Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The beta Monk

When the Monk class was revealed I thought "This isn't my type". In the beta, so far, the Monk has been a lot more fun than I anticipated. Diablo 3 only has 2 melee classes (pending an expansion) but I like the Monk more than the Barbarian. I was even considering making it my main in the full game but at heart I am a ranged player, through and through.

The Monk is Diablo 3's Bruce Lee. (S)he has access to a wide range of skills using fists, feet, elbows and other body parts. But fear not, the Monk can equip weapons just like any other class and the damage it deals is based on the DPS of those weapons.

When I rethought my choice of genders, I firmly settled on the male. In patch 15 I played a male Monk to 13 and after the patch 16 character wipe I decided to try a female. For some reason I don't enjoy playing the female as much as I liked the male. There's no rationale behind this but I felt that the male had more "impact".

This class review would have been out sooner, had it not been for the patch 16 character reset. It forced me to play the class again from scratch, just to experience the new skills and runes. Although the changes aren't that big, with a couple of runes swapped for their higher level counterparts, it does make the class perform subtly differently.

The Monk uses Spirit as a resource. Spirit appears as a swirly, milky liquid which might give the wrong connotation but it is what it is. You start with 150 Spirit and there's a passive skill (at just level 13) which adds another 100 to your pool. Spirit doesn't recharge on its own, neither does it deplete. Instead, it is replenished by using the Monk's primary offensive skills. All other skills (secondary, defensive and so on) consume Spirit. In other words you build Spirit with your primary skills and use it for more powerful skills and abilities.

Read my quick primer on how skill slots work in Diablo 3, if you don't know that already.

Next is a review of all the skills and runes in the beta, broken down by skill slot, with the usual disclaimer that these are my own opinions and tastes.

Primary (left mouse - slot unlocked at level 1)
Lv 1 - Fists of Thunder
You start the game with this skill. It's pretty straightforward: each hit generates 6 Spirit and does 110% weapon damage in the form of Lightning. Like most of the Monk's primary skills, this one has a special effect on the third strike. In this case, the effect is to deal damage to all enemies in front of you, also knocking them back a few yards. This is a very solid primary skill which is just as good at level 13 as it is at level 1.
    Lv 6 - Rune - Thunderclap
This rune used to be higher level before patch 16 but now it has been swapped with Bounding Light which is now level 52. Thunderclap improves Fists of Thunder a lot. Now you will teleport a short distance to your target and hit them, also dealing 35% AoE Lightning damage to targets around you in a 6 yard radius. Believe me when I tell you that this rune makes Fists of Thunder an amazing skill, one that I am still using at level 13 and I have a feeling I'll be using at much higher levels.
Lv 3 - Deadly Reach
At level 3 you get the chance to try another primary skill. Deadly Reach projects beams of "force" as you hit for 110% weapon damage. Each third hit extends 25 yards in front. The first hit projects 1 beam, the second 2 beams and the third 3 beams. Each beam can hit a different monster. So this skill has a moderate AoE effect. I find it great for smashing objects such as urns and barrels. This skill also generates 6 Spirit per hit.
    Lv 9 - Rune - Piercing Trident
At level 9, Deadly Reach is enhanced by the Piercing Trident rune. This rune simply "increases the area of effect of the second and third strikes". I haven't really noticed a big difference here but in the beta this is the only rune for this skill so you might as well grab it.
Lv 11 - Crippling Wave
In addition to generating 6 Spirit per hit, Crippling Wave does some AoE damage in the form of a sweeping attack which hits monsters in front of your character for 110% weapon damage. Each third hit strikes all the monsters around you, slowing them down by 30% and also slows their attacks by 20% for 3 seconds. Though I wasn't impressed by this skill, I can imagine that it will come in handy at higher difficulty levels where you need to keep enemies under control, with as many debuffs as possible.

Secondary (right mouse - slot unlocked at level 2)
Lv 2 - Lashing Tail Kick
My favorite secondary skill comes very early, at level 2. This is, by far, my favorite way of spending Spirit. The Monk spin-kicks all enemies in a 360 degree circle for a healthy 200% weapon damage and knocks them back across the screen. It's actually funny to see those monsters flung like rag dolls. I'm afraid that the effect might be too much and Blizzard will tone it down at some point. In the meantime I'm gonna enjoy it, especially since the cost is comparatively low, only 30 Spirit. With a full Spirit bulb you can do 5 of these kicks in a row for a total potential damage of 1000%. This skill is best used when surrounded by monsters, so you can hit as many of them as possible. I like wading into huge groups of monsters and unleashing a couple of "tail kicks". This skill works equally well on bosses such as the Skeleton King as a Spirit spender because each hit does 200% damage to single monsters or multiple ones, regardless.
    Lv 7 - Rune - Vulture Claw Kick
Wait, does Lashing Tail Kick even need a rune? Of course it does. This rune that you get at level 7 makes an awesome skill even awesomer. It converts the damage to Fire and ups it to 220% weapon damage.
Lv 5 - Tempest Rush
Now here's a skill that took me a while to understand. This is a channeled skill, meaning that for best results you need to hold the mouse button pressed while you are using it. It causes your character to dash around the screen (guided by the mouse, of course) and knock back all the enemies in its path, slowing them down by 60% for 2 seconds and dealing 50% weapon damage to them. I'm trying to find a purpose for this skill but I simply can't justify the high Spirit cost. Lashing Tail Kick does a ton more damage and it also knocks back enemies, but whatever, try Tempest Rush and use it if you like it. It's an interesting concept but I have a feeling it is very situational and not very useful in most cases.
    Lv 11 - Rune - Northern Breeze
Tempest Rush gets a rune. Yay. The rune reduces the cost of the skill somewhat. While you're channeling it, instead of using 10 Spirit, it uses only 8. Is that on a per second basis? Maybe.
Lv 12 - Wave of Light
Another visually impressive skill which failed to impress me. You might have seen this used in gameplay videos. The visual is rather striking because the Monk calls down a giant "bell" thing which slams down in front of him and does 215% weapon damage as Holy, presumably in a small radius, as well as an additional 45% damage to all enemies in a line. As I said, this is a weird skill. I've seen very few Monks use it and personally I dislike it because of the "line" aspect which requires you to be very careful with positioning, before using this skill. You don't want to waste it by having that damage go in a direction where there aren't any enemies. Apart from that, the cost is prohibitive: at 75 Spirit you can only use it twice in a row before you run out dry. Once again, I think Lashing Tail Kick is a much better (and waaay cheaper) choice.

Defensive ("1" key - slot unlocked at level 4)
Lv 4 - Blinding Flash
The Monk's first defensive spell, which comes at level 4, can be very useful. This is a debuff which blinds enemies in a 20 yard radius and makes them wonder around in confusion for 3 seconds. The cost is low (10 Spirit) but there's a 15 second cooldown. This is a good spell to use whenever you are surrounded and in danger, or whenever you want to take as little damage as possible when charging into a group of monsters.
    Lv 12 - Rune - Self Reflection
This rune increases Blinding Flash's duration from 3 to 4 seconds. Nothing major here but you might as well grab that 1 extra second.
 Lv 8 - Breath of Heaven
The Monk is the only class in Diablo 3 which can actively heal herself (and her allies within 12 yards) and Breath of Heaven is the skill which accomplishes this. I tend to prefer this over Blinding Flash and it gets a fair amount of usage. Not only can you use this in a support role, whenever a nearby ally is low on health, but you can use it as a third healing option (apart from healing orbs and potions). This skill has a 15 second cooldown and a 25 Spirit cost.

Techniques ("2" key - slot unlocked at level 9)
Lv 9 - Dashing Strike
Dashing Strike is like a WoW Warrior's Charge. You charge at the target (for 25 Spirit) and root them in place for 1 second, while dealing 100% weapon damage. I find the Spirit cost to be a bit steep but this skill allows me to instantly position myself in the middle of a large group of monsters where I can unleash destruction with Lashing Tail Kick. It is also very useful for killing ranged enemies or for catching up with that pesky Treasure Goblin. I'm pretty sure it will also be very popular in PvP.
Lv 13 - Exploding Palm
Exploding Palm is a DoT skill, which does 220% weapon damage to the target, over 3 seconds. If the target dies during this time, it will explode and damage nearby monsters for 30% of the target's maximum life. This one is interesting but also a bit situational. It will obviously work best if used on monsters with a lot of health (such as champions, rares, bosses and so on) which are also surrounded by lots of minions. Even then, you will have to refresh the spell until the monster dies. I haven't found anything to hint that the DoT is over so I'm always worried that I might refresh it too early or too late. At 40 Spirit, it is also rather costly so I find myself circling back to Lashing Tail Kick which does more AoE (and the same amount of single-target) damage but costs less. Now, of course, it is hard to judge the true merits of this skill because it is un-runed. The proper rune could transform it into something much more useful.

Passive Skills (1st slot unlocked at level 10)
Level 10 can't come quickly enough because this is where each class gets access to its first 2 passive skills.
Lv 10 - Fleet Footed
The Monk starts with an excellent passive. Fleet Footed gives a flat 10% increase in movement speed. I do believe this stacks with other movement enhancements. This passive is so good that it overshadows the rest of the ones available in the beta. It makes the Monk feel very quick on her feet.
Lv 10 - Resolve
This passive is hard to quantify because you can't exactly measure the damage that monsters do, but from the looks of it, it is a permanent 25% damage reduction, because you are kicking ass constantly, right? This is a very solid passive which will be invaluable in Inferno but in the beta I just don't die on my Monk so it is irrelevant.
Lv 13 - Exalted Soul
Another solid passive, Exalted Soul simply increases your maximum Spirit by 100 for a total of 250. Depending on your style of play, this can allow you to use Spirit-intensive skills more often.

Next, I will talk about my level progression from 1-13.

Level Progression

Level 1
You start with Fists of Thunder. Use it and learn to love it.

Level 2
Lashing Tail Kick becomes the first secondary skill.

Level 3
Deadly Reach is another primary skill. I suggest sticking with Fists of Thunder.

Level 4
Defensive skills are unlocked, and the first one is Blinding Flash. No other choice but to use it, especially since it's a very solid skill.

Level 5
Tempest Rush is now available as a secondary skill. I suggest ignoring it.

Level 6
Ah, runes finally. Thunderclap enhances Fists of Thunder. Your bread-and-butter gets some jam to go with it.

Level 7
Another rune becomes available. Vulture Claw Kick improves Lashing Tail Kick and makes it awesomer.

Level 8
Breath of Heaven is your second defensive skill. If you like healing yourself (and others) grab it instead of Blinding Flash.

Level 9
The 4th skill slot is unlocked and it can be filled with a technique called Dashing Strike.
The Piercing Trident rune which improves Deadly Reach also becomes available.

Level 10
Passives are in the house. You have a choice between Fleet Footed and Resolve. I suggest the former.

Level 11
The 3rd primary skill, Crippling Wave, is available.
Another rune, Northern Breeze, enhances Tempest Rush.

Level 12
Another secondary skill is unlocked: Wave of Light. Yawn.

Level 13
Finally, at the beta level cap, you get the Exploding Palm technique which could replace Dashing Strike. Whatever.
Another passive, Exalted Soul, is unlocked.

This concludes my discussion of the Monk in Diablo 3's beta (patch 16, subject to change in future patches or the final game). My level 13 Monk beta build is simple and fun. Exploding Palm is something that I don't use very often but I can easily replace with Dashing Strike, the overall effect being negligible. The Monk is a lot of fun to play and it trumps the Barbarian in my mind. It will most likely be the first melee class I try in the full game. I have a feeling that the Monk will be particularly well suited to Inferno, with very high Dexterity which will give it tons of Dodge and also the various debuffs that it can apply to targets.

Also read:
The beta Demon Hunter
The beta Witch Doctor
The beta Wizard
The beta Barbarian

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