My wife doesn't really have time to play during the semester, but we had some free time over the semester break - shortly after 3.0.2 hit - so we dusted off the old BM Hunter/Balance Druid combo. We journeyed out to Felwood, where I was counting on the zone's poorly designed quest progression to give us some easy quests to refresh our memories of how to play, followed by some stuff that was slightly above our level once we were back in fighting form. The only problem was that ALL of the content was easy. After the point where we survived a fight with 6-7 mobs of our level (2-pull that got some stealth adds and then maybe a runner that brought some more, or some repops, I lost track of where they were coming from), with neither of us even out of mana, I began to wonder if something odd had happened in the patch.
Then I tried the old freezing trap at my feet -> multishot trick to try and pull an add off of our cat and into the block of ice while we finished his buddy. The multishot hit the add, which the cat was not attacking... and the mob didn't move an inch. After some testing, it turned out that the new hunter pet talent Bloodthirsty was the culprit. The cat attacks quickly and heals 5% of his own health on average every 5 attacks. Because we use the cat as a tank, I've taken as many other talents that boost his HP as I could. That's suddenly a fair chunk of healing, which means a major chunk of aggro on any other mobs we're fighting.
At this point, my wife was getting bored from the complete lack of challenge the solo quests were presenting when attempted by two players with an unkillable tank that has rock-solid aggro as one of our PETS. Alright, I say, we can try to run Zul'Farrak if you want to, it will probably end poorly. ZF isn't quite the massive level sprawl that it used to be, and, at level 50, we were 4-6 levels above the mobs and boses in the dungeon. We have a semi-ideal setup with two forms of crowd control (her roots and my freezing trap), a tank, and both of us to supply some combination of healing and DPS. But it's a five-man dungeon, full of mobs that run to other nearby packs when injured, and there were only the two of us.
How poorly did this excursion go? Well, we didn't finish. Aili got [Zum'rah's Vexing Cane] and the [Lifeblood Amulet] off of the two toughest bosses in the zone, and it didn't seem worth making a late night of it since those were the only drops we needed. I guess they never thought about what pet talents would do to the pre-TBC game.
How good should a tanking pet be?
With respect to the hunters and warlocks out there, both classes bore me to tears solo. I feel like I'm playing my mage at ranged DPS, only without most of the work because I don't have to worry about moving or taking damage. I've tried pet classes in other games, including LORTO's Loremaster (well, I presume the bear is supposed to be a tank, though he wasn't very good at it and I gave up on him) and EQ2's Conjuror, and I find the same thing - either the tanking pet fails at tanking and is therefore useless, or the pet does its job and makes the game trivial.
(WoW Affliction-spec Warlocks can be played solo with a succubus providing general DPS and the Warlock themself "drain tanking" via using a mostly uninterruptible Drain Life to heal through the damage. This playstyle is definitely more fun from my perspective than hiding behind the big blue marshmellow man, but, at least at low levels, it's sufficiently harder that I have a hard time justifying the added risk compared to how the class is designed to be soloed.)
A role for the utility pet
Interestingly, I do like some classes that come with pets. My WoW mage has had the Water Elemental for almost the entire time the talent has been available (I spent a week or so trying out Frostfire and Arcane Barrage specs while leveling in Wrath), and I had a great time leveling Cheerydeth the first as Unholy in the Wrath beta. It isn't that the ghoul and the water elemental can't keep the rest of the pack of enemies occupied while I pick them off one at a time - indeed, the elemental is great at this because it can freeze the whole lot of them in place for me to blizzard them down from range. I guess I just hold somewhat of a distinction because it still feels like I, rather than some AI-controlled pet, am actually doing the work of killing the enemy.
Interestingly, I didn't like EQ2's Conjuror, which, like WoW Hunters and locks, gets a tanking pet and a variety of tools for keeping it alive, but I am vaguely enjoying a low level Illusionist alt. The Illusionist class is a debuff/crowd control oriented mage class, and you get the ability to summon an illusory copy of yourself who can cast most of your spells, though they do less damage and you don't get to tell the pet precisely what to do.
I don't think the class is in any danger of overtaking my Dirge (I rolled the character because I wanted to get an alt to level 10 for crafting purposes - human characters can choose an across-the-board crafting boost with their level 10 racial tradition perk), and I have no idea how it will hold up as mobs start doing more damage. Still, the class seems more like what I enjoy about pet classes - I'm doing the work of putting one enemy to sleep and killing a second as my pet entertains any additional foes that come our way. That division of labor is fine by me.
Actually tanking/kiting/etc the foe I'm trying to kill? Somehow, when I'm not in a group, I feel like that's my job.