Are Necromancers Really So Good?

Yes, is the answer.

When we started this site and the Guild Wars Players News podcast, I famously had a very negative opinion on necromancers. The minions were gross (and they still are) and I just never really played with anyone who made it seem super impressive. For cosmetic reasons I wound up making one. I figured it would be a sort of joke character.

I think back to then and laugh because now that ‘joke character’ is my main. I’ve done numerous dungeons and dungeon paths, Fractals of the Mists, tons of PvP, and have even dabbled in WvW with him. I win most 1v1s in PvP. If a wipe is happening in our Fractal or dungeon run I am usually the last one standing. I don’t do the most DPS but I survive. And I have a heck of a lot of fun doing it. Draining life, using the corruptions on me to heal myself, popping into Death Shroud to not only remain alive but to put more conditions on my foes and deal some good damage – I love it.

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So understandably my hackles go up a bit whenever I see people talking about how ‘bad’ and ‘boring’ and ‘broken’ and ‘sub-optimal’ the profession is. And unfortunately, people say these things fairly often. Recently an opinion article went up on Ten Ton Hammer by Lewis Burnell echoing a lot of the sentiments I’ve seen bandied about. I suppose it was the straw that broke the dolyak’s back for me and now here we are, with me writing this love letter on how much I love necromancers.

The Meta

There are two phrases I see most often – in articles, on r/GuildWars2, and of course in the /map channel of the PvP lobby: “Necromancers are sub-optimal” and “There are only two viable necromancer builds.” I could type up so many paragraphs about my thoughts on what determines whether a build or profession is ‘optimal’ (referred to as ‘the meta’) of Guild Wars 2. The short of it is, I think it is silly. Granted, in any game there are going to be some playstyles, items, and attributes that the community has decided are ‘the best’ however I feel that limiting yourself to that set stifles creativity and diversity, puts to waste a whole lot of carefully made game design, and also encourages elitism.

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Part of why I fell in love with Guild Wars 2 was the immense amount of diversity in races, zones, players, cosmetics, colors, professions, weapons, and builds. GW2 is the first MMO I’ve played where within a month or two I was seriously considering making second characters of professions I already had, just because I wanted to make a character dedicated to using a certain build. Finding that build that really clicks with your style of playing – the skills and weapons you like best, the types of damage you prefer to use, whether you’re aiming for more survivability or a glass canon build – is one of the best feelings. With no ‘holy trinity’ profession roles, it feels like anything is possible! In all the times I’ve tried playing with highly rated MetaBattle.net builds, I have never had that feeling. Whether in PvE or PvP, I get the most enjoyment from playing a profession when I’ve gone through and carefully put together my own set of traits, utility skills, and weapon sets.

Builds

People often discuss how there are really “only two viable builds” for necromancers – the powermancer build that predictably relies heavily on the power stat to push out a lot of DPS and the condition necromancer build that does more DPS over time. These builds are certainly quite good at what they set out to do. I don’t begrudge anyone who uses them, however they just aren’t my cup of tea. I haven’t seen any builds posted online like mine. I’ve taken to calling it “the Creepomancer build” just because that’s the name of my necro and no one else seems to use a similar build, at least that I’ve heard of.

Say "Nobody uses Blood Magic" one more time, I dare you.

Say “Nobody uses Blood Magic” one more time, I dare you.

And yet despite not being a part of the “only two viable builds”… I get on just fine. As I said before, I do fairly well at PvE and certainly hold my own in PvP. The dungeon or fractal runs I’ve been part of have never left me feeling like I was holding the group back in anyway. My build is perfectly viable. Is it the most efficient? Do I pump out the most conditions? The most DPS? No. I feel that people have been using the word “viable” in place of “top tier” or “most efficient”. Since the start of the site and the podcast, I’ve always talked about how I never have and probably never will be the type of person interested in min/maxing my characters to perfection yet I still want to be skillful in the professions I choose to take on. Completing group content without dieing in a timely manner while having fun with my friends is my goal in any MMO. On my mesmer I was never able to achieve that at a level I desired. With necromancer I was able to find a build that clicked with my own preferences and with a lot of practice I have become quite proficient with it.

My point is – just because a build doesn’t do the most damage or provide the most buffs in the most efficient way possible, doesn’t mean it isn’t “viable”. It just means it isn’t the most efficient.

Improvements

All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t improvements that can’t be made to the necromancer. Like any MMO, there will always be balance tweaks and number shifts that can be done. While I completely disagee with the Tough Love Critic’s stance that “necromancers have been playing a broken profession, its implementation half-baked compared to the universally stronger professions surrounding it,” they do make some good points on the limitations and problems surrounding the Death Shroud, the core unique mechanic that all necromancers use regardless of build. Down near the bottom of Part 2 of their posts on necromancers, there’s a section titled “Core Ways to Spend” that outline some interesting additions that could be made to the Life Force/Death Shroud mechanic. Particularly I’m a fan of the idea of your life force absorbing critical hits – I’d trait that for sure.

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Additionally it would definitely be great to see some more group-focused skills or traits added either as tweaks to the current proposed changes coming before Heart of Thorns or with the upcoming elite specialization. The necromancer is often described as “the selfish profession” as it has hardly any traits or skills that benefit allies. This kind of goes back to the point about how people describe necromancers as “sub-optimal” – because they don’t have many group utility skills or buffs, they fall outside of the meta, especially for PvE. For the sake of build variety and diversity, I hope that some group-oriented abilities show up in the great sword elite specialization. But again, the lack of these skills doesn’t make the necromancer broken. I can see a variety of builds available to necromancer as they are, but the addition of even more options is always welcome. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing their main class get some buffs?

In Summation…

Necromancers are super fun to play. You can do huge DPS or go for a slower death-by-conditions or drown your enemies in undead minions or drain their life force and live forever. Some builds are more popular than others due to their speed of killing but if you take the time to learn the necromancer weapon skills and traits, you can make any build viable. Don’t let people bring you down. Honestly, the same goes for other classes too. Find a set of skills and traits that make you excited to play – whether they’re in the meta or not – and go out and have fun.

Yes, necromancers probably should have gotten a little more change than they did as was revealed in the livestream a little while back. Each profession has its strengths and weaknesses, its mechanics that propel it forward and those that hold it back from the edge. But if people can play the profession and hold their own in the various gameplay styles then… I just fail to see how ‘broken’ necromancers are. I fully someone to come into the comments and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Tomorrow the necromancer elite specialization will be revealed. I don’t know if the specialization will give the other necromancers who are unhappy with the profession what they are looking for. All I know is that as long as I get to continue playing my blood-sucking, death-shrouded Creepomancer, I am one happy necromancer.

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2 comments

  1. I despised necromancers at first too, I don’t exactly rp myself, but I do somewhat extend my morals to the games I play. though I’m totally cool with draining the life out of someone or giving them the plague, I do draw the line at raising the dead, that’s just unnatural. So, I just don’t raise the dead, love the profession now. 😀

    Also, I can’t wait for the info dump tomorrow. I hope I’m not as let down as I was with the Dragonhunter, it just felt so underwhelming compared to the Chronomancer. Depending on if I like what I see, I’m going to buy me that sweet mordrem greatsword skin for my sylvari necro; nothing like a fleshy plant sword with teeth to match the corrupted plant theme.

  2. You don’t know what you’re talking about. The minions are adorable! Once, when I was still learning the Necromantic arts, I used bone minions to act out a wedding. Adorable! The real thing is so much nicer, though. Especially without the groom’s arms falling off. 😉

    Oh, and nobody uses blood magic.

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