At last year's BlizzCon Blizzard unveiled the male version of the Necromancer that's coming to Diablo III at some point this year, and recently we got our hands on the female iteration of the class, sporting a very different build of skills. At the same event, we also had a chat with lead game producer Rob Foote and senior designer Matthew Berger about the class, and the history of the game.
"This May it will be five years since Diablo III came out and this month it's three years since Reaper of Souls came out, and a lot goes into making a class," said Foote. "Honestly, it's probably one of the most intensive features we can develop. It starts with an idea and the idea for the Necromancer was so strong. So once we have that we have to lay out the over 20 skills that go along with it, then there is five runes for every single skill, then you've got to layer on four sets on top of that as well as a host of complementary legendaries. And it ends up being quite a lot of work."
Berger also talked about how much work goes into a skill like Revive, where the developers have to go over all the possible creatures and enemies the Necromancer can bring back to life. "It's a pretty basic premise, but it's actually a lot of work," said Berger. "You have to get the skill to work and then you have to work on all the monsters you're actually going to be reviving. Making decisions on how exactly they're going to revive, that is a large amount of work for just one skill."
The build of the Necromancer that Blizzard showed off at BlizzCon was "more pet-centric, very classic Necromancer", whereas this build shown is more of a "melee-mancer" that puts you right into the midst of the action to get the most out of abilities like the Blood Nova, and what we got at this event was a build that featured Grim Scythe, Blood Nova, Devour, Golem, Blood Rush, and Leech. The Grim Scythe allows you to attack enemies in a wide arch while also restoring Essence, and the Blood Nova is just what it sounds like, a massive geyser of blood that erupts from the Necromancer and deals damage to all enemies around him or her. What's interesting here is that it uses up your health pool in addition to Essence, so you need to be careful you don't overuse it and leave yourself vulnerable. "It reminds me of that scene in The Shining, in the hallway where that tidal wave of blood comes down the hall," says Foote.
To counter this the build also featured Leech, an ability that puts a curse on enemies and lets you replenish life as you deal damage to them, and while we weren't able to try this in cooperative play, the ability will also let you replenish the life pool of your allies. Another skill was Devour, which lets you restore Essence by, well, simply devouring corpses left on the battlefield, and there was also Blood Rush, letting you teleport swiftly around, something that's useful if you've been hitting that Blood Nova a bit much.
While not a "pet build" per se, we got to take advantage of the Blood Golem during our time with the Necromancer as well (you may recall him from Diablo II), and the Golem skill sends him to where your cursor is (on PC) where he deals a great amount of damage to nearby enemies while restoring your health. We could see this skill also being very useful in a build that's not as focused on melee and close quarters.
The Golem is also a nice example of how the Necromancer differs from the Witch Doctor, who also uses a lot of pets. The Necromancer has more active control over his minions unlike the Witch Doctor, for example, and it was also a conscious decision to focus more on blood and bone as opposed to poison with the Necromancer.
Another thing that was important to Blizzard was to really make sure they treated the Necromancer like any other class in the game, so they've gone through every Act and added voice overs for the Necromancer, so you can play through the entire game with the new class. Given the Necromancer's unique look on life (and death), that's certainly going to be interesting.
"She has a different outlook on things than all the other classes," explains Berger. "She is all about balance, very big picture. At the end of the day we have to make sure Sanctuary is saved, so if some people die along the way that's not as a big a deal. Her approach to things is different. She's also used to dealing with undead all the time, and skeletons, and bringing things back from the dead. And it's harder to sort of interact with your regular peasant in the world of Sanctuary, and it's a little off put-ish." This equal treatment policy also extends to sets, so expect the Necromancer to have four sets like the other classes when it's released.
In terms of when we can see this new class, the Rise of the Necromancer will come to Reaper of Souls in the second half of the year, most likely after an extended period on the PTR (Public Testing Realm) servers. "We're never going to get it all [in terms of balance]," explains Berger. "As soon as we feel the Necromancer is complete, we're going to bring it out on the PTR and then the players are going to surprise us."
"In terms of when that is [another PTR], we really like I said, we have to finish all the skills, we want to finish the passives, the runes," adds Foote. "We want to give people something that is going to allow them to give us reasonable and good feedback. We're not there yet, but when we get there as soon as we feel like it's in a place where we're going to be getting good feedback and players are going to have a good experience, that's when it will go. So, no exact date, but before the release of it..."
The Rise of the Necromancer might not have a release date, but having actually played with the female version at least, it appears as if Blizzard are taking their time to make sure everything's right and, more importantly, that the Necromancer class feels new, interesting, and balanced, something that will hopefully pay off once it's in the hands of the players.