This is a pretty large topic, and I don’t think I’ll be able to cover the entire thing with one thread, so I want to be very specific about what I address here. I’ve made feedback threads regarding reworks I believe the pets need to viable (1)(2), issues with Gamma Burst (3) (4), and overall pet scaling issues in Mayhem 2.0 Phase 2 (5). For other consistent FL4K issues, @Ratore FL4K Skills, Pets, Class Mods and Interactions: what could change covers every other concern in depth. In the interest of not beating a dead horse, I don’t want to retread on those points in this discussion so I’m mostly going to be setting aside Gamma Burst and scaling issues for the time being.
What I’d like to address with this thread is the overall support system for pet’s; what they are used for, how the game supports that, and how those mechanics could be improved. I will primarily be focusing on three aspects of the pet’s design: their utility (non-damage attributes thy provide to FL4K like aggro draw and healing skills), attack commands, and the anointments that activate on attack command activation. A lot of this is going to be extremely off-meta, but there are tons of interactions and systems in place that support pets, but do so in a way that is weak and ineffectual, and my hope with this thread is to bring some of the more common complaints against these interactions to light.
Table of Contents
- An Overview of FL4K’s Pets
- Why Do We Have a Service Animal
- Examining the System
- Pitfalls of the System
- How Can This Be Changed
- Why Does This Matter
FL4K is Borderland’s first Beastmaster, a vault hunter who is accompanied by a permanent companion that works in tandem with FL4K to bring down their enemies. Unlike previous summons, which were attached to an action skill duration, FL4K’s beasts are always out on the field providing damage and distraction for the hunter. As a Beastmaster, FL4K has various skills that utilize the pet to distract enemies, provide buffs, and strengthen each other.
This pet does not disappear from the field unless its health points are drained to 0, in which case it will enter a downed state. If you fail to revive the pet while it is downed, it will disappear for 1 minute, and then respawn at your character’s current location. Every pet provides FL4K with at least 1 passive bonus. These bonuses range from extra damage and fire rate to movement speed, health regen, and damage reduction. These bonuses are applied to FL4K as long as the pet is alive and on the field. They can be strengthened with the Master skill Barbaric Yawp.
FL4K has 16 skills that directly affect pets. The skills can be divided into several categories: Passive bonuses, Hunter kill skills, and pet activated bonuses. Passive skills are those like Ferocity, Grim Harvest, and Pack Tactics. These tend to increase the pet’s/FL4K’s damage in tandem. Hunter kill skills are a relatively recent addition added to the game back in November. These skills require FL4K to kill enemies to provide their pets with a buff. This category includes skills such as Most Dangerous Game, Interplanetary Stalker, and Psycho Head on a Stick. Conditional bonuses require the pet or FL4K to perform an action in order to receive or give a benefit. For example, Frenzy and Who Rescued Who both require the pet to attack enemies to activate their respective bonuses to the pet and FL4K. Lick the Wounds and Not My Circus would also fall under this category.
What is the skill used for – From the interactions listed above, one could draw several conclusions about the usage of FL4K’s pets. They have plenty of skills that increase FL4K’s survivability, providing FL4K with increased health regen, damage reduction, and taunts that redirect enemy attacks away from FL4K. They even have a skill that revives FL4K is they are downed. As well as that, the passive bonuses each pet provides can massively increase the damage FL4K deals. However, pet damage abilities exist in equal if not greater numbers than any utility skill.
Another important aspect of the class to note is that neither FL4K nor their pet gain power at the expense of the other through the skill tree. In fact, a large amount of FL4K’s skills effect both them and the pet. Out of the 37 total skills FL4K has, 17 of them buff both at the same time.
There are several ways that FL4K’s pets interact with the player, the character’s gear, and the larger skill system. As mentioned previously I’ll avoid discussing aspects of the pets such as taunts or damage during Gamma Burst since I addressed those in other threads. What I’d like to focus on here are the pet’s passive bonuses and damage. To do so, I’ll first explain what I see as Gearbox’s design intentions for the pets. Afterwards, I’ll examine the ways in which the current implementation falls short of these goals. Lastly, I’ll offer suggestions based on the most common complaints I’ve seen regarding these mechanics.
How Are the Pets Designed?
All of the interactions and values I will be discussing in this section were discovered and tested in this thread Fl4k Critter Lab.
There are 3 attributes to FL4K’s pets: their health points, their passive bonuses, and their attacks. They are also divided into three tiers: Tier 1 pets are the creatures you unlock when you hit level 2. These pets include the Spiderant Centurion, Guard Skag, and Sidekick Jabber. Tier 2 pets become available once 12 points have been invested into a specific skill tree, and includes Spiderant Scorcher, Great Horned Skag, and Beefcake Jabber. Lastly, tier 3 pets are unlocked once 17 skill points have been spent, and includes Spiderant Countess, Eridian Skag, and Gunslinger Jabber.
Many attributes are consistent across tiers. For instance: All pets have the same health values and normal attack melee damage (DEMONITE VIDEO) regardless of tier. What changes depending on tier are the strength of passive bonuses and attack command damage.
Starting backwards at tier 3 pets, these provide FL4K with 2 passive bonuses at 5% each. Most of these pets tend to have unique mechanics that make them viable as damage dealers (for example, Gunslinger Jabber’s and Spiderant Countess’ attack commands scale off of splash damage, providing them with an additional multiplier unavailable to the other pets).
Tier 2 pets have the 2 passive bonuses. They are also unique in that their second passive is a 10% increase compared to the 5% of tier 3 pets. This means that they scale much better with Barbaric Yawp. The passives that these pets provide also tend to be more in demand for the current meta, making these pets a solid choice for nearly every build.
Tier 1 pets have one passive bonus only, whereas all other pets give two. They also tend to have attack commands that scale poorly due to being non-melee, non-splash damage attacks (refer to this thread see why that is bad). They are also the smallest pets in FL4K’s arsenal. Because of this, they will be abandoned as soon as FL4K reaches level 12 and can equip a tier 2 pet.
Pet Damage Formula
Discounting Gamma Burst and it’s bonus radiation damage, there are 4 mechanisms in place that increase the pet’s damage: skills, class mods, anointments, and Guardian Rank perks.
FL4K’s pet damage formula is as follows :
Final Damage Output = Base Damage x Pet Damage x Sic’ Em x DE4DEYE (/FRIENDBOT?) x Go For The Eyes x Splash x Elemental Multiplier x Harmageddon
The damage formula for the pets includes 7 different multipliers. However, 2 of them are exclusive attack commands, 1 is limited to spiderants only, and 1 only activates once per enemy. This means that in most normal scenarios, pets will actually only be able to access 3 of these multipliers, and even then you would need to have a Deadeye equipped for one of those.
There are also pieces missing from the above formula. The Guardian Rank perk Hollow Point can proc on pet critical kills with Go for the Eyes. This interaction is extremely niche and it is difficult to quantify its to damage contribution, but it can be substantial in the right circumstances accounting for a 10x damage increase. There is also the Bloody Harvest exclusive terror anointment “On attack command, consume all terror stacks and your pet will gain 50% additional bonus damage as fire”. This anointment is elemental splash the same as Gamma Burst, but applies to all pet attacks and not just melee.
Here are the main contributors to pet damage for each mechanism listed at the top of this section:
- Skills – all of the additive pet bonus listed below, Go for the Eyes and Sic Em if focusing on attack commands
- Class Mods – As of right now only the Deadeye
- Anointments – The 200% splash ASE anointment is the 2nd largest multiplier available after Pet Damage. The terror anointment can be a 25%-88% multiplier depending on the enemy health type.
- Guardian Rank – Harmageddon is a 20% multiplier, and Hollow Point can vary immensely but goes up to 10x from what I’ve seen ( Critter Lab proof)
One of the primary methods that FL4K’s can employ to keep themselves alive is taunts. These are powerful AOE aggro draws that take enemy attention nearly completely off of FL4K. There are 2 ways to activate taunts. One of them is the red text effect of the Red Fang class mod, and the other is the Fade Away augment Not My Circus. Galactic Shadow is supposed to make enemies less likely to target FL4K, however the effects of this skill are extremely difficult to find in action as it seems to make little discernible difference.
The mechanisms described above and the tiered pet divisions split the pets into 2 categories: buffers and damage dealers. Damage dealing pets don’t just have more damage on their attack commands, they have access to multipliers and mechanics the other pets don’t. Likewise, buffer pets will always have better potential in that area simply due to one of their passive increases being the double the value of the other pets. This dichotomy should present interesting build paths for players, but it has consistently fallen short for numerous reasons.
- Pet damage has been under-tuned for the entirety of the game’s life so far. Even when fully building into attack commands, it will be far less powerful than taking a pet that provides FL4K with damage buffs.
- The buffing potential of the other tiers is completely non-competitive with tier 2 pets. Aside from tier 2 pets providing higher values on their bonuses, the passives they provide are also more relevant to the player base. Most players would prefer to have passive boosts to damage than survivability, especially since low values can still make a large difference depending on where the bonus falls in the damage formula while most survivability stats won’t make a difference at 5%.
- Pets have little to no natural aggro draw without taunts, limiting the usefulness of pets to their buffing capabilities if not employing taunt skills or gear effects.
- While some of the pets do have useful abilities aside from buffs, these are almost never worth trading the buffs you can get from the tier 2 pets.
Since every pet can taunt the same, has the same health, and most have similar damage values, the player is incentivized to pick a pet solely based on the passive buff it provides and nothing else.
The issues outlined above are rooted deeply in the implementation of FL4K’ pet mechanics as a whole. Their design, the skills they interact with, and the anointments that affect them all play a role in perpetuating the current paradigm of pet usage. To incentivize players to connect more deeply with the various systems involved with pets, they need to be tweaked or overhauled to be more attractive options compared to the power provided by the passive buffs alone.
Increasing Aggro Options
To give pets better utility, they should have greater aggro draw without the need to invest in an action skill augment or piece of gear. I think a good spot to do this would be Galactic Shadow. This skill is very difficult to notice the effect of, since it passively reduces the enemy’s chance to attack FL4K. We don’t know the circumstances that this skill is actually active under, so it’s difficult to notice a perceptible change in enemy targeting.
My suggestion would be to attach a concrete condition to this skill so it can be purposefully activated and become a perceptible increase to FL4K’s survivability. One possible way to go about it is “Enemies that attack FL4K’s pet are less likely to attack you”. That way you could pretty much guarantee that at least 1 target will always have their attention held by the pet.
Adding More Passive Bonuses to tier 1 and tier 3 pets
To decrease the disparity between the buffing potential of the tier 2 pets and the others, tier 1 and tier 3 should have their passive stats tweaked.
Tier 1 pets should give 15% instead of 5% in their respective bonuses since they only give one passive and don’t have damage to provide either. Tripling their one passive would give players some incentive to continue using these pets after the next tiers are unlocked. Gearbox may not have intended for these pets to be useful past the early stages of the game, but having these pets be borderline useless drastically reduces the amount of choices we have for pets, so I believe this is a reasonable request. Players would still more than likely prefer Tier 2 most of the time since having two slightly weaker passives would be more appealing than having one super powerful one, but it would provide something unique and possibly quite powerful in the right circumstances. For example, combining 3% base health regen from Centurion and Barbaric Yawp would provide the player with 9% health regen. This amount of health is much higher than what FL4K can normally achieve, and may be worth sacrificing some damage for depending on the situation.
Tier 3 pets should provide a third passive stat. These stats can remain at 5% instead of 10% to keep them distinct from tier 2, but adding another stat would help to close the gap in buffing potential. For instance, adding a 5% passive reload speed bonus onto the Eridian Skag which already has 5% bonus fire rate and bonus damage, which make it more appealing to FL4K’s running Guerillas in the Mist. Gunslinger could increase accuracy as a third stat, and Countess could decrease DOT duration.
These wouldn’t be groundbreaking bonuses, and most players would still probably prefer tier 2 pets most of the time. However, implementing these changes would make it so that players who do part with the buffer pets can do so without being punished as severely as they are right now.
Attack Commands and their anointments
This is where I feel one of the largest issues with pets comes from. Since launch, attack commands have been reviled as one of the most useless parts of FL4K’s kit, and for good reason. They are incredibly unresponsive, have a very long cool down, and their damage in most situations isn’t spectacular. There are several anointments that use this attack as an activation condition, and those anointments are dragged down because of it.
Before continuing, a massive inhibitor of these anointments that makes them dreadful to use in combat is their duration: they last for 10 seconds, but attack commands have a default cool down of 20! Yes, you can invest in Sic Em’ and Eager to Impress to get the cool down to something more manageable, but unless your pet can get frequent kills, you will still be looking at a 16 second cool down to a 10 second duration. On top of that, you need to spam attack commands every 10 seconds to keep up the effect, which breaks the flow of combat immensely. It’s similar to the complaints Moze player have about needing to hop in and out of Iron Bear, only the anointments we activate for doing so are incredibly underwhelming.
I’d suggest simply increasing the duration of the attack command anointments to 18 seconds, same as Moze, or decreasing the cool down of attack commands to 10 seconds at base. These anointments will never see any use with their abysmal uptime, and even when building exclusively around attack commands it is extremely difficult to get good performance out of these anointments.
This is part of the larger discussion about anointments and the disparity between them, but for now I’d like to focus on this set in particular. There are 3 anointments that activate on an attack command: 30% lifesteal, 8% movement speed, and the terror anointment for 50% bonus fire damage. Both 30% life steal and 8% movement speed only spawn on weapons, while the terror anointment can spawn on weapons, shields, or grenades. Due to this difference, I’ll go over the terror anointment on it’s own, and will address the other two anointments first.
30% Lifesteal & 8% Movement Speed
This anointment only spawns on weapons, and that should explain why they are never used. While damage-based anointments have only been getting more powerful, utility anointments haven’t been buffed at all, and one could argue that they weren’t even worth it at launch (8% movement speed? Seriously?). The decision between 30% lifesteal/8% movement speed tied to attack commands or 100% bonus damage at the least for the more powerful anointments is a no-brainer.
I also question how these bonuses fit into the design of the pets. Neither of these bonuses increase FL4K’s damage and the utility they provide are extremely roundabout at best (I must reiterate: 8% movement speed is a terrible bonus). They don’t provide any aggro relief, they don’t provide any pet damage, and while the life steal does fit into the role that FL4K’s pet occupy in their kit, it does so in a manner that would never entice me to use it.
To make these anointments more appealing to players and align them with the (presumed) intended usages of the pets:
- Move these anointments out of the weapon slot!
- The anointment system has undergone massive changes since launch, the most disruptive of which was the addition of ASE elemental damage to the shield and grenade. Before they were introduced, only weapons could directly increase damage: shields and grenades were used for utility. Once ASE elements were introduced, every available anointment slot could be used for weapon damage, and the utility anointments were far too weak to be worth using over damage. This shift was incredibly harmful to attack command anointments, which already had narrow use cases without the competition.
- While shield and grenade slots have been opened to damage anointments, the same has not been done for all of the utility anointments that spawn on weapons. Every slot can spawn weapons damage anoints, yet weapons can also spawn bonuses such as single digit movement speed bonuses. This massively dilutes the anointment pool and disincentivizes players from using weaker anointments. To counteract this, non-damage anointments (which include attack command ones) should be moved to the shield and grenade slot where there will be less competition and opportunity cost for the slots.
- As stated at the top of this post, FL4K and their pets are supposed to gain strength in tandem. The current implementation of these anointments forces FL4K to surrender tremendous amounts of damage so the pet can provide more useful bonuses. It makes no sense considering the rest of the pet’s design. Moving these anointments to the grenade and shield would allow the character and their companion to grow more powerful together.
- Increase their duration
- The duration of these anointments is far too short considering the cool down of attack commands is 20 seconds. Even if you spam them off cool down, you would only have 50% uptime on these bonuses. While this may not be a 1-to-1 comparison, Gearbox addressed cool down issues related to Iron Bear which made the skill much more useable. We desperately need similar changes for attack commands if we are to ever use the anointments associated with them.
- Change the 8% Movement Speed Anointment
- 30% Lifesteal would be a very decent bonus if Gearbox could work out the kinks with these anointment’s durations. 8% move speed on the other hand will never have a use case. It just needs to be reworked into something that fits with the identity of FL4K’s pets.
- Since the lifesteal anointment exists to provide survivability, and the terror anointment provides pet damage, I would suggest changing this into a FL4K buff: “When issuing an attack command, FL4K gains 100% increased critical hit damage”. An anointment with this level of power would be worth sacrificing ASE Elements or other powerful anointments, and is a perfect thematic fit for an Intergalactic hunter.
Terror works in a more positive manner than the other attack command anointments since it can spawn on shields and grenades. The downside is that it requires two anointment slots, one for generating terror and the other for the pet damage to consume it. This anointment places a tremendous gear tax on the player, and it simply isn’t worth losing so much to use it.
The terror anointment also suffers for working in the same manner as Gamma Burst. More details are listed here ( Critter Lab), but the jist of it is that this bonus generates an instance of elemental splash damage, which overrides other splash damage bonuses and massively lowers the attack command damage of tier 3 pets. It also has strange interactions with Sic Em’ and Go for the Eyes, frequently discounting them from its damage calculations. So while this anointment is a boon to every pet who’s attacks didn’t function with Gamma Burst (Scorcher’s lava pool, Jabber’s guns, etc…), it has the same issue of destroying the damage potential of the pets whose primary function is to deal damage.
Since Gearbox adjusted the 300/90 Cartel anointment, I’ll take a leap and make a big ask of them here. This anointment is the only one that effects non-splash pet damage in the game, and it is tied to a time limited anointment that requires two gear slots to work. It needs a lot more oomph to be viable. I have two requests:
- Change this from a “consume terror” anointment to a “while terrified” one. It would work much better with most of the other terror anointments FL4K would use if it didn’t consume the terror stacks needed to fuel the other anointed bonuses.
- THIS BONUS CANNOT BE ELEMENTAL SPLASH! There is no room for debate here, elemental splash is a terrible bonus for the pets. It doesn’t work with many of their other damage bonuses, and it isn’t even a true multiplier since it’s effectiveness varies based on the health type of the enemy they are attacking. Please do not introduce anymore pet bonuses of this type, they are largely ineffective overall.
This needs to be changed to a multiplicative pet damage bonus of some kind in the same vein as the Deadeye, or even a new spot in the formula. That way it would buff all pet damage equally against all health types equally. It would make the pets far more powerful than tacking on yet another conditional damage bonus.
FL4K’s pets are the most disappointing feature of the class for everyone. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this: FL4K’s skill trees are well designed and they have the most build diversity of any character in this game. However, the entirety of pet mechanics, from their damage to their taunts and their associated anointment bonuses, have been weak, ineffective, and just plain unfun to use. Coming from The Presequel, where we had Laser Guided and Promote the Ranks providing powerful and interesting builds for their respective classes, we expected FL4K to have a level of interactivity and strength with their companions that would surpass every other character in the franchise. Yet everything associated with the pets has unequivocally been the worst the series has to offer.
Players are frequently left wondering what Gearbox’s intentions are for the pets. Are they meant to do damage? If so, why do they continue to be so weak, have so many counterintuitive mechanics, and remain riddled with so many damage sapping bugs? Are we supposed to use them for utility only? Then why do we have so many damage skills and mechanics, and why have the utility skills been left by the wayside while damage continues to get buffed? Is there some other purpose? If there is, why isn’t this clear from the skill tree? It’s been a source of frequent anger and frustration among FL4K players since the game released and has been intensifying more as the game grows. What is it that Gearbox intends these pets to be used for, and why doesn’t the game allow me to do those things? I keep looking to Iron Bear and digi-clone, and see that Gearbox can do so much better with FL4K’s pets. There can be synergy, there can be damage, and there can be a coherent design direction.
My hope is that these threads will show Gearbox just how much mental gymnastics we as the players put into understanding their pet system, and how confused we still are by it. And how frustrated and exhausted we are by it. Number tweaks just can’t fix a lot of these issues. The game can’t be kept help together by spit and glue. At some point, more substantial fixes need to be made to bring out the full potential of the game. I sincerely hope that Gearbox can deliver on this and bring about the FL4K that we know can exist.