Hands-On from Blizzcon: Mega PvM Report: Monk

After several weeks of delays and excessive wiki work, I finally had some time over the holiday weekend to type up my Blizzcon PvM demo reports. I’ll be posting them all week, one per day, in no particular order until the Demon Hunter wraps things up on Friday. Today starts off with the Monk, and this article covers general Monk gameplay issues, his skills and equipment, and includes some basic info about the PvM demo, the dungeons, the monsters, and more.

Because I didn’t have unlimited play time (far from it), and spent most of my play time on the newest character, I have slightly less to say about the Monk, Barbarian, Wizard, and Witch Doctor. Therefore I’ll be fleshing out their reports with my comments on the dungeon levels, monsters, quests, items, ambiance and mood, NPCs, level layout and design, etc. Today’s Monk article has basic info about the dungeons and how the PvM demo worked, but very little about the monsters, quests, items, etc. You’ll get those in the other reports over the next three days.

Here’s a quote:

If I haven’t made it clear by now, or you just skipped to the end because words words words… I’ll try one more time. The Monk is a very strong character, at least in the early going. I had zero danger or difficulty with him in the Blizzcon PvM demo, and plan to play him first in the final game just to power through it quickly to gather info for the site.

One issue; he didn’t have any runestones yet in his skills, at least in the Blizzcon demo, which might be why he was so powerful. Every skill I tested with a runestone on the other classes got considerably better with the runestone, which means (I assume) that Blizzard weakened the base skills correspondingly. Perhaps the Monk’s skills are going to get turned down a bit once his runestones are in, and at that point he won’t feel like such a multi-target, self-healing wrecking ball.

Click through to read the whole thing, and come back each day this week for the other four class reports.

Blizzcon 2010: Monk PvM Report

The Blizzcon 2010 PvM demo wasted no time in getting started. When you sat down at the demo machine you were greeted with a character selection screen that looked exactly like the one on the official Diablo III site. The five characters were standing in that desert-y landscape, with its ghostly blue light. They were not lit in the same way, appearing in full color, which made it appear a bit like they were standing on a movie set. You could select any of the five classes, and click the male/female icon to choose your gender for everyone but the Demon Hunter. For her the male icon was greyed out.

Once you picked a character and a gender and entered your name (I was partial to “asdfasdf” and I’d better not catch any of you guys stealing my name on B.net.) the screen went black for a few seconds of loading, when it finished you found your character standing (alone if you’d gone single player, with the others if you’d chose multiplayer) in a narrow hallway in the DiabloWikiHalls of Agony, in a location a lot like this one.

Not in town, or any sort of safe area. You were right in the damn dungeon, and you were there alone (barring other players in an MP game). No NPCs were there for a pep talk or an introduction, there was no way to walk back up the stairs behind you, and there was only one direction to walk along the hallway. Clearly, you were there to fight monsters, and the sooner you got started the sooner you’d be finished.

Starting characters were level 9, with skill points already assigned to three skills, and their traits already set as well. (More trait points were spent than a character would have had at that level, presumably to make things easier in the demo.) Characters were wearing equipment as well, though it was all mediocre stuff—mostly blue items, with one or two yellow (rare) items. I didn’t look over the starting gear that closely for any of the characters (the demo play time was over way too fast to spend it worrying about low level gear), preferring to spend my time testing skills, but the gear was easily improved by early item drops. Not that I much worried about item drops, for the aforementioned reason.

As soon as your character appeared, there were two DiabloWikiquest prompts (just text on the screen, really). Neither was exactly a complicated, multistage mystery to unravel:

I’m sure these areas will have more quest stuffs in the final game; there was more quest stuff back in the 2008 Blizzcon demo, which was set in the same general area; the dungeons below the Tristram Cathedral. Blizzard’s just keeping the quest and especially the story information out of the demos.  As for the “quests” in this one… they were what they sounded like. You finished the first quest by finding the exit to the Leoric Passage, and you finished the other by happening to run into the Cultist High Inquisitor while exploring the dungeon.

These goals were not complimentary. To find your way out of the dungeon (I realized, after playing the demo several times) you were better off running around the outside of the area, and looking for narrow, zigzag passages around the perimeter. Whereas the DiabloWikiCultist Grand Inquisitor was found somewhere in the middle of the level, where the passageways were wider and there were lots of little rooms full of bosses, treasures, and other goodies.

Playing the real game, or the demo with no time limit, I would have explored every bit of the dungeon. There were lots of little bonus area, kind of like the ends of the branches in the Arcane Sanctuary in D2. Not that the Halls of Agony were shaped like a big + sign, but any branch you followed out to the end, or curled around into the middle, ended in a room with some sort of attraction. A bunch of torture machines and a few champions, a little ledge with some special chests, etc.

Diablo III’s level design, from what I’ve seen in three years of Blizzcon demos, is very much into rewarding you for exploring thoroughly. There are dead ends and cul-de-sacs in every area, dungeon or surface, but they usually have a boss or some big chests there. One such typical example can be seen in the screen to the right. You can see the Demon Hunter just finishing off a circle of Cultist Vessels, as well as a chest. Likely that one will pop multiple items, even though it doesn’t have the glow of the DiabloWikitranscendent chests that are Diablo III’s sparkly kind.

Monk Skills

I played all five characters through the PvM demo this year, most of them more than once, and I have no hesitation in stating that the Monk was the strongest of the five.  All of the characters were fairly easy, especially in single player, but the with Monk I was laughing at how easily he slaughtered the monsters. He had a big damage DiabloWikicombo and an AoE nova-like attack that dealt huge damage to multiple targets, more than enough to finish off anything but a boss, and it healed him in the process.  For the monk, DiabloWikihealth orbs were pretty much ornamental, since I never need any to stay alive.

As I said in the “First Character” thread, I’ll probably go with a Monk first, since I’ll want to play through very quickly to gather site info, and he seems like the strongest char, based on what a beast he’s been in the last two Blizzcon demos. Obviously Blizzard will look to make the characters equivalent in their strength come the final game, and you can only project so much from a few quick play sessions in the Blizzcon demos, but at this point, the Monk looks like he’ll be a terror, at least through normal difficulty.

The power of the characters at level 9 was largely a function of the skills they’d been pre-planned with. You didn’t get to pick them; the characters all had 3 DiabloWikiskills (all that are available at that point of your eventual 7) assigned, with 8 points spent in them. Most characters had 5 points in their main attack skill, with 1 and 2 in the other two support activities.  That was true of the Monk at least, who had 5 points in his combo skill Hands of Lightning, 2 in his support skill Circle of Wrath, and the last point in his unnecessary defensive skill, Blinding Flash.

Here they are, with their stats, from the DiabloWikiMonk skills page in the wiki.

DiabloWikiHands of Lightning
Description: Unleashes a series of increasingly powerful lightning infused punches that deal X% weapon damage as lightning damage, and has a higher chance than normal to interrupt enemy attacks.

  • Rank Five: Deals 300% weapon damage as lightning damage. Higher than normal chance to interrupt enemy attacks.

Hands of Lightning was the mainstay, as will be the case for all Monks with their DiabloWikicombo skills . Combos do bonus damage, grant special properties (lightning damage and interrupt attacks on Hands of Lightning), and build up DiabloWikiSpirit. You have to do combos to build up the Spirit you need to cast your other skills, but since all combos are much better than using the normal attack, and they do not cost any resource, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to use them.

Note that Hands of Lightning was level 5 in the demo. Maxed out, at that stage in the game, and this made it very damaging. Presumably the +lightning damage goes something like 100/150/200/250/300, (if not just +60% per skill point) and at level 5, even with my Monk just using the crappy DiabloWikiFist he had to start with, it was much more than enough to devastate any number of enemies.

The punches only seemed to hit the single target I had lined up, but it does a lot of damage, and the lightning sparks into other nearby monsters. Quite often I’d land the three hits of the combo on three different monsters, since the first target would die from one hit, the second target from the second, and I’d need a third enemy to get the final hit and the big lightning explosion.

The only time I had to use this combo more than once on anything was against very large monster groups, or against a couple of large bosses. And even they only took 2 or 3 cycles through the 3-hit combo to meet their fate.  Or I’d throw in a Circle of Wrath if I had enough Spirit for that, especially against larger groups of enemies.

The only drawback of Hands of Lightning was the fun factor. It was a fairly plain attack. It looks pretty with the big lightning blasts, but it’s basically just a straight ahead right, left, right combo. It doesn’t hit multiple enemies, it doesn’t debuff them, it doesn’t let you dash across the screen to start hitting, etc. It’s the lowest level combo skill for a reason; it’s just a damn powerful attack to use against a single or a few enemies, and sure, killing them quickly and efficiently is fun. But if I were playing for real, I’d probably respec it to another combo when I had the chance. (Though it might be handy long term for the huge lightning damage.)


DiabloWikiCircle of Wrath
Description: Creates a blast of holy energy that heals the Monk and nearby allies for X-X health and damages enemies for X-X holy damage.

  • Rank Two: Costs 25 Spirit, Heals the Monk and his allies for 38-68 health. Deals 15-30 holy damage.

Circle of Wrath was even more powerful. I believe it was level 2 in the demo. The Spirit cost was the same for each level, but the damage dealt and the healing increased.  Keep in mind that spell damage in Diablo III is not a flat number; it’s like a listed weapon damage; subject to modification by skills, item modifiers, traits, etc.  Thus the damage of Circle of Wrath (and all other Monk Holy Magic attacks) will increase greatly as the Monk levels up, adds +%spell damage equipment, etc.

At level 2 in the early going, it was fairly devastating. Almost all regular monsters would die in one blast of this, so I soon learned to save it for use when I was in range of at least half a dozen enemies. Just the damage from it was impressive and time-saving, but the fact that it healed as well was just silly. I thought it was overpowered in practice, since I was never below 80% hit points with my Monk, thanks entirely to this skill. (And the fact that I killed all of the monsters before they had a chance to do much more than raise their crude implements.)

Hands of Lighting granted 3 Spirit per hit, or 9 per full combo. So it took about three of them to charge up enough Spirit for one Circle of Wrath. I didn’t note the Monk’s total Spirit pool at level 9 or 10, but it was maybe 30 or 40% full when I had enough to have a CoW, man. I always did before I was up to 50% Spirit, since there was always a good sized pack of monsters that needed liberation from their earthly forms. The only point in the entire demo where I’d have liked to use several of these in a row was against DiabloWikiThe Warden and his huge mob of climbing ghouls at the very end of the demo.

I didn’t charge up enough Spirit in advance for that, since like every other game on the PvM demo, I was about 14 minutes into my 15 minute play session and was therefore madly racing through the vast jail level of The Mad King’s Torture Chamber trying to find the six prisoner ghosts so I could activate the Warden at the end of the quest and get the Skeleton Key to finish the demo. But while beating on the Warden and his assorted undead associates, I earned up enough Spirit to unleash several CoWs, and they were devastatingly effective against so many weak skeleton and ghoul targets at such close proximity.

DiabloWikiBlinding Flash
Description: Creates a flash of light that blinds all nearby enemies. Blinded enemies will not attack unless they are attacked first. Lasts for X-X seconds. Blinded enemies have a X% reduced chance to hit.

Truly the third of the Kardashian sisters, Blinding Flash was as unnecessary as the various defensive skills available to the Monk in last year’s Blizzcon demo. In fact, in another eerie parallel to those useless celeb siblings, I’m not entirely sure that this is the correct name for the third skill. It was definitely a defensive skill, but I couldn’t swear that it wasn’t DiabloWikiSerenity. Needless to say, I didn’t use it more than once or twice, before marrying it off to a Laker and forgetting that it had ever existed.

Let’s just say that you won’t have a whole lot of need for defensive skills in the early going with your first (or second, or eleventh) Monk. Well… maybe if you were playing in a party, and the other characters weren’t very strong and you wanted to help out the rest of the group (though simply chopping your way through everything slithering or shambling would do that as well)?

Quite likely you’ll want some of the defensive skills for very special occasions. This one sounds like it would help against a really nasty boss pack, or against a bunch of ranged attackers. And the defensive skills will probably be very useful later in the game; just not so much early on, as powerful as the Monk is in his killing techniques.

When I leveled up (as all characters did a few minutes into the demo) and reached level 10, gaining a skill point and access to Tier Four skills plus my 4th skill slot, I stuck the point into Way of the Hundred Fists.

DiabloWikiWay of the Hundred Fists
Description: A series of punches strike enemies in front of the Monk that cause X% weapon damage.

  • First hit: A short range dashing attack that deals 100% weapon damage. Grants X spirit points.
  • Second hit: Attack rapidly 6 times for 8% of weapon damage. Grants X spirit points.
  • Third hit: Attack all enemies near the monk for 85% of weapon damage. Grants X spirit points.

It was unnecessary, as well as Hands of Lightning was doing, but I wanted to compare the two. I hadn’t really noticed the skill levels at that point, and soon regretted my choice, since rank one Hundred Fists wasn’t nearly as effective as rank five HoL.  Hundred Fists was more fun and flashier, with the Superman dashing first punch, and the ability to hit multiple enemies at once, but with just one point the damage was considerably lower than Hands of Lightning.

Monk Tactics and Gameplay

I’ve got the least to say about this than about any of the characters, since the Monk was so strong there wasn’t really any need for tactics. I never had to run from anything, I never had to drink a health potion, and I never was in any serious danger. I just moved forward, lightning punched everything I could reach, and hit a CoW every whenever I had enough Spirit built up and a bunch of enemies in range.

I did eventually try out a staff, just to see if it felt any different than the Fist. I’d upgraded from my starting fist at some point, when I found a rare with slightly more damage, but it hadn’t made a noticeable difference. Not when I was killing everything with one combo anyway. Kind of like going from a shotgun to a double barreled shotgun, when all I was doing was blasting watermelons at point blank range. Unnecessary, and messier.

The staff didn’t make any real difference. The animation for Monk combos with staves are nifty; he hits sometimes with the staff and sometimes with his fist, while holding the staff back, or out of the way. It’s fun to watch, and you can see some of it in the Blizzcon gameplay movie, but if it makes any difference in the damage or speed of the attack, I didn’t use it enough to notice.

Jay Wilson talked about some Monk skills possibly being specific to the staff or fists or dual fists, but none of them had anything about that in their Blizzcon descriptions. Which doesn’t mean they won’t in the final game; the Monk had fewer skills and traits than the other 3 established characters, and no Runestones working in his skills yet, so clearly he’s still a work in progress. Well, they all are, but him even more than the rest, save for the Demon Hunter.

Monk Conclusion

If I haven’t made it clear by now, or you just skipped to the end because words words words… I’ll try one more time. The Monk is a very strong character, at least in the early going. I had zero danger or difficulty with him in the Blizzcon PvM demo, and plan to play him first in the final game just to power through it quickly to gather info for the site.

One issue; he didn’t have any runestones yet in his skills, at least in the Blizzcon demo, which might be why he was so powerful. Every skill I tested with a runestone on the other classes got considerably better with the runestone, which means (I assume) that Blizzard weakened the base skills correspondingly. Perhaps the Monk’s skills are going to get turned down a bit once his runestones are in, and at that point he won’t feel like such a multi-target, self-healing wrecking ball.

There’s also no telling how he’ll fare at higher levels. At this point he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of ranged attacks or crowd control skills (at least as compared to the more-polished Barbarian) . It’s also unknown how he’ll stack up defensively; perhaps his lower hit points and defense (compared to the Barbarian) will force us to play him a bit more carefully and defensively, against powerful enemies?

He’s certainly very strong in the early and middle levels though, and was easily the fastest killing (and least endangered) character in the entire Blizzcon demo, bar none.


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  1. Love the Leoric x 1000.

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