To catch Arenanet's attention in this discussion of core Necromancer, I would like everyone's help to present a case for additional core profession improvements. In this post are some of my views on core and elite specializations for context in this discussion about core Necro followed by some suggestions. I know all of you have your own ideas and suggestions regarding core Necro and hope you will share them, too. Please do not be overly critical of any poster's suggestions, mine included, I hope, and focus your post on what you think needs attention along with an idea or more to make your point.
Overview of Common Build Types
Necromancer has three main variants and multiple sub-variants:
Core Necro background
Necromancer originally had three builds, though all were sorely lacking compared to other professions; power, condition damage, and minion master. That was a good build variety for 2012.
Power Necro had only Death Shroud, one or two fears, a siphon heal on dagger, protection on Spectral Armor, and a whole lot of non-damaging conditions like blind, weakness, cripple, and chill for damage avoidance. Axe was buffed a remarkable number of times once the low damage and negligible group value of its vulnerability application became apparent. Main hand dagger used to be the only good power weapon with war horn providing the best utility for off-hands. Staff offered very good flexibility in its utility skills and was a mainstay in both power and condition damage builds.
Condi-dps Necro relies, as always, nearly 100% on scepter auto-attack for dps. Scepter was good in 2012 and is still good, today. Like every other weapon, it has been changed and buffed since release but still remains very much like it was at release.
Reaper was introduced with Heart of Thorns as a direct and powerful fix to core Necromancer's very low power-cleave ability. Main hand dagger had long been a single-target weapon and had only recently been upgraded to a 2-target cleave on auto-attack. Unfortunately, that cleave count was still too low and Necro continued to have trouble getting groups in dungeons and fractals. Reaper suddenly had massive amounts of cleave across every greatsword skill and all shouts. While Reaper has a lot of cleave, it does not have a great amount of single-target power-dps but it is still far above core Necromancer in that regard. Reaper originally had a great deal of chill sources and chill duration giving it stronger sustain in PvE and could shut down opponents in PvP. Chill duration was subsequently nerfed for obvious balance reasons but Reaper is still strong in that condition.
Hybrid Reaper is a kind of Reaper sub-variant much the same way as boon-hate Scourge is. The Deathly Chill trait enabled the use of condition damage equipment and originally proc'd condition dps directly off of the chill it applied. That created problems: First, chill stacks in duration so players would knock a damaging chill off of a boss in PvE shutting off chill condition damage. Second, Reaper had very few options for applying chill at range leaving ranged condition damage to scepter, which has only bleed and poison for dps, resulting in builds where dps is stretched across chill, bleed, and poison with all of them needing 100% duration increase. After balance nerfs and Path of Fire specializations, the hybrid Reaper is not competitive, anymore.
All Reaper builds are very selfish and offer very little group support in terms of boon-sharing, healing, or utility skills like reflects.
Barriers were introduced on Scourge to give Necro group support and adding AoE boon hate was a balance-bandage Arenanet realized they needed, badly, with the boon spam resulting from Heart of Thorns. More torment and burning were just to give Scourge some independence. The very first thing Arenanet did after Path of Fire was nerf burning and start separating condition application by shades. That should show what Arenanet's priorities are. They actually increased barriers from the beta-weekend and more than once after Path of Fire. I think Arenanet regards Scourge as primarily a support spec with boon hate and will adjust balance around those two roles.
If barriers and boon hate have low of a value, Arenanet can increase their value by nerfing healing and boon-share provided by other professions. That ought to remind everyone of more recent balance patches. Always remember that if group support has value it should have an opportunity cost like personal sustain or dps. Scourge can still hard-carry random PUGs and is a key zerg component in WvW.
Scourge offers some unique support including sharable barriers (mini-shroud), a bit of boon-share, some condi-management, and even a teleport. When combined with healing power and core Necro's Blood Magic, Scourge can help prevent, or quickly recover from, downed-state.
Core Necromancer Wish List
What core Necro does not have is substantial boon sharing or condition management (anymore). Well of Power, as one example, requires substantial buffing in the number of conditions it converts into boons. Putrid Mark, as another example, had its condition transfer nerfed a long time ago and no longer clears allies. If Death Magic gave substantial reason to take as group support and use in boon duration builds, that would fill one of the largest remaining gaps in Necromancer build variety. With that in mind, here is what I propose:
Spite is purely power-build support, Curses is purely condition dps support, Blood Magic offers group help for countering downed state, and Soul Reaping aids both shroud and dps.
Death Magic supports minions, though it does not require 3 traits, some of which are cross-purpose, and damage reduction. DM also focuses on toughness even though, in PvE, toughness is a large factor in the aggro mechanic and Necromancer does not have the skill set necessary for hate-control and mob positioning. Toughness also steals aggro from pets, which is a good option when it is desired. Flesh of the Master both increases pet health and helps steal aggro from them. Necromantic Corruption increases minion dps and draws conditions making it my favorite, and often only, minion trait. Death Nova, on the other hand, goes back to being controversial to me as it proc's Lesser CPC on minion death and generates a Jagged Horror on opponent death. Minion death is something like RNG while the temporary Jagged Horrors only happen after they were needed; normally in open-world PvE.
Personally, I would offer two minion traits; one to increase minion dps and the other to increase minion support skills.
Other Death Magic trait suggestions follow.
Buff the Condition Damage DPS
I would like to see more burning return for condi-dps if it can be done on Core. Necromancer does not really have a condi-dps spec but that can be fixed in core Necro without having to buff either Reaper or Scourge. There are a lot of ways to do that, too, like disabling the nerf to Epi-bouncing when running only core Necro or increasing the stack and duration of conditions applied in Death Shroud, which, by the way, offers the longest shroud up-time. Core Necro can definitely be a condi-dps spec and it can also be a single-target power spec like it used to be. The mechanics are already there. It just needs some freshening up. One great way to do that is with Dhuumfire. Add burning to critical hits on the third strike of scepter's auto-attack chain, Putrid Curse but trade Soul Reaping's Dhuumfire with Banshee's Wail in Blood Magic. Soul Reaping is still too good to pass up while Blood Magic does not have much selfish dps improvement for the amount of group support it offers.
Dagger DPS and Mobility Countering
Dagger has three design features: Power damage, melee sustain, and countering mobility skills. The first and last could use some strengthening. Dagger's auto attack strikes need more damage given the game's power creep. Dagger could also use additional mobility counters. Life Siphon and Dark Pact have both been refreshed but the auto attack chain has not. I also suggest adding a 0.5 second chill on Necrotic Stab, the second in the chain, and increasing the cleave to 3 targets when dagger is traited by Quickening Thirst.
Change the number of impacts on Locust Swarm from 10 to 15 so the skill lasts 7.5 seconds.
Increase the ammo count of Soul Grasp from 2 to 4 to account for it missing so often but put it on full cool down if it connects. We can just spam slow-claws until it actually works on something/someone.
Staff' has not seen a buff in many years. While its utility is still good, its potency has decreased with the new specializations. Staff's main issue is the very low damage output, especially in PvE, rather than the utility. Damage can remain low if utility is boosted for more strategic play.
Make Signet of Undeath a 240 radius skill and move much of its cast time to an after-cast.
Make Signets of Suffering also trippel the effects of Spiteful Renewal and Plague Sending. Do the same with Shrouded Removal, too, if that trait remains. Double the number of conditions transferred on Putrid Mark and Deathly Swarm.
Life Blast: Reduce the number of targets from 5 to 1 and make it a projectile finisher.
Dark Path: If pathing issues for the claw and shadowstep are not fixed, yet, make the projectile fly in an arc like that of Epidemic.
The Necromancer or any group member within a 240 radius can also inflict Terror on opponents when using any skill or bundle that proc's fear. This should have a cool down associated per person casting. Adding this to Terror will improve Necromancer's and other profession's group utility.
Fear of Death
Reduce fear duration extension (expertise bonus only to fear) from 100% to 50% and make interrupts proc a 0.5 second fear and give it a 40 second cool down if it proc's on any target. Keep the 15% Life Force generation. This will increase the fear availability for Necro but only with luck or skill.
Well of Power: Double the number of pulses over the same duration so it can handle condition bursts better.
Well of Darkness: Add a 0.5 second bind to each pulse to aid in anti-movement.
Death Magic is in dire need of attention. It is still very selfish in a game where selfishness and low damage output are absolutely not compatible. Several traits and skills feel as if they lack group utility and/or damage output. Personal sustain on Necromancer is not too much of an issue but the plethora of counters to Necromancer's innate anti-mobility tools have been overwhelmed by the additional condition management added with the expansions and balance updates.
Another area lagging due to the changes along the way are combinations, particularly finishers. Dark fields now create dark auras but Necromancer is still left with less desirable fields and a dearth of options to finish combinations. Adding a few more to a game with so many already should not be such a problem.
Main hand dagger cleave should be increased to 3 and its auto attack chain strengthened in melee proficiency with more potent damage and ant-mobility/disengagement.
Finally, Necromancer's condition damage dps is severely lacking. I very much agree that Scourge should not provide both a high dps and high group support so I ask the condition damage dps and the handling of allies' conditions be strengthened on core Necro. I am still waiting for a weapon to swap from scepter's ranged condi-dps to melee condi-dps. Reaper was never a good fit being so highly focused on cleave/AoE but at least it is less incompatible than it was at Heart of Thorns' release while Scourge needed nerfing because it was just too powerful even when traited for a support spec, much less a boon-hate spec.
This is a pretty long post, especially for me, but these are a few of the changes I would like to see in core Necro. Other professions are in the same boat with their own core but may not be as easily adjusted without making their elite specializations stronger. Death Shroud, because it is a transform exclusive to core Necro, can be buffed without affecting elite specializations. I suspect that was a factor in the 16 July Necromancer balance update.
I think Arenanet is well aware of the difficulties that remain with Necro. I only hope they refocus core Necro on selfish, single-target power and multi-target condi dps specs with strong anti-mobility and condition management skills but add some additional group utility to Death Magic so it can do more than support minions and bunkering. For those of you who make it to the end of this ridiculously long post, thank you and please do not hesitate to write one of your own in the hope that, together, we can help Arenanet bring core Necromancer more in line with specializations and expectations for end-game activities.