Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls’ next class, the Necromancer, is coming to the action role-playing game as part of a character pack due sometime next year. Bringing that character class forward from Diablo 2 represents something of a challenge for the designers at Blizzard Entertainment, as Diablo 3 already has a class that summons monsters and casts spells and curses: the Witch Doctor.
"One of the biggest things for me [in designing the Necromancer] was how do we distinguish this from the Witch Doctor," designer Travis Day told Polygon in an interview at BlizzCon 2016, "because the Witch Doctor somewhat cannibalized some of this design space.
"There was a lot of discussion about how do we make these [two classes] cool and different, and for me how to distinguish the Necro from the Witch Doctor as much as possible. That’s been one of my biggest design priorities."
Day pointed to one example, the Necromancer ability Confuse, which used to be a curse in Diablo 2 and is now one of the Witch Doctor’s skills. Both classes also share the ability to use a small army of pets in battle. Day said that although there’s some overlap, the new Necromancer’s approach to using summonable allies in battle is more active than it is passive.
"In the case of pets, the [Necromancer’s] skeletons or golems, one of the ways we made them feel meaningfully different was ... we gave you direct control of your army, your minions of the undead, playing as a field commander directing your skeletons," Day said.
Day added that the Diablo team’s intention is not to turn Necromancer play into an RTS, but to give players more options.
"We spent a lot of time iterating the skill Command Skeleton, which lets you attack different targets, [and] trying to find a good middle ground between how do we let you control them without feeling like you’re playing a game of StarCraft," he said. "We don’t want this to be super micro-intensive, but give you the ability to control them if you want to.
"You don’t need to command them to kill every little Quill Beast, but as soon as the big purple guy rolls on screen, you can be like, ‘Kill that guy!’ and they teleport there, consume resources and they get a damage buff. It feels way different from playing the Witch Doctor where you have fetishes running around and you’re like, ‘I hope they kill the guy that’s scary!’"
Some Necromancer skills from Diablo 2 will return in the class’ Diablo 3 iteration, including Bone Spear, Corpse Explosion, Blood Golem and Decrepify, though not every trait from the previous game will carry over, Blizzard said.
During a panel at BlizzCon, the Diablo team also laid out some of the thematic differences between the Witch Doctor and Necromancer, many of which came down to tone. Diablo 3’s Witch Doctor, which employs "creepy crawlies" like spiders and snakes, is a lighthearted contrast to the Necro’s "grim, visceral and dark" design that’s based on blood, bone and corpse flesh.
Blood and bone will be thematically tied into the Necromancer’s abilities and armor sets, Blizzard said. During its Diablo 3 panel at BlizzCon, Blizzard showed off equipment like bone shields and a full suit of blood armor composed — complete with beating hearts pumping blood through the armor set. For players who are a bit more squeamish, Blizzard promises more "aristocratic" equipment sets that emphasize the Necromancer’s "cool" design vibe.
Diablo 3’s Necromancer is coming as part of a paid, downloadable content pack arriving in 2017. The "Rise of the Necromancer" add-on will also come with an in-game pet, two additional character slots, two additional stash tabs on PC, a portrait frame, pennant, banner and banner sigil.