Since Diablo 4 launched, my Ghost charmer has been running through Sanctuary with a pack of scythe-wielding skeletons, icy mages, and a great iron golem. Having a pack of murderous undead at my back has made activities feel less terrifying. After all, one of the main reasons I chose to be a Necro – besides superior bone-based fashion – was so I could bring a little backup into dungeons while going solo.
There’s a great interplay between the Necro and their minions, allowing you to adapt and customize their role in the Book of the Dead through the Legendary Aspects you apply to your build. For example, the Viscous and Blood Getter’s aspects give you two extra warriors and mages – three if you whack either on an amulet – and the Coldbringer’s Aspect gives your cold mages the ability to summon a blizzard that freezes enemies.
There are even two Unique items who empower followers; the Ring of Medeln gives them a lucky shot at explosive attacks, while Deathspeaker’s Pendant casts a mini-Blood Surge around each one when you use that ability. I enjoyed building my minions alongside my character as I played the campaign and Nightmare world tier, but once I started doing Nightmare Dungeons and got to Torment, they started to feel like more of a hindrance than a blessing.
I realized how much they held me back when I traded my skeleton servants for a solo Shadow build, and I was able to jump right into tier 32 Nightmare Dungeons – 13 levels above my current one – where I previously struggled with tier 21 due to minions survivability. Ultimately, I think the problem is that minions require you to sacrifice way too much to make them viable.
You have to dump a ton of skill points into passive nodes to boost their health and healing, amp them up with aspects that would otherwise improve your own survivability and damage, and one of the biggest problems I’ve run into with endgame activities is that raising minions depend on from the production of corpses, so when you die it’s actually quite hard to get them all back. Sure, you can bring in Army of the Dead to instantly re-supply all your minions, but then you sacrifice your ultimate or the survivability of something like Bone Storm and his barrier creation.
The worst part is that most elites in high-level activities will ignore your minions anyway and head straight for you, so your skellies are an ineffective flesh shield at best. The perfect example of this is if you’ve ever had to fight The Butcher as a Necromancer; an experience that amounts to a comical chase as your skeletons desperately try to catch up and help. You are often worse off in those situations because your aspects are focused on polishing your minions rather than yourself.
My biggest discovery was how much of a disadvantage it is to only have four skills. As a Necro summoning a minion, you are required to take Raise Skeleton and your Golem ability, which takes up two of your six slots. Having two fewer skills to use has a huge impact on your ability to stack debuffs on enemies and deal extra damage; you only end up playing half a class because there are skill nodes that you have to ignore due to lack of space.
Do not get me wrong; I love my minions, I’m just sad to discover that you have to give up so much to make them feel viable in the endgame. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say part of the problem is scaling. You often push against enemies above your level in higher difficulties, and perhaps that has such a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of your minions. But followers need to feel disposable – why can’t I have a giant horde of weak skeletons? Or some kind of spawn ability where I knock down a bunch of bot and it just keeps making new ones?
My current build uses Howl From Below, the amazing gauntlets that create kamikaze skeletons, sending them off to explode against enemies feels more like what a minion summoning Necromancer should be, rather than worrying about the health of minions and the unit limit. Anyway, minions in their current form could definitely use some extra help, or at least some more inventive skills and passive skills to make them.