Though I initially began my time playing Guild Wars 2 release as a Warrior, another class I really enjoyed in the Beta, the Necromancer, quickly became my first alt. After 50 levels, several dungeon runs, several different builds, and time spent extensively in SPvP, I would like to give a few thoughts.
I have never been a big fan of playing the bad guys, the evil characters, or the types who are dark and brooding for the sake of being dark and brooding. I was always the Knight or the Cleric or the dashing Rogue with a heart of gold. The idea of playing anything obsessed with death and disease usually bothered me. GW2’s Necromancer is the first major exception to that rule.
I love the basic idea of this game’s Necromancer. Where as in most games characters that wear cloth armor are paper thin and die instantaneously when anything gets in melee range of them, this caster was born to tank. And if there is any one thing that really fascinates me, it is unconventional tanks.
For the most part, I do play my Necromancer with survivability in mind. I really enjoyed builds utilizing the dagger mainhand (the Necromancer’s melee weapon option) precisely because the autoattack felt incredibly powerful when paired with the Necromancer’s PBAOE Well abilities.
However, after also playing a Warrior extensively, I can’t say the Dagger skills for the Necromancer are very impressive. Sure, they do have definite uses. One is a medium ranged Lifesteal which definitely adds to the overall theme of the trait tree that Daggers are prominent in, along with boosting general tankiness. The other ability, an Immobilize, also has a lot of utility for keeping the enemy in range of your melee.
The problem arises from the timing and overall feel of being a melee-oriented Necromancer. The Necromancer only has one weapon that requires melee range, yet it doesn’t really require you to be in melee range outside of the autoattack skill. And as powerful as they are, the number 2 and 3 skills have decent sized cooldowns, which effectively makes Dagger melee a little boring since all you do is autoattack.
With no melee offhand, it feels sort of silly to be doing any melee at all. I do enjoy the medium range approach of the class, but I wish the dagger mainhand specifically was all medium or all melee. And of the two, I prefer the latter for the variety.
The other weapon skills range from solid to okay. I particularly love the Staff set, even though its lengthy cooldowns and AOE focus can pigeon hole it. Even with those issues, the Staff feels like the most fun because it is the best set for spreading massive amounts of conditions and disruption.
As far as the other skills, I feel they suffer in usability and viability given that so many seem to rely on traits in order to be truly effective or useful. Wells especially work great in PvE (though with some exception on bosses), but without the trait to make them targettable and castable at range, their PBAoE nature makes them very hard to utilize properly in PvP situation. This might sound like a fair trade, but Wells make up an entire set of the Necromancer skill pool, so seeing them be regulated to forced traiting or only one aspect of the game (a game that I feel does a good job of requiring similar skill sets in both PvP and PvE) is depressing.
It also doesn’t help just how spread out the traits are for specific skill lines. While I don’t want to see design homogenized to the point that all Skills have specific Trait lines, the reverse isn’t a favorable design path either. The way the Trait system is setup as is, it already forces builds to make serious decisions. By spreading out traits so thoroughly, I sometimes feel like I am forced into several trees to make builds built around similar skill types really shine. The Warrior is definitely the example and standard to which this game should be held accountable for all of its classes, because the Warrior’s traits do a much better job than the Necromancer’s at supporting skill families in single trees while also reinforcing them in other’s if you happen to be going that way.
Finally, the class mechanic itself, the reason for the Necromancer’s tankiness: Death Shroud. I want to love it, especially since the aesthetic is nice, the abilities are all useful, and it does make me a real pain in the ass to kill. But it is really quite bland.
For one, the abilities don’t change at all (with the exception being in the water, but I am not going to rant about underwater combat in this post). I would have really enjoyed a slightly more interesting system that would tank into account either your off-hand or, like the Thief’s third ability, the combination of weapons you’ve chosen for at least one slot on the Death Shroud bar. I also don’t like that you suddenly lose all utility skills. Given, the synergies might unbalance the class, but the lengthy cooldowns on most Death Shroud abilities force you more into a ‘get in and get out once you’ve blown everything’ state of mind when playing the Necro. I think I would have preferred more of a Limit Break/rage bar combination than just a straight alternate lifebar with some decent cooldowns.
Overall, I do like the Necromancer, and am happy to call it my favorite evil MMO class. The AOE and conditions really make for a fun time in GW2’s combat. I do wish they felt a little deeper and were a little tighter in their design. There just seems to be too much overlap in the feel and design of their skills, which makes most of them feel less than unique.