PAX East returned to Boston, Massachusetts on Friday, March 10, 2017 through Sunday, March 12, 2017, but the most exciting things happening for Diablo fans that weekend did not require a badge or access to the convention. A small group of media and community members were invited to an exclusive first-look at the female Necromancer and the latest skills that the developers have been hard at work on. There were several sessions throughout the day on Saturday with each one running on the same format – an introduction and general overview, a play session of an entirely new build, and then a Q&A session.
If you’d like a refresher on the Necromancer reveal and the build that was offered for play at BlizzCon 2016, check out this hands-on review.
Lead Game Producer Rob Foote and Senior Game Designer Matthew Berger led each session in a short presentation that reintroduced attendees to the main tenets of what makes the Necromancer the Necromancer while showcasing some of the new designs and art particularly for the female Necromancer. The rock star vibe is a continued theme and the developers maintained that the Necromancer will feel very different from the Witch Doctor, with the former being far more serious and dark. On the battlefield, Necromancers have seen everything before, which the developers noted players will truly get a feel for in Campaign Mode. It was important to the team to make sure all of the voice lines and interactions help bring those previously mentioned fantasy elements of the Necromancer to life.
The presentation also reinforced the tools of the Necromancer. Players will be able to wield both one-handed and two-handed scythes and for those that go one-handed, a shield or phylactery will be usable as off-hands. The latter is a container for Essence, which is the primary resource that Necromancers draw from to cast their most devastating attacks. However, as we learned from previous developer talks, Essence is merely one of the ways in which the Necromancer destroys the denizens of Sanctuary. They can also draw on the corpses of defeated foes to power certain skills and, when it comes to Blood skills, even their own health pool provides firepower.
Before attendees were unleashed on the latest build for playtesting, the developers quickly went over the new skills, noting that this style encouraged more of a melee range fight pattern while showing off some of the new skills that play with the life of the Necromancer as a resource.
The numbers themselves were more placeholders than final determinations, so the following descriptions will focus more on the mechanics of the skill, rather than the exact details. It is worth noting that some skills were simply the base skill while others were specific runes and every skill was of the Physical element.
Grim Scythe – This generator area-of-effect (AoE) attack swings an ethereal scythe through the air in a wide arc, covering what felt like an entire 180 degree zone in front of the Necromancer. It returned a significant amount of Essence per enemy hit.
Nova – Blood Nova – This particular skill was the leading actor in the build, with most of the other skills chosen to support continued use of Blood Nova throughout the rift. Blood Nova is a strong spender, but it costs both Essence and a percentage of your health pool to use. If casted continuously, you could actually kill your Necromancer just by use of this spell alone. It has a decent AoE range and saw its best application when you were surrounded by a sizable horde of enemies.
Of particular interest, Blood Nova was a rune for the base skill Nova, so we will likely see other variants such as Bone Nova in the future.
Devour – This skill worked in tandem with offsetting the costs of casting Blood Nova. With no cooldown or resource cost of its own, you can indefinitely cast Devour…but you need corpses. Yes, this is one of the new corpse-based skills, wherein for every enemy corpse that’s within a very large radius of your character upon activation of Devour, a percent of health and Essence will be returned to your Necromancer.
Raise Golem – Blood Golem – Next in the line of showcased pets for the Necromancer, this build introduced us to the Blood Golem. The Blood Golem delivers AoE blows to enemies, representing a formidable ally in combat. However, upon activation of the skill, the fun begins. The Blood Golem is destroyed when you activate the skill and begins to reconstitute itself at the location your mouse was pointing at when you pressed the button. While this short-duration reconstitution occurs, the Necromancer is healed for a percent amount of health and enemies within a small radius take a moderate amount of AoE damage.
Do note that this is a rune under the Raise Golem skill. Unless a set or Legendary power allows us to unlock multiple runes in the future, this would seem to indicate that we will only be able to have one Golem out at a time.
Leech – A new Curse in the Necromancer’s arsenal, Leech works very similarly to Decrepify in that the curse is cast over a wide radius, originating at your mouse upon activation of the skill. The curse lingers on enemies for a medium duration of time and Leech in particular makes it so that any effected enemy hit by you or your allies restores health to that player.
Blood Rush – One of the more exciting movement-based skills in the game, Blood Rush returned to this build as well and played essentially unchanged from how it worked in the BlizzCon 2016 build.
This build felt far more fluid than the BlizzCon build. It was easy to see how the other skills operated to enable the use of Blood Nova (which has a very satisfying animation to it). However, it was difficult to get a true sense of how important life return skills will be when your main attack spends your health due to the difficulty of the demo being very low. My Necromancer was never in any immediate danger. It also felt like I wouldn’t need all of those supporting skills together; Devour might have been enough life and resource regeneration to skip use of Leech completely. I imagine in higher difficulties though, Curses will be particularly important, especially for their potential in groups.
What may actually be the most underwhelming, but personally awe-inspiring takeaway was the utility of Grim Scythe. I’m convinced it might be the best generator in the game and that’s without seeing any runes for it yet. With the arc that it had, combined with returning as much Essence as it did per enemy hit, you could basically go from 0 to full with one swing in the right amount of density. This does lead me to note though, that the build overall was very AoE focused and it made fighting the Rift Guardian at the end feel a little awkward. We’ll have to see what the single-target specific skills look like in the future, since so far general Necromancer gameplay seems like it revolves around being very quick through density and then slowing down in isolated target situations.
This is one of those special times where it’s nice having a previous demo play underneath you. While the developers stated that the BlizzCon build had skills that were more iconic than synergistic, it was still a nice, flowing skillset. The same can be said of this demo test, but times ten!
With only the panel showing how each skill worked to go off of, I quickly got into the rhythm of skill usage. Go around, herd a bunch of mobs, lay down Leech to get health regeneration going, burst the pack down with Blood Nova, and use Devour/Blood Golem when in need of health on demand. Blood Nova was a real treat and brought home the dark themes that the team is going for with the Necromancer.
As much as I want to point to another skill, Grim Scythe really stole the show for me. It’s huge, does its work quickly, and I can only imagine the possible rune variants. It really feels like you’re reaping energy from the mobs you’re hitting. Glorious!
The only thing I can add is that while other (current) class AoE builds exist and that’s not a new thing, these two builds we have played both present a similar playstyle – herd/burst down/reset. The game difficulty was low, so we will see in time if a true build with a healthy mix of AoE and single target damage develops.
P.S. – All I can say is that I cannot wait. Also, all that blood – really! If you don’t get a dark, gothic, bloody feel off the Necromancer as they are making it, I can’t help you.
Finally, each group was given time at the end of their session to sit down with the developers after playing the demo to talk about their first impressions and throw out any questions or concerns they had.
Leviathan’s Q&A Session
My group initially focused on how the abilities looked and how the female Necromancer herself was presented in the game. There was near consensus that the aesthetics were on par with expectations or exceeded them. Many felt particularly satisfied with the visceral quality of Blood Nova, myself included.
One of the main concerns was over the usefulness of each particular skill and the developers agreed that some of the nuance would likely come out in higher tier Greater Rifts, especially in regards to Curses. It was reinforced that Curses should be great for parties too, since skills like Leech, for instance, will restore life to any player that attacks a cursed enemy. One of the developers also mentioned in quick passing another Curse called Frailty, which sounded like it had an interaction with enemies under 25% health, but there were no particular details.
The developers also intimated that they fully intend for the Necromancer to hit the ground running. They want it to be on par with all of the other classes from the get go and that’s one of the reasons why Necromancers will have four sets on release.
When questioned about the AoE nature of both this playtest build and the BlizzCon build, the developers pointed out that some of the skills can serve a dual purpose, like how Command Skeletons’ activation sends all of the Necromancer’s skeletons to one specific target. In general though, there will be plenty of single target skills.
I asked if Necromancers would have the innate 30% damage reduction that some classes (Barbarian and Crusader, e.g.) currently enjoy and the developers weren’t sure yet.
Console and PC are lining up nicely, with a confirmation that Season 10 will arrive on console with Patch 2.5 (and it will be called Season 10 even on consoles despite it being their first season). The Rise of the Necromancer character pack will also be essentially the same for both console and PC, with only the additional stash space differing, since it’s handled a bit more generously on console according to the developers.
They were not ready to talk about things like sets, specific Legendary items/powers, or new Legendary gems, since skills, runes, and passives are still being developed at this time. Once the skills are done, the other things will follow, since items tend to take their cues from the skills.
The Necromancer will appear on the Patch Test Realm (PTR) at some point in the future and it may even be an extended PTR to get good testing. The developers wanted to impress that they gain a lot from the passion of the community’s feedback and they would much rather people be talking about and criticizing the game rather than completely quiet.
The two new zones that are coming soon have a bit of a Necromancer influence in their design, since the Necromancer is at the forefront of the team’s mind. There will be blood.
When pressed on pets, the developers reminded us that the Revive skill is going to be a massive undertaking for them and should be very satisfactory for players. Certain monsters won’t be revivable – they pointed to Mallet Lords as an example simply due to their size. They had to make determinations due to how much the AI of the monster would need to be manipulated for the gameplay to feel good.
Lastly, someone asked about elemental damage types and how all of the skills in the demo were Physical. The developers noted that they’re still in the process of determining exactly which elemental types will be expressed in the skills, but they pointed to the Raise Golem skill as one where players might see a diversity of elements across the runes.
Dredscythe’s Q&A Session
The group that I was in asked some general Diablo questions along with questions on the Necromancer itself. There was a rather stronger than usual representation of console concerns.
One person asked about how Blood Golem and Leech would function for the Playstation/Xbox versions of the game, being that they are skills based off of mouse click in the demo. The developers stated that they are aware that tweaks will be needed. Some of the skills in the live game had to be modified for console and that process will work its way through the Necromancer as well.
There was also a question regarding whether the Rise of the Necromancer patch will arrive simultaneously on console and PC and how Blizzard interacts with Sony/Microsoft to coordinate releases around the same time/same day. The way they accomplish this is by picking a date far enough in the future and working backwards, planning out the development to get it down with both internal testing and external PTR testing.
I asked about sets for the Necromancer from a few different perspectives. I wanted to know if they were going to make one of the four sets as more of a support/group set. The developers said that they plan to come up with four diverse, unique-feeling sets along with ancillary Legendaries and then they will let the players determine the meta from there.
Another person asked if they are going to stay with the traditional six slots for the sets – head, chest, pants, boots, shoulders and gloves. The developers replied that it will really be determined by the skills and runes that the sets end up being focused around as well as any supporting items.
In conclusion, it was great to have an opportunity to get another hands-on glimpse of the Necromancer’s latest advancements. It feels like the developers are keenly interested in keeping the community involved with the progress that they make and, with this collaborative preview/review process, hopefully it means that we will get the best possible Necromancer when it finally arrives some time later this year.
With no official release date or price point announced for the Rise of the Necromancer character pack just yet and more work yet to be done on the class, we still have plenty of announcements to look forward to. Here’s hoping that the updates continue to arrive quickly and frequently as we get closer and closer to being able to command the dead from the comfort of our own homes.