With the advent of the Corruptions necro, ArenaNet is working towards a much more viable Curses necro in Guild Wars 2. Or at least one that is more fully focused on condition manipulation than what was available in previous iterations of the profession.
Death, Curses, and Spite all have a distinct impact on the necro’s playstyle, and have their roots in weapon set and utility skill pairings. Soul Reaping is in a league of its own, and is currently at the center of a maelstrom of controversy because some players feel that an
Endure Pain Death Shroud necro is simply overpowered for certain structured PvP situations.
That is another worthy topic that I’ll no doubt be addressing soon enough. For now I’ll just say that people need to remember that necro heals are horrible, and without Life Force to serve as a fancy Endure Pain, we’d fall apart in 2 hits in more intense combat situations.
What I wanted to discuss today, however, is the distinct lack of a viable Blood necro that’s based on life steals in a more traditional sense.
Somehow the mightiest of necromantic concepts has fallen from grace with the Tyrian gods, and doesn’t really contain enough to genuinely focus a build around in its current state. I spent a lot of time during the stress test earlier this month trying to piece together some form – any form – of viable Blood necro build, and couldn’t do it no matter how nutty I got with my build.
At best, you’re left with a build stacking 3k extra health (roughly 1 major direct damage hit in PvP) at 30 trait points spent in Blood, and a handful of mismatched traits that don’t really fit a central concept all that well. Ultimately my attempt at creating a viable Blood necro was like trying to stuff a bloody round peg through a coagulated square hole.
I’ve been an MMO gamer for almost 14 years, and more importantly a primary necromancer in any game awesome enough to have them as an option for just as long. Before I babble out my brain explosion about why a viable Blood build is the biggest thing lacking from necro gameplay currently, I’m going to babble down a parallel path first. Because, you know, I tend to enjoy rambling about the reason for or history of a given MMO mechanic’s existence like that.
Necromancers and the Cycle of Life and Death
When it comes to damage types associated with traditional MMO necros, the list typically includes poison, disease, and cold damage. However, right alongside the whole wacky part where they command corpses to do their bidding is the concept that a true necromancer plays around with the fabrics of not just death, but life as well.
Most of the time this comes in the form of “life taps”, or abilities that drain an enemy’s health and feeds it directly to the necro as a healing component. Conceptually, this is pretty powerful, and has distinguished the necro from other casters just as much as undead minions depending on the game.
Necros in GW1 had a lot of lifetap abilities available to them. Direct health bar manipulation through draining enemy health to heal yourself, or sacrifice your own heath to power other abilities is all part of gameplay as a necro depending on the role you’re attempting to fulfill. For example, a long while back I commonly ran a Blood is Power build which is notably one of the skill interactions most clearly associated with a class-defining necro mechanic in the grandfather of MMOs, EverQuest.
In that game, necros would also use lifetaps to steal heath over time or directly, but then could use that incoming health to fuel other spells. EQ necros were commonly referred to as “mana batteries” because that’s basically what they were during raids. The way it worked relied on the idea that a necro could drain their own life to fuel spells (trade life for mana), lifetap health to replenish what’s lost in the transference, and then use their near-limitless mana pool to feed mana to healers.
In a roundabout way, necros in GW1 could produce similar results by using Blood is Power to provide a boost to energy regen, but had to sacrifice health in the process to do so. To counter this, various direct or over-time life steals could be used.
By and large, this type of direct resource exchange not only helps define the necromancer, but represents one of the most symbiotic skill relationships found in just about any class in MMOs since the industry began.
But how does that fit into necro gameplay in GW2 since it doesn’t rely on a shared skill activation resource like energy or mana?
Where have all the life steals gone?
One of the very first things I picked up on about the necromancer in Guild Wars 2 is a distinct lack of life steals. It’s not that they don’t exist, because a couple of token weapon skills retain a direct life steal component. But the list is still exceedingly short; to the point where the scant few skills providing a life steal effect don’t justify creating any builds around them.
Not counting any traits, the current list includes:
Life Siphon – main hand dagger – a short, channeled ability that doesn’t really drain enough to keep up with incoming damage.
Mark of Blood – staff – while not described as a life steal, this mark bleeds enemies and adds a very small regen to allies. So it creates the same effect, even if it is not technically a life steal.
Deadly Feast – spear – the heal component on this skill is so laughably low that it might as well not really exist. But it does, so it lives on this list for the time being.
Summon Blood Fiend – heal – Even though the minion functions as the conduit for the life steal, it still basically exists here, albeit in a very weak form. Bringing the Blood Fiend in to PvP is also a form of virtual suicide since they die very easily, and smart players will kill them ASAP to put the necro’s heal immediately on cooldown.
Signet of the Locust – utility – The life steal happens when you use the active ability for this signet. The amount gained is negligible and currently not worth sacrificing improved mobility for a full minute while the signet recharges.
That’s pretty much it, and as you’ll notice most life steals are pretty weak and force you to rely wholly on life force / death shroud to save your necrotic ass since the necro’s direct heals are also universally weak compared to other professions. There should at least be some viable alternative, and one that makes effective use of Blood isn’t too much of a stretch. I mean, the necro’s Spectral line is already a pretty big stretch, so why couldn’t Blood and life steals be worked back into the core of the profession?
Here are a few ways it could be done…
Corruptions + Blood = TLA?
Blood necros could be refined to fit into the existing profession mechanics in a couple of interesting ways. The first of these is to create better synergies between Corruptions skills and the Blood line. As per the ways of necromancy, corruptions inflict conditions on both the necro and their target. However, we currently lack a balancing factor to replenish sacrificed health. This is where Blood would come in.
At present, the cost/benefit ratio for playing a corruptions necro is simply off. The risk is too high for the reward since you have to remember we have 100 ways to build life force, but less than half-dozen to gain health. And again, smart players won’t kill the life force bar. Instead, they’ll aim to kill your health bar which is where the necro is weakest and can send you to defeated.
Besides, if you’re built for corruptions, you’re doing so at the cost of life force gain to begin with. Conceptually, corruptions necros have the potential to be one of the strongest available builds for the profession, but could really use some increased synergy with Blood traits, or even a viable Blood-friendly weapon set rework. Speaking of…
With the last pass to necro skills just prior to the first BWE, corruptions became a reality, and a few of the necro’s weapon sets started making a lot more sense. Staff, axe, scepter, warhorn, and focus are all in pretty good shape at this point, but what about daggers?
Currently, daggers are kind of a mishmash of randomness that doesn’t synergize particularly well with any viable build concepts. At best it’s a very situational set, and lost its viability as a primary set somewhere along the line. For example, in the PvP matches played at the ArenaNet party during PAX Prime last year, dagger/dagger was a core part of why I was an unstoppable killing machine for most of the night. Now though? Not so much.
Daggers should really become the basis for a viable Blood necro. I wouldn’t even rework the current skills too much, but make them synergize better with utilities and traits to focus on life steals more, and random CC components a bit less.
The Trouble with Death Shroud…
The trouble with Death Shroud isn’t that it’s too powerful, or somehow provides necros too much survivability. The fact of the matter is, it provides the undead lion’s share of our survivability, and necros suffer as a result of not using it, traiting for it, and working in utility and weapon skills to build Life Force to fuel it.
In other words, Death Shroud has helped paint necromancers into a corner by stacking too many skills and traits that build Life Force, and not enough skills that have a life steal component as a viable alternative. You could take 1/3 of all “adds +X% life force” skills and turn them into “steals life and heals the necro for X” and magically have a viable Blood necro again and still have more than enough life force builders to work with. To make that work, players could have the choice to make that change (health vs. life force gain) happen via traits.
Think about it; Soul Reaping could still enhance the life force / death shroud mechanic, while Blood could allow you to say “I’ll take raw life steals over life force gain for 500 Bob!” At which point Bob Barker would magically appear in a cloud of smoke and shout “Come on down!” no doubt mentally scarring you for life in the process. So maybe scratch that last part, but the rest still stands.
Bleeding Me Softly
Will the lifetapping aspect of necromancy ever make a triumphant return in Guild Wars 2, or will necros forever be tethered to their F1 keys? I’d like to think there’s still hope that Blood will become viable again, and think it can be done with some minor adjustments to the existing skills and traits.
In the meantime, I’m making it my personal goal once again for the next BWE to try and come up with a solid necro build focused on Blood. If it’s true that mastering a build you enjoy is more important than playing flavor of the month builds in GW2, I should be able to, right?