Why Do MMOs Hate Summoners?

Ultrons EverywhereMaybe it’s because I cut my teeth on RTSes before I even had an always-on Internet connection, but I’ve always liked the idea of summoner classes in RPGs. Hunter style pets are all well and good, but how much better would it be to have four or five or fifteen little minions following you around? In games like Marvel Heroes, I gravitate toward characters like Squirrel Girl, Iceman, and Ultron who involve a lot of pet management. In Torchlight II I played the Engineer because of his various bots, and one of the first mods I got into was a necromancer class. Yet in the MMO realm, I almost never play summoner types because they’re almost universally lame. For instance, in Guild Wars 2, the Necromancer has the potential to summon a horde of pets, but they don’t heal out of combat, and there’s a longish cooldown to resummon them, which is just annoying, and also they’re not really as good as just focusing on DoTs or direct damage. And, as far as I know, they’ve only gotten worse since I’ve been playing. The same can be said for the much smaller number of summonables that the guardian, elementalist, and engineer get. It’s the same story in just about every MMO I play; summoning playstyles either aren’t available or focusing on them severely reduces your damage output.

Supposedly, a lot of this is due to technical limitations; if everyone had an army of pets running around it would put too much load on the server and clients. First of all, I’ve used the “technical limitations” excuse myself, and nine times out of ten it’s simply programmerspeak for “I didn’t optimize my code well enough, and now it’s too hard to go back and fix it.” Second, aren’t they basically just NPCs that fight for players instead of against them? I know this is a gross oversimplification of something I don’t fully understand, but still, if the problem is purely one of technical limitations, shouldn’t summoners be getting more and more common as technology progresses, not less?

More plausible is that it’s more an issue of balance. In the tenuous and ever changing ecosystem that is MMO balance, I can imagine why tuning one-versus-one fights would be easier than tuning one-versus-five-little-things fights, and I can imagine it gets steadily more complicated the more players and enemies you throw into the mix; pets are part player, part DoT, and part AoE, and aren’t always predictable, especially in group settings. Still, it seems like, of all the various MMOs we have out there today–especially with so many that don’t seem to put much thought into balance–someone should have done it.

Thinking about this makes me all the more sad that I never got to play City of Heroes/Villains, as the Mastermind looks like it would be exactly what I’m looking for. Sadly I will never know, and, because NCsoft decided to rub salt in the wound by adding one of their least popular characters to their new MOBA, whatever small chance there was of an indie studio ever reviving it is pretty much dead. Hopefully one of these fan-made City of Heroes clones will pan out to be decent, but I’m not holding my breath.