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The Necromancer Summit: Part II – Class Design, Sets, & Themes

by - 3 weeks ago

In this second part of our Necromancer Summit Series, we dive into the class design and themes of the Necromancer. You can find Part I here.

Class & Set Design w/ Senior Game Designer Travis Day

During this panel, Travis was very open about the ideas that the developers have for the Necromancer. He opened the discussion with going over the proposed sets for the Necromancer. The four sets will be:

A Direct Damage/Ranged Caster type set.

A Pet set.

A “Make Blood-skills Awesome” set.

A Melee/Close Range set.

He couldn’t give any details on what the bonuses might be or which skills they’d buff as the developers haven’t reached that point yet; they’re still working on perfecting skills and runes. Travis did tell us the above Aztec-looking set will be the theme they use for the Melee set and that the other sets are still being finalized, but there is also a Plague Doctor-like design they have which will be one of the sets.

Moving onto discussions about the skills themselves, Travis told us they’re taking a different approach with the design of runes for the Necromancer. Travis was annoyed with many of the old designs for skills where five out of the six runes were just different forms of increased damage, with usually only one or two obvious choices for which skill was “right”. Most of the Necromancer skill runes will be utility choices, while the only runes directly increasing skill damage will be Blood-type runes. That means that picking a rune for more damage will have a big trade-off, since the skill will now cost health in addition to any other costs. The developers want players to have more freedom of choice with skill runes, and compelling those that just want increased damage to still have to think about their decisions, as it will have costs. There will be some exceptions to this: Death Nova was given as an example as there will be another rune that gives increased damage but drastically reduces the size of the AoE of Death Nova.

Staying on skills, Travis mentioned that they’ve settled on Elemental damage types for the Necromancer, Physical, Cold, & Poison. That’s right, the Necromancers will have Poison skills after all! The Necromancer’s Poison skills will be very different from the Witch Doctor’s thematically and mechanically: the Necromancer will have no DoTs, as all of its Poison skills will be direct damage. These Poison skills will be centered around a blight or decay theme instead of the jungle poisons and venom of the Witch Doctors.

I was immediately intrigued by the fact that the class would only have three elements instead of the usual five and asked if that meant that the Convention of Elements ring would be super powerful for Necromancers. Travis’ response was an unapologetic “So?” CoE would be extremely powerful for Necromancers and that was perfectly fine with the developers. The only thing having such a boost to CoE means is that all of the Necromancer class rings will need to be as powerful as CoE to start with. Travis began to talk about the same thought process that Joe Shely did earlier in that there was no checklist for making classes. Just because the other classes had five elements why should the developers force the Necromancer to have as many if it meant diminishing the themes behind their skills?

Along those lines, Travis used the Demon Hunter as an example of bloated skill choices. He talked about how the DH really doesn’t need six different Hatred Spenders when you’ll only ever use one at a time and they used this experience from designing previous classes in the development of the Necromancer. The Necromancer will have fewer skills than other classes, but it’ll allow the developers to really focus in on the coolness and power of the individual skills and runes. There will be far less overlap between Necromancer skills than any of the other classes and while they will have fewer skills than other classes, it’ll allow the Necromancer to have extremely varied playstyles.

Themes & Art w/ Lead VFX Artist Julian Love

Our discussion with Julian started off with a simple question: “what makes a class?” Is it the skills? Art? In truth, the things that make a class unique are its themes. Have a spellcaster throw a fireball and you’ll think it’s a Wizard, but have it pray to summon the fireball and now this class looks more like a priest. When the developers began brainstorming for the Necromancer they specifically wanted to focus on the themes of bone, blood, and commanding the undead. They didn’t want to consider Poison or Cold elemental types at first because having too many options leads to making easy choices. Instead, by limiting what they have to work with, they have to really dig deep into these themes and test themselves as designers. It was only when they completely ran out of ideas and still had to fill out the last skills and runes that they loosened some of their restrictions and began thinking about other elemental types for the Necromancer. The team had finally decided on Poison, in the form of blight and decay themes, and Cold, as in the chill of the grave, would be the final two themes to bring into the class.

One of the bigger principles behind the Necromancer to help separate it from the Witch Doctor was that the class was to be very serious in tone to contrast with the more humorous nature of the WD. The team is so dedicated to this theme that they cannot picture the Necromancer dancing and it has been discussed that Necromancer might not have a /dance command or at the least the Necromancer might summon a Skeleton to make it dance for them.

The final topic we discussed with Julian was the new tech the developers had created to help reduce the amount of visual noise in the game. They wanted to make the Necromancer skills big and powerful, but with an almost excessive amount of visual effects in the game, it was becoming harder and harder to keep track of everything. This new tech will cut out unneeded visual effects for other players, so that the individual players will still see their awesome spells, but other other players in the party will only see basic effects to show that a specific Skill had been used. At first this new tech will likely only be in use for the Necromancer, but eventually the developers will update other problematic skills for other classes (like Earthquake).

Still to Come…

I’ll be wrapping up this series with my own thoughts and feelings on how the Necromancer class is shaping up.

Part I

Part II

Part III


Whitney Fairchild

Whitney "Neinball" Fairchild has been involved in the Diablo podcasting community since 2011. He focuses on the analyzing game development and the lore & story of the Diablo franchise.