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Necromancer Preview: Hands on with Guild Wars 2’s death dealer


Put a staff in a Necromancer’s hands, and it turns into a spectral scythe, ghostly blade hovering in the space just above where the staff ends and the air begins, black as shadow, and very necromantic. Here is a class that changes the world around it, making it a little more shade, a little more grimy, and just a touch more dramatic. Melodramatic, sure, but half of that is drama. 
It’s Guild Wars 2’s Necromancer, and he’s a sneaky, wily, dotty (not that kind), tenacious bugger. 

Forget what’s in the Necromancer’s hands for a moment, and instead focus on the unique mechanic that is the showpiece. Hit F1 and you are consumed by your Death Shroud, which does two impressive things to how the Necromancer works. The first, and most mechanically useful is that it swaps your healthbar for Life Force, a resource accumulated by hitting things with your abilities. So long as you’ve got some green left in that, you’re actual health is safe, buffered by this backup. It also swaps out all of your abilities, letting you teleport, siphon, fear and generally ruin anyone in the near vacinity. That siphon, as it happens, is an AoE around you, meaning you can pop your Death Shroud amid a huge group of enemies and they won’t be able to hurt you faster than you can heal.
Having that Death Shroud as an emergency button always there and safe makes playing the Necromancer turn into a constant gamble. Having the safety net makes you play with less care for the risks, and more of an eye on danger and causing as much damage as you possibly can. Luckily, the class’ abilities are more than up to that task.
While the repertoire isn’t quite as extensive as some of the more melee focused classes, the Necromancer has a pretty good run of it. The staff is the obvious choice, not only thematically but also practically, giving you AoE’s coming out of your mould ridden ears, with everything but your auto attack being placeable and doing a wide range of different types of damage and debuffs to anyone and everyone silly enough to step into the area. They’re also triggered rather than instant, which means they work nicely as area denial in PvP, and giving you a bit more leeway to lead your targets in PvE.

The scepter, on the other hand, is more about stacking up debuffs on your opponent before turning all of those tasty conditions into Life Force with Feast of Corruption. Throw a war horn in your offhand and you’re dazing foes (more tasty conditions) with Wail of Doom and crippling (yum) everyone around you with Locust Swarm. Or use a focus instead, and cause vulnerability (nom) with Reaper’s Touch and use Spinal Shivers to chill (chomp) them.
Which paints the Necromancer as the guy on the battlefield that creates conditions all over the place. Which they are, if you play them that way. But you could shove a pair of daggers in each hand, and suddenly you’re much more about being a sustainable melee fighter. Your stabs pull in Life Force while you’ve got a Life Siphon to keep your health bar topped up. Then there’s also a bunch of debuffs in your offhand. Keep yourself going with Death Shroud when it’s ready, and you’ll be someone even a Warrior might think twice about going toe to toe with.
By far my favourite weapon with the Necromancer was the axe, which far from expanding his melee suite is actually all about ranged, projecting the power of the axe out into a series of claws, swipes and AoE cripples that make it one of the most powerful straight damage weapons the Necromancer has available. Couple it with the war horn or even an offhand dagger and you can keep your distance by dazing and crippling while dealing all that tasty damage out.
On top of all those abilities are the Necromancer utilities, which focus quite a bit on minions, which, at least during the Beta Weekend, seemed more trouble than they’re worth. ArenaNet have said they’re trying to improve pet AI, but right now it was even more useful to swap out the standard healing minion for a straight healing spell, as it would often get itself killed before you could sacrifice it for the health boost.

The rest of the utilities, though, are more about boosting your current set of abilities than adding anything major, at least in the early tiers. Even skills like Epidemic (spread conditions among foes) and Well of Suffering (inflict weakness), which are castable abilities, just create more conditions for you to capitalise on and enhance, or harvest for Life Force. But with more than enough keeping you entertained with just what you’ve got going on in with your weapons, that’s no bad thing.
With the Death Shroud and such a potential to weaken and destroy everything coming its way, the Necromancer is another example of Guild Wars 2 moving away from the stereotypes and looking more at the thematic strength of the classes that its using. It’s just as viable for a Necromancer to step into the fray as stand on its edges, casting AoEs and racking up huge damage numbers as they hit everything with conditions and DoTs. Find the right synergy between your skills and you’ll be laughing.
Or cackling, I suppose. Necromancers don’t really laugh.