Blizzcon 2016 Necromancer Gameplay Report

So pouty, pasty, and tortured!
So pouty, pasty, and tortured!

I had a chance to play a couple of sessions through the Diablo 3 demo at Blizzcon, and here’s a quick report.

The demo (up in the press room, at least) is single player only, with a non-random scenario. It’s a Greater Rift, level 2, with a level 70 (male) Necromancer as the only playable character.

I don’t think Blizzard considered it when designing the Greater Rift feature, but it’s essentially perfect for their needs when setting up a playable demo. For demos they want you using a basic and premade character, they have to limit the time per session, they don’t want players wasting time fiddling around with the interface, inventory, skills, trying to respec, etc. In the old days they had to lock off normal game features, but now in D3 they can just set up a Grift session and there you are. No access to inventory, skills, already in a dungeon with a built-in time duration, etc.

Click through for discussion of all the other skills, the basic build and strategy, and more.

Blizzcon 2016 Necromancer Gameplay Report

So, since it’s a demo in a Grift, you can’t open your INV to check out your gear and you can’t look at the skills menu. So there’s no way to know, but it felt like the Necromancer in the demo was equipped in totally generic gear, with no items that boosted any of his skills, no skill runes(?), no LGems in effect, etc.

The build was pretty basic, but functional. (Skill descriptions are from memory so maybe not exact, and obviously you can expect balances/changes over time.)

Left Click: Blood Siphon. Basically a beam attack that locked onto a target and dealt steady DoT, while also refilling the Necro’s resource, “Essence.” The Necro has no inherent resource regen, and must use skills to refill resource. Blood Siphon also grants healing to the Necromancer.

Right Click: Bone Spear. Worked just like it did in Diablo 2; a fast-moving, piercing, straight line projectile. At the base level it dealt 250% weapon damage, and with the piercing it was more effective when you aimed to pass through several enemies in a row. Pretty heavy mana cost so you couldn’t use it constantly, at least not with the basic gear on the Necromancer in the demo.

Keyboard skill #1: Corpse Explosion. The splattery delight returns, and it works just as you expect, with some improvements. Click the button to detonate any corpse near your pointer. As in D2, you could only blow up each corpse one time, but in an improvement to the chaining effect, each corpse you blow up will blow up any other “corpses” within range. The visual is a lovely domino effect, as explosions move along a split second after each other, much like video of a bridge demolition.

Corpses exist now, sort of. The whole corpse doesn’t remain, but just a little puddle of afterbirth gore, which can only be seen in-game by Necromancers. In the demo each corpse explosion dealt 150% of the monster’s hit points 150% weapon damage per explosion. (Update: I misremembered the tool tip, and post-show reports say 150% weapon damage per explosion, and that Bliz plans to make all Necro skills scale off weapon damage, instead of D2-style monster hit points.)

Keyboard skill #2: Decrepify. The basic defensive curse, it debuffed monster speed and increased the damage they took for a few seconds. The cast hit everything within the radius of effect, which was maybe 40 yards across — big enough to hit every enemy in the main area of engagement, but not at all a “hex the whole screen at once” type of curse.

Keyboard skill #3: The movement/escape skill. I can’t remember the name, but basically it’s Vault crossed with Teleport + smoky red graphics. Straight line, 50 yards distance, almost instant movement speed, pass through anything in the way. There was a 10s cooldown, so in the demo it was only useful for the occasional hurry up or movement to get proper distance or angle for your attacks. (The difficulty was too low on GR2 in the demo to ever really need an “escape” option.)

Keyboard skill #4: Command Skeleton. The skill had a passive and an active effect: The passive effect automatically raised a new skeleton (melee or ranged mage attacker) every few seconds, while the active effect caused all the skeletons to enrage on a monster target you selected.

Passive: This made the demo easy and carefree, since you never had to engage in any minion management. I always had 5-6 skeleton warriors and 3 skeleton mages. I couldn’t tell if they were taking damage, possibly since the difficulty was so low on the demo, and possibly since the skill was regularly summoning a new skeleton and banishing the oldest one. The skeletons were basically moving punching bags. They dealt minimal damage (all of them together needed several seconds to take down a single trash enemy) but were very effective as tanks.

Active: This caused all the skeletons to aggro on the monster you targeted. It also debuffed the monster, with increased damage taken for a few seconds. The skeletal warriors all teleported into instant melee range and the skeletal mages all began shooting at the selected enemy. Pretty obviously this was the Elite attack skill, and it had a 20ish second cooldown, so you couldn’t just spam it on one target after another.

Necromancer Gameplay

The overall gameplay feel in the demo was fun and fairly simple. With the generic gear the killing speed was way below what we’re used to with good equipment, which made the battles more tactical and clicky. (Which made it feel more like Diablo 2, ironically.) I don’t think this is some long term trend; a Necro in a six-piece set will surely evaporate everything on GR50 in a blink, just like all the other classes in D3.

The play style was pretty simple as well, with the tactics obvious to anyone with experience at Diablo 3. I got a lot faster as I played more, when I got used to the hotkeys, positioned myself properly to get my Bone Spears hitting multiple enemies in a line, remembered to hit the whole bunch with Decrepify as the battle began, paid attention to when something died so I could Corpse Explosion it immediately, targeted the Elites with the Skeleton Swarm skill, etc.

The key to fast killing was to engage only a few enemies at once, since then my skeletons would be spread out and my magical attacks would not hit multiple enemies at once. The Skeleton Swarm skill was useful to refocus my pets when they got scattered or disorganized, and it was always better to target all my pets and attacks on one or a few enemies, kill them off, and then move to the next targets.

Yes, Corpse Explosion worked well with that, since that was my best AoE attack. The damage wasn’t that high in the demo, but I’m sure some gear/sets will greatly boost it. Using it brought back Diablo 2 strategy memories, where the key was get a swarm of enemies around your pets, pour as much damage as possible on one target, and then detonate them once they died. Their damage would kill or badly injure all the other nearby enemies, letting you detonate another dead on, which would kill or injure the rest, etc.

Basically it’s the same domino style cascading damage you see with the Monk and Explosive Palm, except you directly create the damage from the monster once it dies, instead of putting the EP on the target and then trying to kill it for the auto-explosion.

New Dungeon Tileset!

The Blizzcon 2016 demo is non-random, and you’re always in a GR2 Fields of Slaughter type tileset, with not-very dense monster spawns. No new monster types, and a typical variety of Charging Beasts, Lacuni, some smaller enemies, etc. You kill and the GR progresses as usual, until the end. Then, instead of a Guardian spawning, a red portal appears and all the enemies die.

Once you go through the portal, you appear in a new dungeon tileset, which is very “Skeleton King in Diablo 1” style. A gothic looking crypt with lots of burial urns to destroy, bones and dust lying around, etc. It looked great and I wish we had some screenshots of it in the press kit, but at the same time it was cool to see it while playing without knowing about it in advance.

The new dungeon is just a preview, and all you do is run along a hallway for a moment, before entering a final larger room where the Rift Guardian spawns. I got The Choker, and it was a fairly simple battle. Possibly we’ll get a full Rift potential in this tileset, but I’m guessing it’s the special area where we’ll fight the pixel-style Skeleton King in the 20th anniversary “Darkening of Tristram” event.

And no, there is no content with the new-styled pixelly visuals in the Blizzcon demo. Blizzard says the classic levels will be playable as soon as next week on the PTR, so we’ll see them soon enough.


The Necromancer demo was fun and felt natural and functional. The curses, weakish-ranged attacks, and “kill them faster in a bunch” play style of Corpse Explosion was very Diablo 2 flashback-y, and felt (at least a little) different than any of the 6 classes plays in the game today. Of course it’s impossible to predict if this style and feel will remain as the Necromancer grows in power with full gear, but I hope so.

It’s not that I want the Necro to remain weaker or slower than the others, but reading the initial Necromancer info, my immediate thought was, “How will this differ from the WD in play style/feel?” The answer might be that the difference is reflected and splashed damage for the Necromancer, where he kills faster when facing large bunches at once, but only if he uses his skills and strategy properly. It was very fun doing that style in D2, whether going Amplified Damage for more damage, or Iron Maiden/Iron Golem to wear down the whole bunch, before using Corpse Explosion to chain detonate the entire group to death in a sudden burst of mega-damage.

Are you guys eager for the Necromancer and maybe a newish play style? Do you just want the nostalgia of the Necromancer no matter what he/she plays like? Let the excite begin….

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14 thoughts on “Blizzcon 2016 Necromancer Gameplay Report

  1. When you went into the “retro” area, did it feel like an “8 degree” movement. Honestly, all this stuff is giving me a spiritual boner. The only downside I see is the 8 degree movement, but as someone who bought a psp and cfw just to play Diablo 1 PS1, I completely miss that feeling.

    • Retro area wasn’t present in the demo. It will be on the PTR within the week. (At least now we know why they ended the last season so abruptly…)

  2. I’m just hoping for tons of pets. WD has Dogs + Gargantuan (and Fetishes which have never been great, of course), Necro needs more than just one skeleton skill plus a golem. I need my skele army.

  3. So you were actually in an “outdoors” GR instead of all the indoor sewers and caves that we have now? That sounds promising!

  4. I just hope “retrovision” is something you can choose because I can’t handle pixels like that, back in the day it was the best we had but now I actually want stuff to look good and smooth.

    I wanna be able to do D1 again in D3 with the actual D3 gfx.

  5. So it makes me wonder if we are going to get different types of Golems like fire or iron or maybe a poison or arcane type. And something tells me that one of the runes for bone spear will eat bone spirit and it will probably do some kind AOE Splash damage on hit. And it makes me wonder if we are going to be able to revive enemies like we could in Diablo 2.

    • They said we’d have many types of Golems and showed the artwork for the Blood Golem during the D3 panel on Friday. But no info on what will differentiate between the diff golem types.

      • I wonder if they will still do iron golems the same way with sacrificing an item to make.
        Cant wait to give this class a play

        The passive summon of skeletons is a nice change as it sucked when you were killing a boss and no corpses around to get more skeleton’s.

        I worry about how they will do corpse explosions and RG fights. it would suck to loose function of a skill if there are no corpses to use. From what i saw the portal opening to a separate area for a Rift Guardian fight with no corpses to use (New RG fight mode?).

  6. Nice coverage.
    It’s great for people to report on details that we miss out on while people on the other side of the world sleep.
    While watching BigDaddyDen76’s blizzcon stream i spotted some annotations on the skills that you mentioned you were doing by memory. The main thing to note is that Corpse explosion was 150% weapon damage rather than a percentage of enemy health. Wyatt Cheng visited BigDaddyDen76 and mentioned they were staying away from any skills based on a % of enemy health due do balancing issues in greater rifts like that had with crushing blow and before explosive palm was re-worked.

  7. Yeah, okay. I’m down for this. Love the active aspect of commanding your skelly army to attack something. Only 10 is a bit disappointing, but I’m sure that will increase with the 6 piece skelly set. Curious to see how blood golem will be different than garg.

    WAY looking forward to building a meleemancer like the old days. It’s a shame we won’t have poison dagger, but poison is a WD so maybe we’all have a blood dagger of some type.

    All in all, wish I could play now and this better be a Q1 2017 thing and not later. Want my Necro now!

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