Continuing my look at the necromancer’s situation in each game mode, I’m going to cover the place where necromancer suffers the most: player vs. environment.
Wanted Almost Nowhere
Necromancer is the literal bottom of the barrel. They give no direct support to the party, possess tankiness that is unnecessary when enemy attacks hit too hard anyway, and provide virtually nothing that another profession can’t do better.
People often say they don’t play for the power of the profession so much as the unique flavor. And unique flavor only goes so far on shoring up a not just perceived, but verifiable weakness compared to other professions.
Necromancers are selfish. They lack blast finishers, their best damage (wells) come with the added annoyance of a combo field that is decidedly inferior to fire or water, and any boons they gain they never share.
But all of these weaknesses are defined in terms of the current, restricted meta centered around maximum DPS and any support that enables it. All a necromancer provides is her own survivability and damage, with nothing to help others along.
There have been recent design proposals to increase a necromancer’s overall group support through the Blood Magic core specialization line. While these are good, and should be encouraged, healing and siphoning are currently better supplied by other professions. To boot, those same other professions also provide more damage than a necromancer properly specced into group support.
In PvE, necromancers can keep stacking conditions without the interference they’d inevitably get in PvP. However, so can everyone else, and hitting max caps, or ludicrous poison and burning durations is trivial.
While Heart of Thorns is planned to change all of these problems, the ramp-up effect of condition damage, rather than the instant usefulness of direct damage*, limits how much improvement this causes.
*Not to mention critical hits.
Presently, the only case where condition damage completely outclasses direct damage are husks, particularly in Triple Trouble. Thanks to the uniqueness of epidemic and the reliability of necromancer conditions, that encounter encourages specifically the necromancer (though others can do the job).
Outclassed by Everyone
Except for two very specific, virtually unused niches (epidemic and boon stripping), necromancers are outclassed by every other profession. Guardians tank better on top of giving away boons like they’re Oprah, engineers stack vulnerability and group support better, thieves provide stealth on top of high damage, and so on.
And when everyone brings more to the PvE fight than you, why bother? Again, many necromancer players play because they prefer the flavor of the profession, knowing that another profession would work better.
But this doesn’t mean that the necromancer brings nothing. It brings plenty, and with a unique approach that people enjoy. The problem is that it’s not needed.
Controlling the Enemy
Want to permanently stay out of range of an enemy? Put a necromancer on the job. While other professions might have more cripple or chill to inflict, only the necromancer can do both without breaking a sweat. And the longest immobilizes in the game short of Entangle. Need we mention the upcoming reaper?
Dropping the Damage
The exact same combo fields no one wants to use (
dark poison), provide the best damage reduction in the form of weakness. Problem is, PvE damage is either one-shot level, or so low simple regeneration negates it.
Weakness is simple icing on the cake, rather than a good strategy to reduce overall damage so that other means of support can keep players alive. Yet it’s something that the necromancer provides with relative ease.
The ability to keep living after everyone else is seeing gray is a necromancer hallmark. When the fecal matter hits the rotating oscillator in an encounter, the necromancer is generally the last one standing.
Add in competent use of Death Shroud and life force gains, and the ability to tank damage and erase it is easily accomplished by a necromancer.
But nobody needs a necromancer’s tankiness in encounters where enemies drop dead from a might-fueled burst of melee cleave. And where that doesn’t suffice, everyone’s ability to dodge provides perfect mitigation.
Comparing these two sides, what necromancer lacks and others want, and what it has but no one needs, boils down to one core flaw of PvE itself: encounter design is extremely one-dimensional.
I covered this at length in my posts about the current state of PvE (both at release and now) and its future, but the poor encounter design hits necromancer hardest. Other professions bring something unique that still fits within the constrained meta, but necromancer does not.
Doing so will not just give necromancer a place in the overall meta, but increase the level of complexity and skill required in PvE. This also aligns with the design intent to force players to use their entire skill bar.
Improving the Scenarios
Since necromancer strengths are in the area of defensive support and control, crafting boss fights and other encounters that require these strengths will also help with lesser-used builds on other professions.
Each profession has piles of tools in all three realms of the soft trinity of damage, support, and control. To give a better use of the spectrum of this trinity, rather than the narrowly focused “zerker meta,” here are some possible boss encounters that would not only make a necromancer shine, but allow other professions to try a different approach than the existing damage focus.
Cannot Reach Home
A boss is in an arena with various places of power spread about the room. Ever so often, the boss will break aggro and run straight to one of them. After a short channel (say, 3 seconds), it unleashes a powerful shockwave attack, knocking down all players in the arena and inflicting multiple conditions. It also gains an empowered stack for each successful channel, making its other attacks hit harder and any further shockwaves deal greater damage.
When the boss breaks aggro, its break bar goes active. If broken, it is chilled and becomes vulnerable to any position-affecting CC for a long period (say, 15 seconds). If the boss is kept from completing the channel for a moderate amount of time (say, 8-10 seconds), it fails and returns to its other attack patterns.
- The shockwave itself can be avoided by active defense, allowing a pure damage approach to the encounter.
- Stopping the shockwaves reduces the boss’s deadliness, as well as changes the kind of coordination required (instead of dodge timing, proper use of CC).
- Movement-impairing conditions increase the time it takes the boss to reach the place of power, increasing the amount of time players have to break the bar and knock him away.
- The empowered stacks put a functional time limit on the encounter if players are unable to either kill the boss, or deny the channel.
Death Through Life
A powerful lich pulls its power from its ability to heal. Several of its attacks rely on leeching health based on damage done and adding it to a pool (similar to Death Shroud…with stealing). At set points (say, every 15 seconds), the pool is consumed and a portion of the healing done is given as a power bonus to the lich’s attacks. The power bonus remains until the next pool consumption.
The lich has a break bar, but its healing skill is not interruptible. Other attacks open the break bar window, and break the lich’s concentration, removing the power bonus, if it exists.
- Chilled greatly affects the rate of the healing skill usage, and poison reduces the overall healing gained. Doing both heavily reduces the lich’s sustain and threat.
- Also, toughness can reduce the damage (and leeched health) of the lich’s attacks. Attacks will be consistent enough that attempting to dodge or block all of them won’t be as effective at mitigating as simply taking less damage.
- Weakness is exceptionally strong against the lich, since it directly reduces damage done over a period of time.
- The break bar usage provides an alternate mechanic to prevent the lich from gaining so much power it one-shots the party.
A boss’s abilities primarily deal large stacks of conditions. Avoiding them can be done, but if the boss is given back its own condition stacks, it takes massively more damage than the conditions would do otherwise.
- Consistent condition cleanse and transfer are key to the encounter.
- While mostly a necromancer niche, transferring conditions to deal more damage provides a great use of said niche.
- Can be a slight twist on the existing damage-based approach to encounters.
Two bosses attack in synchrony (like the Molten Duo, or Ralena and Vassar). One chains CC to open up powerful, slow windup attacks for the other. Fighting both requires a lot of situational awareness and coordination.
However, one of the bosses is a knight, and will occasionally (say, every 45 seconds to a minute) challenge a party member to a duel, temporarily replacing their skillbar a la Mad King to accept or reject. Accepting it teleports both the knight and the party member to a high platform that cannot be reached. Rejecting it returns the normal skillbar.
Once challenged, the knight will not leave the platform to help its partner unless the party member is downed. A downed party member is sent back to its position below before the duel. While challenged, the knight takes substantially increased damage from the single player, but gains its own well-rounded set of skills. The other boss does not change its skillset.
- Fighting both at once is possible, but difficult. The duel mechanic can be ignored with rejections for the entire fight.
- A tanky, or generally self-sufficient, player can accept a duel and ease the difficulty for the rest of the party. Even non-tanky players can accept a duel to stall and get revived after inevitably downing.
- A very skilled player can potentially solo the knight while the rest of the party takes down the other boss.
Necromancers in PvE are in a just as rough place as they are in structured PvP. They lack the vast majority of the tools that organized groups expect, and make up for it with abilities nobody wants.
But unlike PvP, the core fix isn’t changing mechanics of the profession so much as increasing the diversity of the encounters players in PvE have to defeat. To that effect, I have presented four potential boss encounters that would require much different approaches from the existing damage-oriented meta in PvE.