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RuneScape's new Necromancy skill reinvents combat once again, 22 years on

Dead promising.

Image credit: Jagex

Do you have the power to raise and control the undead? This is the question RuneScape 3’s new Necromancy skill asks its players.

Necromancy is the 29th skill to be released into RuneScape 3, and arrives three years after the last, Archaeology. It’s not just a skill though - Necromancy is the first new combat style to ever be released in RuneScape after 22 years, and more akin to a new class in other MMOs. Sitting outside of the established combat triangle of melee, range and magic, Necromancy is neither stronger or weaker than the game’s other combat skills. Instead, it was designed to offer players an alternative form of combat they can learn and experiment with.

Ahead of its release on Monday 7th August, I was given a preview and hands-on time with Necromancy, and able to reach Level 20.

Necromancy combat can be divided in two halves - conjuring the undead, like Skeleton Warriors or Putrid Zombies, and wielding necrotic attacks, which offer a range of new incantations and abilities. The undead will fight alongside you, and your Summoning familiar if you have one, both giving and taking damage. Meanwhile, those new abilities, like Finger of Death, let you cause damage of your own and, by stacking Necrosis, reduce the amount of adrenaline they cost to perform.

When it comes to the new incantations, you’ll eventually be able to weave spells like Life Transfer, which uses a portion of your own health to keep your undead creatures alive for longer. But you’ll need to craft some runes - the resource used to perform magic in RuneScape - to use these new incantations, and not your ordinary Air Rune either. Necromancy brings four new runes to RuneScape 3 and they’re all suitably themed: named Bone, Flesh, Miasma and Spirit Runes.

Image credit: Jagex

While some abilities, such as Finger of Death, are earned by levelling up Necromancy, others, like summoning Vengeful Ghosts, are unlocked through the Talent Tree at the Well of Souls. You’ll need to earn Talent Points by using Necromancy in combat to unlock these new powers, while the higher tiers are accessed by adding more souls to the Well via Rituals. The Talent Tree allows you to craft your own journey through the Necromancy skill and allows you to focus on the type of combat you prefer - be it new incantations or increasing the number of undead followers you can conjure. You can even unlock special attacks for your undead followers.

I’m interested to see how Necromancy affects the established RuneScape meta and what combat theorycrafters make of it, because this skill has the potential to bring a whole host of new battle strategies to the game. From what I experienced in the preview, the combat is very enjoyable and, while easy to learn, has a considerable amount of depth both in terms of mechanics and customisation. As a longtime player, I also found the combat refreshing - though that may be due to how it’s been a good 17 years since I was first introduced to RuneScape’s combat mechanics.

One of the new Runecrafting altars. | Image credit: Jagex

Personally, I’m looking forward to rethinking my long-established combat strategies and testing my Necromancy abilities, especially since conjuring the undead adds in new factors for you to consider. Not only do you need to decide which creature you wish to conjure, but when as they will only stay on the battlefield for a certain amount of time. Is it at the start of a fight to give yourself an edge or do you wait till later on in case you need cover to heal?

There’s also an element of resource management, as Ectoplasm is required for conjuring the undead, so you’ll need to take this into account when planning out your inventory. All of this comes together to create a promising addition to RuneScape 3’s combat, allowing more opportunities to experiment whether it's by focusing solely on Necromancy or incorporating into your melee, range or magic strategies.

While Necromancy is outside of the established combat triangle (melee beats range, range defeats magic and magic beats melee), its release sees a couple of changes to how combat works in RuneScape 3 as a whole. This includes a rise in the max combat level - the stat used to determine how difficult a foe is to defeat - for players from Level 139 to 152 and a switch in how combat XP is earned. Upon the release of Necromancy, combat XP will now be a HP-based system where the higher a foe’s health points are, the more experience you can gain.

Image credit: Jagex

What is a new combat style though without new gear? Unlike the other combat skills where there’s a variety of weapons and armour to choose from (I’ve always been a God Sword fan), Necromancy has a specific set of gear you have to use. This, of course, includes your Necromancy armour, but you’ll also need the Death Guard for using abilities and the Spirit Lantern if you wish to raise spirits from the underworld.

All of this gear is vital for performing Necromancy and has been designed to level up alongside you, matching your progress as you upgrade it to Tier 90. Doing so will involve meeting a level requirement for a skill outside of Necromancy, such as Smithing or Crafting, and collecting materials. Along the way, though, you may wish to focus on the Power option where armour stats give way for ability bonuses. If you want the Tier 95 gear, one of the highest equipment tiers, you’ll have to defeat Rasial - one of the new bosses introduced as part of the skill.

Necromancy: Launch Gameplay Trailer - Rising Aug 7Watch on YouTube

Necromancy, however, isn’t solely about causing death via the undead, Rituals are vital for gathering important resources, especially when it comes to upgrading your gear, and offer a non-combat focused method for training the skill. To perform a ritual, you first have to decide which one you wish to perform - do you need more of a specific resource or wish to add more souls to the Well of Souls? Once your decision is made, it’s time to get the material you need to focus upon, light the candles and draw the Glyphs. Now you’re ready to begin but that doesn’t mean the spirits are going to go easy on you, because, if you’ve absorbed any horror fiction ever, you’ll know that rituals rarely go as planned.

Image credit: Jagex

Every time you perform a Ritual there’s a chance you’ll experience a disturbance like a Wandering Spirit appearing who may try to interfere with your work. These occurrences remind me of the random events, like the Sandwich Lady or Evil Bob the cat, which, while still present in Old School RuneScape, are gone from RuneScape 3 and it's an absence I feel. For me, random events gave RuneScape 3 an edge of unpredictability alongside a sense of depth to the world, creating the idea that there were events happening out in the world that I didn’t know about. The Ritual disturbances give me the same feeling and, in doing so, make the activity feel far more engaging than the more regular AFK activity.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to have a non-combat method for training Necromancy. The range of skills in RuneScape has always meant that, if a player isn’t a fan of combat-oriented skills, they can focus on the gathering, artisan or support skills instead and vice versa. Considering how important skills are - both in the terms of RuneScape’s overall mechanics and amount of gameplay they offer - a new skill always runs the risk of focusing around an aspect of the game which part of the player base won’t enjoy. Rituals remove this worry for Necromancy not just by offering a way to negate combat, but by being its own engaging activity. Go deep into Rituals and you’ll find yourself hunting down specific materials to focus upon, keeping a constant eye on your candles to ensure they’re not waxing away and, eventually, implementing Glyphs specifically designed to speed up the process.

The Ritual Site. | Image credit: Jagex

While the combat aspect of Necromancy can be used across Gielinor, Rituals can only be conducted in the City of Um - a new location created solely for Necromancy. Constructed out of the memories of the dead, Um, with its gondolas and gothic-style buildings, feels like a mixture of Venice and Gormenghast. Um very much acts as the hub for Necromancy, being where you’ll find the Well of Souls and various vendors who, among other things, sell resources for Rituals or offer you the chance to upgrade your gear. Yet, when you first arrive in Um, you’ll find the city rather dead. Thankfully, levelling up your Necromancy skill will cause more spirits to return to its streets - from familiar spirit to ghostly rats.

Image credit: Jagex

The City of Um is also where the story takes place, told through nine new quests interwoven with Necromancy. It’s the tale of Rasial, the first Necromancer, who plans on destroying the cycle of life and death. While ridding the world of death may sound nice on paper, the route he’s taking involves destroying all life on Gielinor by enslaving the souls of the dead. He’s even gone so far to recruit you as his new apprentice as part of his plan. Don’t make any inquiries about what happened to the other apprentices though - it’s basically an unpaid internship, but your boss isn’t hiding the fact he’s planning on killing you.

During the preview I was able to complete the first two quests in this new storyline, with the first serving as an introduction to the skill itself and the second instructing me on how to upgrade my Necromancy gear. Both acted as narrative-themed tutorials by grading unveiling different aspects of the skills in a way which prevented me from becoming lost within the mechanics. Eventually you’ll find yourself facing the two new bosses - Hermod and Rasial himself - who are also being released alongside Necromancy.

Rasial - the first Necromancer. | Image credit: Jagex

The way the lore of Necromancy is interwoven with the act of performing the skill itself reminds me of how the Archaeology skill grants you insight into RuneScape 3’s lore through the mysteries you solve and the artefacts you uncover. Yet while Archaeology is, unsurprisingly, more focused on past events, Necromancy thrusts you into the forefront of the storyline ensuring you feel like an active participant in the narrative. In doing so, it gives players who are invested in the stories RuneScape 3 tells another reason to train this new skill.

When Necromancy was first announced at the end of 2022, I was worried it would be too similar to Summoning - a skill focused around summoning creatures to help you with activities from carrying additional items to combat. But, after spending some time with Necromancy, I was more than happy to discover it truly is a merger of both the combat and more gathering-focused gameplay RuneScape 3’s various skills offer. I like how it grows more complex as you rise in level, both the terms of combat prowess and the activities it has to offer, while always continuing the Necromancy storyline, which is perfect for RuneScape lore fans like myself. It also really incorporates other skills, such as Smithing, because when the requirement arises it’s always tied to the purpose of furthering your journey to mastering Necromancy.

How Necromancy will fare against the MMO’s more advanced enemies, especially bosses like Zamorak, is yet to be seen, but considering Jagex’s focus on taking player feedback both before and after its launch, I’m hopeful Necromancy will live up its potential in allowing adventurers to become a master of raising the undead.

Necromancy will be released in RuneScape 3 on Monday 7th August at 1pm (BST), 2pm (CEST), 8am (EST) and 5am (PST). Members will be able to train the skill up to Level 120, while free-to-play players can read Level 20.

RuneScape 3 is available on PC and Mac, including via Steam, with a mobile version for iOS and Android.

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