So far, I’ve looked at the game modes where necromancer is countered, suboptimal, and ultimately marginalized, namely PvP and PvE. But no discussion of necromancers in Guild Wars 2 is complete without looking at the mode where they run the meta: World vs. World.
Mandatory En Masse
Necromancers are a key part of the so-called GWEN meta, a reference to the four professions that make guild groups and zergs alike run as a deadly, well-oiled machine. And due to what necromancers provide, at present there is no chance of other professions replacing them.
Warheads on Foreheads
If there is one phrase that shows why necromancers are ludicrously powerful in the mass combat environment of WvW, it is “ground-targeted, heavy AoE damage on low cooldown.” Once the frontline meets the enemy, dropping “the bomb” is a trivial matter for necromancers. And making the area deadlier is a simple matter of adding more necromancers with their marks and wells.
Wells, and to a lesser extent marks, provide the best damage for fights where everyone is moving around:
- Wells pulse for 5 seconds, assuring that anyone relying on simply dodges will get hit by at least a tick
- Wells cover a large AoE area (radius 240), preventing anyone stuck in the center from simply sidestepping to avoid damage
- Well of Corruption strips boons on each tick, potentially removing key boons like aegis and stability
- Marks deal damage and conditions at even greater range than wells (1200 range vs. 900)
Compared to the other signature AoE damage class, elementalist, necromancer wells and marks win out each time:
- Static Field: Excellent CC, mediocre damage
- Meteor Shower: Damage is semi-random and not concentrated
- Lava Font: Very small area
- Eruption: Has a very large delay before it damages
Critical Existence Failure
Necromancers have access to the strongest critical chance steroid in the game: Death Perception. While simply being in Death Shroud, any source of damage they generate has 50% greater critical chance. This includes the pulses of wells already cast.
Add this trait to Fury (20% greater critical chance) and a small amount of Precision (~1472, 30% base critical chance), and each and every tick is guaranteed to be a critical hit.
Since 1472 precision is simple to get, it leaves necromancers with the unique position of being able to pick up power and additional survival statistics (toughness, vitality, chiefly) and face zero loss in their net damage.
And of course, guaranteed critical hits on a functional tank that’s sitting in their HP-increasing Death Shroud for those critical hits, means that they are very unlikely to be dropped by anyone attempting to reach them. In fact, quite the opposite in most cases.
Hearty & Hale
The same massive health pool that’s of little use in PvP and ignorable in PvE is an ideal reservoir for keeping necromancers firmly at the middle range they need to deal their best damage. Combined with blast finishers on water fields, and anything short of being run over by the enemy frontline will fail to kill a necromancer.
This ability to survive just outside of the center of the fight is another advantage that necromancer holds compared to other ranged damage professions. Put an elementalist in the same place, and they will be Mist Forming in no time. Likewise, engineers, rangers, and mesmers lack the passive defense necessary to both deal damage, and not die.
All of these strengths don’t actually offset the PvP weaknesses of necromancer: a lack of mobility and stability. But in the realm of mass combat, it’s easy to provide piles of those through warrior and guardian shouts.
And with all of the unique strengths that necromancers bring to the fight that others cannot, having to provide stability and swiftness is more than worth the cost.
Further, because most of the damage is brought by necromancers, it leaves elementalists open to focus on strong support, warriors to be crowd control monsters, and guardians to be functionally immortal. It allows other professions to play to their particular strengths, rather than needing to “cover it all.”
Switching to the other end of the WvW scale, necromancers also are very strong in the roaming role, as capable duelists that force others to die or run away.
WvW uses PvE gear and buffs. This immediately increases the raw versatility (and capability) of every profession. And for necromancers, it allows them to focus on statistics that aren’t available in structured PvP, as well as additional benefits.
When necromancers are built in this less restricted environment, they are able to amplify their raw damage potential tremendously. This throws the attrition aspect of necromancer into overdrive. Someone forced to engage them, as roaming is built to encourage, is hard-pressed to not succumb to a necromancer’s damage output that is doubtless bolstered by tank statistics.
To boot, players can change their builds and gear any time they are out of combat, adjusting things to better deal with any enemies on the fly. This is far different from structured PvP, where builds are locked from the moment the matche starts.
Another element of the WvW roamer landscape that isn’t present in structured PvP is the abundance of terrain. Which of course includes falls to the death. Where fear is a momentary inconvenience in structured PvP, it can cause the final walk for an enemy roamer.
Additionally, there are plenty of ways to catch an opponent unawares by terrain blocking sight, forcing them to start from behind in a duel. Compared to other professions, necromancers simply gain more from the varied terrain present in every map.
Marked for Death
But all of these advantages assume one or two opponents. At those numbers, most enemies capable of locking down a necromancer does not have the damage to defeat the necromancer while they are controlled. They have to outplay the necromancer on an attrition basis, rather than throwing some CC and bursting.
Increase the number of opponents, and the same weaknesses that destroy necromancers in structured PvP manifest in WvW. No amount of build tailoring and proper preparation manages to remove the simplicity of focusing the necromancer until they’re seeing gray when there are enough people.
Running Out of Time
Looking at how necromancer is an integral part of not just mass PvP in WvW, but also its roaming scene, it’s easy to write off any of the profession’s other woes as “acceptable” because necromancer has a place she can shine.
But these strongpoints are only because the clear (and easily exploited) weaknesses of the profession can be offset by others when groups number in 20-25, rather than 5. The brutal truth is that as soon as someone with less crippling weaknesses can one-up the necromancer at its strengths, the GWEN meta would immediately shift.
With the upcoming massive shakeup through first the core specialization change, then elite specializations, this is likely. Dragon hunters are gaining both control and large ranged damage options. Chronomancer wells may last less time, but deal more powerful effects. The reaper does not replace the ranged damage aspect of the existing necromancer so much as supplement it with melee pressure.
However, if adjustments are made to both PvE and PvP sides of the necromancer, the functional hybrid that is WvW will gain benefits from those changes. Then, necromancers can be balanced around what they can and can’t do in a more moderate way, rather than being a study in sharp contrasts.