In exploring the necromancer class, Star and San had a wealth of experience to draw upon as both run necromancers on a regular basis. Star chose to avoid her normal builds and weapon sets, using the NPE study to explore unfamiliar aspects of the class. San hoped to gain some insights about how to fix her main 80 necro who’d been broken by previous profession balance passes and nerfs to necros.
Necromancers begin with an axe and are soon rewarded a slightly better one. Given the half-range of the axe, the scepter or staff may be a better weapon for early levels, especially when the lack of Death Shroud and life force skills are factored in. An added bonus to switching to scepter is the ability to stack condition damage on higher-level enemies, damaging them even when direct attacks are only glancing, as we saw in our warrior study. By switching to the long-ranged staff, enemies may be kept at a safe distance while additional weapon skills, followed by the profession skills that unlock at level five, become available. In addition,the healing skill was changed with the introduction of the NPE, swapping the blood fiend minion for Well of Blood. This allows new necromancers to begin exploring wells and staff marks which will later allow the necromancer to control enemies and apply conditions (wells), and also gain sustainability if they so choose (marks).
San did not switch to scepter during this test, choosing to stay with axe/dagger and then dual daggers when weapon swapping unlocked and she could swap to staff. This allowed her to experiment with skill rotations that helped power her test necromancer through stat slumps and take the profession to the edge of survivability on several occasions. At nearly level 3, San took her necro to Mepi’s moa ranch in Queensdale. Against level 5 bandits, any direct damage resulted in glancing blows which did practically no damage. Testing positioning in three attempts at these bandits, the necromancer died each time, something that rarely happened to necromancers against enemies 2-3 levels higher before the introduction of the NPE. Taking one shot regularly halved his health in this instance despite having Well of Blood active. Level 4 increases primary attribute numbers and the difference is palpable. San’s necro didn’t suffer or take nearly as much damage from level 3 enemies (elementals at Western Divinity Dam). That he took any damage, though, was rather shocking. Leveling necromancers definitely need coddling now which San finds utterly disappointing for a class that’s supposed to be the master of death.
One solution, however, comes in adjusting skill rotation and knowing how to effectively incorporate Death Shroud, which unlocks at level 5, into one’s rotation. Once offhand weapon skills open at levels 4 and 7, combining these with Death Shroud helps make the necromancer feel incredibly powerful. Axe skill 3 (Unholy Feast) activates retaliation while skill 1 (Rending Claws) inflicts vulnerability. When used in an effective sequence, then, changing the skill rotation allows the necromancer to have better survivability. The rotation of axe 3, then dagger 4 (inflicts blindness), then axe 1 to stack at least 10 vulnerability, then axe 2 for damage or into Death Shroud for skill 4 (Life Transfer) for life steal and 2 (Dark Path) for bleeding and freezing enemies, then skill 1 (Life Blast) at mid to melee range = necro bad ass. This rotation is not quite as impressive as previous necromancer iterations (San sometimes had to pop Well of Blood typically at half health), but the rotation was effective against enemies of the same or maybe one level higher. Stat bursts brought her necromancer back to impressiveness and the rotation kept him a threat with lots of kiting, making him more menacing.
Death Shroud, then, allows the necromancer to access the spectral skills that help define the class. After several changes to the necromancer build, most players will find that they must learn to incorporate these skills into their play if they are to survive. Players new to the class, or returning players who were used to the old necros, may find incorporating Death Shroud into their rotation tricky. Star has slowly started to do this after infrequent use in the past. As with weapon skills, the life force skills are level-gated. Be aware that skills 4 and 5 are not available when Death Shroud first opens. This does give a new or new-to-necro player a chance to understand how Death Shroud can work in their skill rotation.
Once utility skills open at level 13, Well of Power is awarded for condition removal. Opening the heal skill Consume Conditions is another option for condition removal, as are dagger skill 4 or staff skill 4 by transferring conditions to your enemy. Because of this, using gained skill points to unlock different utility slot skills is much more viable for necromancers than for some other classes. Skills like Signet of Power for passive additional power and active condition damage, and Spectral Armor for protection and life force gain while taking damage are useful choices among the variety of wells and corruption skills also available. Finding the combination that works best for you, while also rotating between weapon and Death Shroud, can ensure necromancer victory, even when mobbed.
Star felt the leveling experience went quickest while completing maps – filling hearts, participating in events, and collecting waypoints and points of interest. While exploring, she noted that karma merchants who are available after a heart is filled, may provide a player with another source of armor. However, depending upon what level a player is when they complete the heart, and whether or not they have opened up armorsmith, the karma armor may be only of limited use. Regardless, players should keep in mind the Fashion Forward achievement category while exploring and use these resources to improve their standing in it. Star felt that armor continued to be an important aspect of play as extra survivability and offensive skills were limited by the locked utility skills and inevitable stat slumps.
An interesting thing to note about leveling rewards for necromancers is that, when awarded staves, early necromancers get a choice of +power, +vitality, or +toughness and no sigil, whereas when other professions are awarded staves, the stat boost was always the same (+power), only the sigil changed. This is an interesting way to try to help balance a class now so vulnerable to taking damage.
Overall, necro needs care and expertise to play well. They take damage that brings their health down pretty quickly but if you can learn how to rotate your weapon skills with Death Shroud and effective sustaining and damage slot skills, this class is still a lot of fun. This test taught San where her max level necromancer broke and what she needed to do to fix her and bring back that bit of her awesomeness which got lost in the nerfs. For Star, beginning a new necromancer provided her with the opportunity to improve her understanding of the life force skills and their importance to the class, something she had less understanding of previously. Both of us ran this study without minions proving our persistent belief that curse and condition builds are still viable ways to play necromancer without relying on minions to tank and steal health for you.
Next time, we meander with mesmers!