During this year’s Game Developers Conference, Blizzard Entertainment gave me the opportunity to sit down and have a go with the yet-to-be unveiled female Necromancer. The new class is, not surprisingly, the main draw of the new expansion Rise of the Necromancer.
It was nice to get a bit of nostalgia from the days of the sequel, but the designers have definitely tightened up the undead action for Diablo III with the new content being added in the upcoming expansion.
At the beginning we were given a bit of a tour of the art, inspirations, and newly unveiled skills of the male and female Necromancers by the developers. They explained how they saw this class as the ‘rockstars’ of the Diablo world, in both how they look and act. They’re able to create bombastic effects with ‘Corpse Explosion’ or summon a wave of crimson liquid to damage all enemies with the brand new skill ‘Blood Nova’. From the presentation, it was obvious that Necromancers were not a subtle class.
After seeing the character models and some cool throwbacks to the days of Diablo II (the Necro’s bone armor, for instance), we were directed to a table full of desktops. After putting on my headset I was thrown into the world and given the straightforward task of killing all the Rift Guardians. No problem, I thought, as I began clicking on wave after wave of enemies.
The demo lasted about 10-15 minutes and was a bit of a cakewalk since the female Necro couldn’t die. Even though I had the invincibility, I was still able to see how using this build of the class had a “risk versus reward” type of play style. Certain moves will cost the Necromancer health (the aforementioned blood nova), and certain moves will help them gain it back.
There were 3 different options for me to recharge with my run-through. The first was ‘Devour’, which stole essence from all the corpses lying about. I probably used this ability the most, especially after killing a bunch of enemies with Blood Nova. The second was ‘Leech’; here, a sigil is placed on the ground and any monsters walking above are cursed and drained of their life.
The last way to regain energy was probably the most fun. You see, the Necromancers are able to call for a pet to help them out during battle. The ‘Blood Golem’ is a massive brute and is very self-contained while you have him assisting you: he needs little instruction as he goes from enemy to enemy and bashes their heads in.
You can use his skill and transport him to where your mouse cursor is. Here, he will unravel himself and then rebuild using the innards of all surrounding monsters. This not only looks really cool (and was one of the highlights of the session) but it also restored health, making it one mean move. The cool-down period for this one was, not surprisingly, pretty high.
The last two skills I was able to play around with were the standard attack and dash. It wouldn’t be a Necromancer without a sickle, and with that ‘Grim Scythe’ had me covered. Here you’re able to summon giant curved blades that appear in an arc position and damage all caught in its path. It wasn’t as powerful as normal attacks from other classes, but it was handy when I found myself surrounded on one side.
‘Blood Rush’ allowed me to zip through enemies when things got too intense or if I needed to reposition to set a new Leech or what have you. This dash is quite fast and passes through everything around you excluding walls. With Blood Rush and the Blood Golem’s Teleport, the Necromancer can be quite versatile in getting around and causing sweet mayhem.
Speaking of the Golem, during the Q&A after the session, the developers were asked about the similarities between the Necros and the other Diablo III class, the Witch Doctors. They explained how the Necromancer’s pet was more passive than the doctor’s summons; he does his own thing and only needs you when he needs to be healed.
The developers attending the demo also commented that “the witch doctor is very much centered around dodges while the Necromancers are about physical immediate impact, both with summons and skills.”
The question period also shed some more light on what would be coming with the new expansion. Rise of the Necromancers will contain the new class (male and female), full story support (with a specific place for the Necros), 4 new sets for the class and legendary support, and will also “contain aesthetics and a bunch of cool stuff.”
At the very end of the demo, I was warped to an area that looked very different from a lot of Diablo III‘s normal locations to fight the boss. It had the look of the first game’s initial dungeons: grey brick, arches, isolating darkness. This Gothic architecture is actually part of one of the two new zones and is called ‘Temple of the First Born.’ This, along with the ‘Shrouded Moors’, are new locations to explore that will be included in a free patch that will accompany the release of the expansion.
The developers also talked about some of the challenges of bringing the unique skills of the Necromancer to consoles. Since abilities like corpse explosion requires the mouse cursor to select which bodies you want to explode, creative solutions had to be found to transfer these abilities to controllers. The devs talked about making small tweaks to make things work but with still keeping the core ideal of making it fun.
To get around this, the ability is directionally mapped, so you press a button in the direction of the corpses you want to explode and they go KABOOM! Things got more interesting when the wrinkle of having multiple players on the screen playing as the Necros came up:
“What if you have 4 Necromancers in the same [offline co-op] game? How do you deal with corpses? At this point we were like, ‘Well, we want it to be fair so…’ You still get as many corpses as you would if you were playing with your buddies online except on the couch your buddy can steal your corpses and then you can just smack him in the head like, ‘Stop stealing all the corpses!'”
The confidence that the Diablo III team has on their work on the new class was very apparent during the hands-on preview and the Q&A. The character felt really smooth and fun to use – who doesn’t like blood, guts, and bone? – and while it did share certain similarities to the 2nd game’s iteration of the class, it wasn’t just a nostalgic retread.
The devs were specifically asked if there was anything that didn’t make the cut for older abilities of the necromancer. They said they spent a lot of time balancing out the character and figuring out which skills wouldn’t work in Diablo III‘s gameplay. For instance, summoning skeletons was retooled since it ‘would be too boring for the player to sit there passively’ while the undead army slowly chipped away at your foes.
When pressed about whether or not the team wanted to bring any other older classes back to the third installment, the developers were quiet on anything beyond the Necros. They said that all their time was focused on making Rise of the Necromancer that they didn’t have time to think about anything else.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see if any new or old classes make it for future DLC. The same is true of the release date and price for this latest addition to the core game. After playing through as the female Necromancer, I can honestly say I’m ready to fire up Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition on my PS4 and get back into the monster clicking/destroying action. Who doesn’t want a Blood Golem as a pet, right?