Diablo 3's Necromancer brings back the most satisfying ability in the series

I didn't realise how much blood Skeleton King contained until I sucked it all out him. This is a basic attack for the Necromancer. You hold down the left mouse button, the Necromancer does a wavy Kate Bush beckoning motion and a continuous stream of blood flies out of the victim until the victim has no more blood. Rest in peace again, Leoric.

The Necromancer was added to Diablo 3 yesterday. The pale hair and animal skull shoulder armour harks back to Diablo 2's incarnation of the class, but in motion the Necromancer is an interpretation rather than a direct copy. He is fast, violent, and in some ways more technical than the other heroes on the roster. His curses and skeletal followers do a lot of your work for you, but there is more to think about when every corpse on the screen can be eaten, revived, or blown up.

To give you an idea of how the Necromancer operates, here are five things he might do to you should you run into him in a dungeon.

1. The Necromancer sucks out all of your blood. He blows up your corpse to kill your friends nearby.

2. A twelve-foot tall flesh golem belly-flops onto you and collapses into a pile of corpse bits, which the Necromancer then blows up to kill you.

3. The Necromancer impales your friend with a bone spike. A homing spike of ribs then explodes out of your friend's body and kills you.

4. The Necromancer points at you and seven skeletons with broadswords run over and kill you.

5. The Necromancer just hangs around nearby and all your flesh falls off. This kills you.

Corpse explosion is the Necromancer's standout ability. Dead enemies leave fleshy pink torsos behind that you can detonate at range. Every corpse within the circular targeting template pops in quick succession to deal massive damage to anything standing nearby. You can then immediately target the bodies that corpse explosion leaves to create more explosions. In big fights there is a tipping point where you can start detonating bodies and sweep the entire screen clean in a bloody wave.

This is immediately one of the most satisfying skills in the game, and a terrific advancement on the original Diablo 2 ability. It's a testament to the breadth of the Necromancer's skillset that it is almost exceeded by a new ability called bone lance. This draws bone spears out of multiple corpses on the battlefield and hurls them at a targeted enemy. It's a grisly and fun way to focus down large enemies and hero monsters.

When you're not blowing up corpses you can absorb them to recover 'essence', which is the Necromancer's mana pool. You can fuel the fluctuating corpse economy with your minions. The flesh golem I mentioned can flop over dead to generate a cluster of corpses (a new one is summoned moments later). You can temporarily summon death mages who, with the right rune activated, can be made to leave corpses behind when they expire. I haven't unlocked 'revive' yet, but that can temporarily bring enemies back from the dead to fight for you. Turning corpses into a resource system is a great fit for the Necromancer thematically. It gives battles a different quality that makes the class feel like a significant expansion.

The Necromancer becomes more conventional if you decide to specialise in curses and close-combat effectiveness. Many of the Necromancer's runes turn his abilities into close-quarters area-of-effect attacks that seem to stack quite effectively, though if you like close quarter battle other classes such as the Monk will serve you better. 

Minion builds loosely resemble the Witch Doctor's gaggle of disposable summons, but with a few alterations. Skeletons raise themselves out of the ground, and they don't need a corpse to spawn. Instead of having to constantly press buttons to summon them, you instead use the ability to command them. When you activate the command ability they hurtle across the screen and start madly hacking the target with their huge swords. Runes change the nature of the command, turning this charge into a freezing strike or a kamikaze attack.

It's too early to see how the Necromancer operates at the highest difficulty levels, though he seemed viable to beta testers on the PTR. Most of his abilities are instantly exciting. Curses lack a little punch, and it's irritating having to constantly summon back death mages, but corpse explosion may well be the most satisfying skill in Diablo 3, maybe even the entire series. It is punchy and dynamic, and even has a skillshot quality when you start combining it with disposable minions. Blizzard is alarmingly good at creating character powers that feel great one hundred hours into a playthrough. I suspect this one will never get old. 

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.