Hands On With Diablo III's Monk

Though the Diablo III kiosks in the BlizzCon pressroom were swamped all weekend, I did manage to squeeze in a little time with the game's newest class - the Monk.

To give you folks a little background information, the BlizzCon press room is a place of joy and wonder. They line two walls with kiosks playing the games available on the show floor, so the press can play without having to be complete jerks, butting into the front of hundreds of patiently waiting fans. They also have excellent Italian dinners, which I stopped eating the moment a Diablo III kiosk went free, leaping over rows to furiously-typing journalists for my chance to play the Monk.

The Monk demo started out in the Sundered Pass, an area of shifting desert sands. An NPC sporting the signature yellow exclamation point quest marker tasked me with travelling out into the wastes to find something or some such. Honestly? I wasn't paying all that much attention to what she was saying. I wanted to get out into the sands and kick some ass, Street Fighter style.

Yes, the Monk has been designed with Street Fighter in mind. As lead designer Jay Wilson told me during our interview, there are a lot of fighting game fans on the Diablo III team, and they wanted a character that added a bit of that feel to the game. Have they succeeded?

It was hard to tell at first. The initial enemies you encounter are wasps, which pretty much go down in 1-2 hits, so the massive destructive power isn't nearly as evident. If I was lucky I'd pull off the full Exploding Palm, a combo move that leaves the enemy with a damage-dealing dot, making them explode in an extremely satisfying manner if it drains their heath completely.

As mentioned previously, many of the Monk's moves are combination moves - moves with multiple stages. The Exploding Palm, for instance, delivers a couple of weak hits before the third step, which applies the explosive damage effect.

As I progressed through the desert, strong enemies began to appear, including members of the demonic Fallen, who took more than a few mouse clicks to dispatch. The Monk's damage was fine against these larger creatures, but the differences between the Monk and the more powerful Barbarian became readily apparent the first time I took a heavy hit. The Monk isn't all that good at going toe-to-toe with enemies. The best tactic seemed to be to jump in, hit the enemy with a quick barrage of strikes, and then move before you get hit.

This became even more clear once I started running into large groups of enemies. Running in, feet and staff swinging wildly, did not work. I was quaffing healing potions like they were going out of style, and I actually managed to die. The key to large groups is the Monk's Seven-Sided Strike ability. A semi-ranged attack, the Seven-Sided Strike has you tearing through groups of enemies in a flashing display of holy power, leaving song dead, and some weakened. Combine it with the explosive effect of the Palm, and you've got a very effective way of taking out large groups without dying in the process.

The key to playing the Monk would seem to be in combining his combination powers to create your own play style. I didn't get to explore this much, with the limited skills at my disposal and the limited time I had to play, but one can easily see how a skilled player can turn the Monk into a devastating engine of destruction. It's a character class that will take a little work to master, but the results should be quite satisfying.