The White Lion is one of the most unusual classes in the game. It’s an elf with a big two-handed axe, so right from the start there is a sense of disconnect. Elves don’t use axes, dwarves do! Far from being effete academics, the lore says that White Lions are tough mountain warriors – not forest dwellers. And although they have trained war lions to hunt with them, they also wear lionskin around their shoulders as a mark of accomplishment. So these are not your average Tolkeinesque elves, they’re a more savage culture.
And from an MMO point of view, a melee dps class with a pet is quite uncommon in itself. Pets are usually used to tank by ranged classes. So how does the Lion work out?
It’s a fun class. Even at low levels, with a nice renown axe my White Lion can put out a lot of damage very quickly. When I’m on form, I have no trouble dashing in and out of combat and downing some annoying squishy before heading back to the shelter of my local tank. The pet is mostly well behaved and does what it is told, there are issues with the UI and pathing that I’ll touch on later but I’ve been more impressed than frustrated with him.
Pet control is in three parts.
1. You can set how much you want to micromanage the pet’s targets by selecting aggressive (pet attacks anything in range), defensive (pet attacks anything that attacks you), or passive (pet only attacks when it is ordered to attack). These settings have become quite standard in MMO pet classes. I usually put mine on passive, although I have found in RvR that setting it to defensive means that it goes after healers if no one is actually hitting me. So it has a regular PvE mobs aggro list. This may make the lion more useful than I am but I don’t mind if it is making me look good. It dashes off behind a rock and comes out chasing a shaman.
2. You can manage where it is by selecting between follow (pet follows you), stay (pet stays where it is) or attack (pet runs off and attacks your target). All of these can be mapped to keys. I usually stick the pet on follow, using keybinds to get it to attack things.
3. Pet abilities. The lion has a number of abilities which include a variety of dps moves, a snare, some debuffs, and a taunt. You can micromanage these by mapping them to keys (or using mouse-clicks) or you can leave the lion to use them itself which it tends to do on every cooldown. The trick is that it doesn’t have access to all of its abilities all of the time. You can train your lion to take different stances (trained to threaten, trained to kill, trained to hunt) and each stance gives it access to a different set of abilities and also gives a buff to you. So for example, trained to threaten (the pet tanking stance) gives the pet a taunt, a snare, and an attack that debuffs enemy armour. It also gives the pet’s master 5% extra crit chance.
So there is a LOT of scope for micromanagement if you want to control absolutely what your pet is doing at all times. But it works well enough without. I’ve been using trained to threaten for RvR and hotkeying the snare and letting the lion do the rest on its own, but I’m definitely not done experimenting yet.
The White Lion doesn’t have much utility. And some of the utility that it does have (like the snare) is provided by the pet. I would have preferred to have my own snare, but this way does force you to work with the pet as best you can.
What they do have is a lot of solid damage moves. The three talent trees do encourage different styles of play, which is a design I like to see because it gives a class more replayability. Path of the Hunter has solid dps boosts, such as a tactic to increase attack speed by 50%. With a big slow axe, I expect that to put out some big AP-free numbers. It also encourages you to set the pet on a different target and has abilities which let both pet and master work together. But the primary focus of this line is on AE damage. Path of the Axeman is all about letting the pet tank while the elf puts out huge single-target damage. It emphasises attacks from the side or rear and contains the classes only healing debuff attack. There’s a nice baseline ability which ignores all armour when you attack from behind which is handy for those times when you absolutely have to chase down a tank. And Path of the Guardian is all about enhancing the pet’s ability to get to a target and deliver huge damage, while toughening the elf so that she is better able to tank. It has an ability that allows the pet to break crowd control which will be familiar to anyone who played a hunter in WoW.
For getting in and out of combat quickly, the White Lion has access to a speed boost that doesn’t consume AP as well as sprint, and there is a Pounce ability that you can spec for which allows a leap into combat over a short distance. It also apparently negates falling damage if you Pounce while falling, which may be a bug.
Sometimes the pet interface disappears completely. This can be resolved by resummoning the lion but the resummoning is on a 15s timer which starts when you dismiss it (or it dies). It can be hard to track where the pet is at all times, and it is sometimes slow at coming back to heel when called. Pathing is generally good — in particular when you jump off something, the lion jumps with you. But occasionally the lion will stand around or take a route you hadn’t predicted.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the pathing though. I was expecting worse. It’s quite usable.
Playing the Lion in RvR
I’ve never really felt I was good at playing melee in PvP. It is much harder than playing ranged, you don’t always have much time to pick our your targets and you don’t get as good a view of what is going on around you. And you always need to run in before you can start attacking. Ranged have a much larger target choice and more time to see what’s going on. And of course with the White Lion, you may need to be picking out two targets at a time, one for you and one for the pet.
One of the things I wanted to do with my White Lion was try to get a bit better at playing melee. So I have been levelling her mostly in scenarios and open RvR. I find with melee that RvR is much more of a rollercoaster. When it goes well, it REALLY goes well. The numbers are flying, targets die quickly, you get to charge after a wounded tank and kill them in one blow and you feel ‘well ‘ard’. I’ve had scenarios where I had loads of killing blows and a few solo kills to my name. I’ve had some where I felt as though I was dying constantly and being nothing but a burden to the rest of my team. I have decided that it is probably normal to feel like this and that I’m probably no worse than lots of other people.
It is more challenging to play a class that you know you aren’t particularly good with. I’m still hoping that with more practice that will change. I am really enjoying the White Lion, now into Tier 2 and looking forwards to picking up Pounce. The big axe feels dangerous. The lion feels useful and well trained unless I mess up its chances. There’s still a lot to learn.
And the most important thing: what do you call the lion? The command is /petname <name>. I named mine Kol after one of my old In Nomine RPG characters that was an angel of judgement, a man of few words.
What did you call your pet?