We are a month in, my fellow Necros. By now, most of us have a good feel for the profession, how it plays, and which spells and weapons we prefer, and a few have even started working on the nitty-gritty theorycrafting for our profession. With all of this experience from many a long night of grinding, we can now stop and take a look at Necros with an objective and experienced eye. What are we good at right now, what do we lack, and how can we improve? Today we will discuss all of these as we look at the Necro one month in.
What is the Necro amazing at?
I recall being told that all professions in GW2 will be able to do multiple roles, but in practice, there are some who fill a job much better than others. I think all of us can safely say that Guardians are easily recognized as one of the best at taking damage and healing others. Water Elementalists can heal like crazy and Warriors are amazing at taking damage and dishing it out. Where do Necromancers fall?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. It feels like we are a bit of a jack of all trades. I can put out some AoE healing in a pinch, but it isn’t amazing. I can throw out a lot of supporting skills like wells or condition removal, and I can even take quite a bit of heavy damage on a regular basis. The one area that we are unequivocally skilled at is dealing out damage–a lot of it. We can front-load our damage rapidly with some well-timed utilities skills, or we can do an amazing amount of damage over a longer period. In a dungeon group, it feels like we help out the most by unloading on mobs and controlling them.
Full disclosure, I have only run AC30, so a lot of my reasoning is based off of other Necros I have talked with. However, let me regale you with a tale of how good Necros are at controlling mobs. In my inaugural run of AC30, a Troll popped out of a wall during a dynamic event and promptly wiped three-fifths of my group. I managed to grab his attention the entire fight, kiting him while the other surviving members revived the others. I was able to chain my immobilize with daggers, chill and fear marks on staff, use Spinal Shivers with the focus, AoE blind with Well of Suffering and my minions Putrid Explosion combo, the Flesh Golem’s Charge, and finally, liberal use of Death Shroud. There was also a lot of dodging at the right times, but each of these abilities had to be executed at the right time with the right follow-up ability and while still doing damage. If I had messed up or mistimed any of these abilities, I would have gone splat very fast. This makes the Necromancer feel like a very high skill cap class, which suites me just fine, but that doesn’t help our new or potential Necromancer brethren.
What does the Necromancer need changed?
Necromancer is actually a bit challenging to play, and it doesn’t seem to attract a lot of people to the profession. Liberas from Guild Wars 2 Guru showed a poll of what profession people wanted to play at release, and Necromancer came about as close to last as you can get, barely beating out the number of ‘undecided’ people. (This was a big poll, too; 13,000 people is nothing to shake a stick at.) But what does the profession spread look like now?
John Smith from Anet gave us a nice little article showing that Necromancers are still low on the popularity list, but they appear to be in a better spot than Engineers and Mesmers (really, Mesmers? Okay, if you say so). Necros are still not user-friendly. Even John Peters, ArenaNet Game Designer, said in the official forums that Necromancer is the hardest profession to play right now. Keep in mind this is hispersonal opinion, but he also went on to say that once people start mastering Death Shroud, Necromancer will be extremely powerful.
Right here is one of the negatives for Necromancer: our profession mechanic is unintuitive. Since it’s a temporary state and some of the abilities have cast times, we have to experiment with this mechanic over and over until we get a really good feel for it. It also generates slowly early on, so a lot of new Necromancers have a hard time unlocking all of the abilities or even just reading the darn tooltips when they go into Death Shroud. Furthermore, new Necromancers will completely forget about Death Shroud because they don’t get to unlock their weapon skills when an enemy dies while they are in the Death Shroud state.
The other profession mechanics seem much easier to use. The closest profession mechanic to ours is the Warrior’s Adrenaline bar, but even that can be used easily from level one, since the usage is broken up by thirds, and if you use it early you still get pretty good benefits from it. Necromancer is also the only profession mechanic where you can shorten, or rather reduce, its effectiveness by damaging the Necromancer and thus depleting their life force. The closest parallel here is the Mesmer and destroying their clones/illusions before they are able to shatter them, but there are other ways for the Mesmer to quickly regenerate those.
Furthermore, Death Shroud lacks something really crucial and essential to the game: the ability to see conditions and boons currently on your character while in DS. I never noticed this until I started to play around with different boons or conditions granted by firing Life Blast or entering Death Shroud when you select certain traits. When you think about it, this should be something you WANT to know when you pop into Death Shroud. If I have been immobilized, I may not want to stay in Death Shroud, but instead pop out and use an ability to remove the condition on me. I also may not want to drop out of DS early if I have 20+ stacks of bleed on me. I may want to use different skills if I’ve been chilled, such as casting Dark Path to close the gap on an opponent so I can finish them off and not have them run out of range on me once DS ends.
While we are on the subject of Death Shroud, let’s talk a little bit about our skills here. I’m not all that enthused by our fear. It really doesn’t present that much of a threat to NPCs or PvPers unless it is perfectly timed to prevent a major ability from hitting. That is assuming that the NPC isn’t immune to fear, which MIGHT be a nice thing to know–just saying. On the other hand, I love our underwater fear. It’s AoE, but it takes some skill to aim, and it really does what a good fear should do– disorientate the target.
Our other underwater skills are great, except they just don’t do that much damage. Life Blast underwater is excruciatingly slow (much slower than our above-ground counterpart), it does less damage, and even though it transfers one condition to an enemy, that doesn’t bloody well help, since we can’t see WHAT conditions are on us in the first place (see above rant). Underwater, you also lose out on Life Transfer. No idea why it seems like it would be an excellent underwater skill, since it’s omnidirectiona. Instead we get Gathering Plague, which doesn’t damage anyone, but instead draws conditions onto you. That’s great and all, unless none of your allies are around, basically making it a complete waste of a secondary mechanic skill. To add insult to injury, if you invested your traits heavily into DS and you wander into an underwater zone, you instantly become less effective. Hurray.
Okay, enough on DS. Let’s talk about a few of our other weak points. The primary one is our range. We don’t have a lot of it and we could use more. We don’t really have a lot of max-range (1200-unit) abilities. In fact, a lot of our weapons are mid- to close-range and the same goes for a large number of our utility skills and our Elite Plague Form. We are cloth wearers, so standing in the red zone of melee damage is inherently bad, although we should be able to do it under certain circumstances with some sort of benefit.
The thing is, I don’t see any benefit that justifies my potential death. Let’s take daggers–you need to be up close to do consistent damage with the auto-attack skill. That’s fine, I can accept that, it seems reasonable, but why should I go into melee range with my daggers? They really don’t do more damage than other weapons that allow me to stay at range. In fact, the only time you would want a dagger is to abuse the other four skills, like the immobilize or the ranged blind. I have also noticed that the Life Siphon on daggers doesn’t always work correctly. It will say I am in range when I cast it, but then it starts telling me I’m out of range for damage and/or the health siphoning portion, even when no change in distance has occurred. (At least, that is what it looks like to me–I haven’t tested it out extensively.)
You may have also noticed that when diving underwater, we lose access to certain utility skills. In fact, we lose a lot of them–more than any other class, if I’m correct. This leaves us in a bad spot if we go underwater. Large portions of our skills and traits automatically go out the window for us, such as wells and marks. This isn’t just a problem for us but also for trap rangers and thieves, but then again, this is a major aspect of our profession whereas traps aren’t as big of a focus for those two. On top of this, since our minions are so innately squishy, they are an extra liability underwater (or above ground for that matter), since they are the best utility skills for that environment.
My last real gripe is with the Necromancer is the attribute system. The Primary attributes are easy for me to understand. Power does more damage in a rather linear fashion and precision increases my critical hit chance. Pretty much standard MMO and RPG stuff.
The secondary attributes are more nebulous to me. Condition Duration, for instance, does what you’d expect by increasing the duration of your conditions, which necromancers have a plethora of, but by how much? How much is good and how much is wasted? Is there some sort of threshold where I have to cross to get the maximum amount out of my fear? Is there a cap to this number where fear no longer gets this bonus and are there different caps to other conditions, like vulnerability? If I invest in Condition Duration, I definitely assume there will be a threshold for my damage to tick at, but does anyone know what that is?
I certainly don’t, which is why I dump a lot of points into raw power. I know that I can count on what it will do and how it will benefit me. Necromancers do a ton of condition-based damage and it seems like stats that augment our damage with respect to those are important and we should know how they work. I personally don’t, and I feel that the amount of effort I would have to put into learning how they work and the optimal amount is contrary to ArenaNet’s primary goal of having fun and not endlessly pouring over stats.
What would I like to see?
Dual-wielding axes. Why? Because it’s cool.
Aside from that, I would like to see a more robust, defensive Necromancer. We can take a lot of damage under very specific conditions, but a lot of our traits in Death Magic, our defensive trait line, don’t support a more defensive build. We get +20 toughness for each minion we have. Great! Let’s make the minions a little more durable. I swear, my blood fiend is made of papier mache and someone told all the NPCs there’s candy inside. Yes, we can spec into more health for our minions, but a 30% increase of next to nothing is still next to nothing. We can get 400 toughness while channeling–great! Let’s have more than 3 spells that are channeled. Let’s see, what else . . . Oh, wait, that’s really about it for defensive abilities. I know, I know, we wear cloth, but still.
How about an on-mouseover analysis of Condition Duration and damage traits that displays how many points to reach the next tier of damage or duration? How about displaying conditions while in a transformed state, such as our Death Shroud? While we’re at it, how about easing newbs into the Necromancer class a little better by giving them pre-unlocked DS skills and more robust pets, or, even better, pets that don’t yank agro off of us early on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Necromancer. Everything about it feels like a great fit for my playstyle and personality. The issues I’ve covered aren’t profession-breaking, but a few are really in need of a fix. These are issues that many people at first glance wouldn’t recognize outright, only after they got more familiar with the class. How about you, the readers? What do you think is missing? What can be improved? Is the class in a good spot or is it horribly broken? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.