzzles to figure out and things to test. Unfortunately I usually end up looking for a particular ability on a particular pet type and then I realize that the pet I need is level 1, or that I don't have it yet. So off I go to find that pet and level it up.
It is a bit hard to say that this is all bad. I mean, finding interesting pets has led me to running old dungeons and raids and exploring much of the world that I had otherwise ignored. That is actually pretty entertaining in itself and I am enjoying having reasons to revisit places long ignored.
However, I think that the model of tons of trivial content that people want to skip gating the good stuff isn't really ideal. Rather than making levelling up easy but boring, I would opt for making it hard but interesting. If Blizzard feels the need to increase experience gain so that you have to kill less stuff to gain levels but killing it is much harder I would happily sign up, even if it made levelling slower.
I want to do things that push me, and I don't mind gated content, but far better a gate I have to think about or practice on than one that just takes a long time to swing open.