We’ve already posted a bullet point listing of the PowerPoint from this panel, and you can view blurry videos on YouTube, but since I attended it, took a lot of notes, and typed up a panel overview with a lot of comments based on my own Monk-playing experience, you should find this worth reading. If you’re interested in the newest D3 character, at least. 

    Yesterday I had a chance to play about an hour with the Monk, long enough to clear out every square inch centimeter of this year’s demo build (which is much larger than last year’s was) and I’ve experimented with all of the Monk’s skills. And despite my initial “A Monk? Why? Where’s the archer?” reaction, I like him a lot. He plays like a very fast, very hard-hitting, very nimble Barbarian, with numerous multi-hit attacks and a lot of variety in his melee combat. His combo hits sound like the Assassin’s in concept, but play very differently since you can mix and match them, and since they all do something different and effective. Unlike with the D2 Assassin, you’re not just doing normal hits and building up juice for some big hit at some point in the future. Every hit matters and packs an enjoyable wallop, and even with just 3 combo skills (out of the 8 total) it’s important to pick the right one to use in various and varying circumstances.

    Click through to read the panel write up, and check back later tonight when I’ll be posting a piece covering all eight Monk skills, with full descriptions and comments based on using them all in the game. (Plus some interview transcripts; we’ve got a group and an exclusive one coming up this afternoon with D3 designer dudes.)

    Diablo 3 Character and Monster Panel. Friday, August 21, 2009, 2-3pm.
    Speakers: Leonard Boyarsky, Jay Wilson, Wyatt Chang, and Julian Love.

    Going into this panel, I was kind of indifferent to the monk. The premiere movie looked pretty cool, but a bit WoWish in the overly dramatic dialogue and giant boss fight. The gameplay movie on the press CD was more impressive, but short on lore or dramatic heft. And I’d been hoping for the archer character to be revealed this year, so I was a bit disappointed to see another melee fighter. All that said, I was curious to see more about the monk, and hoped the presentation would win me over. And it did, for the most part.

    Why the Monk?

    The discussion started with the basic question. Why the monk? Several points were made. He’s a classic character from fantasy and RPG, and the D3 team felt they could take their own shot at him and bring him along with some interesting updates. They also had a lot of fighting games and the speed and toe to toe action found in them, and they wanted to work some of those elements into D3.  They also thought the Monk would be a fun change of pace and different approach; not one of the typical modern RPG characters. (Not like something in WoW, in other words.)

    Combat Styling

    The Monk’s combat style was brought from several areas. They wanted to have some cool martial arts techniques and forms in the game. The Monk has a wide variety of forms of weapon and open hand combat (executed with various fist-weapons). He’s also got holy magic, few details of which have yet been revealed. The skills we saw today were magical martial arts style attacks, but nothing as purely magical as the D2 Paladin possesses.

    Another design focus for the Monk was to make him speed over strength. Not that he hits softly, but he’s not a toe-to-toe, hit and be hit type, like the Barbarian. He needs to hit and run, to get in and land surgical, overpowering blows to a target, then pull back before he’s swarmed. The team also wanted a character to fight with a complimentary style. His attacks blend together into combos (more on those in a bit), and one attack leads to another. As a result of that, the Monk is designed to require a bit more skill and involvement from characters. You can fight with the same skill for as long as you want, but you’ll be more effective (and have more fun) if you vary your attacks by the enemies. The team wanted the monk to be a bit more interesting at higher levels; to give experts something more to do. I thought of the comparison of driving an automatic vs. a stick shift, while they described it.

    Monk Lore

    The Monk’s lore was discussed by Leonard Boyarsky. I didn’t get notes on all the details of his land of origin, clan affiliations, etc, and they’ll surely be covered in official information going forward.  One cool aspect of the Monk is that they add ceremonial tattoos to their bodies to commemorate major achievements and accomplishments. The comment from the panel was that their goal is a full body tattoo that essentially takes their entire lives to complete.

    Monks are spiritual. They spend time between their battles engaged in deep meditation to purify themselves of their sins. They are religious and spiritual, though details of their actual religion wasn’t covered in the panel today. Monks are well-known throughout the land of Sanctuary, and are both revered and feared. People know of their power and honor, but know that the Monks are dangerous as not to be trifled with.

    Monk Skills

    The panel didn?t mention many specific Monk skills (we’ll harvest the full set from the demo machines, when we have a chance). They did talk about general concepts, and then got into the specifics of how attacks are chained together. Monks are inspired by “fighters,” combat games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and others. There’s a depth to the Monk’s melee; you can’t just use the same skill over and over again, at least not with maximum effectiveness.  Players will need to combine a variety of combat moves and skills to deal the most damage.

    I thought the Monk looked like a combination between the D2 Paladin and D3 Barbarian from the first scenes of gameplay. He’s got lots of fast charges, big hits, and deals death with non-stop action. The D3 Team’s first comparison though, was to the D2 Assassin. Like the that character, the Monk has combo moves, charge ups of a sort, where using a skill several times in a row yields bigger and better results. It’s not a very complicated system to use; you need simply button mash, landing a second hit within 0.6 seconds of the first (time may be adjusted in testing) and you’ll move up to the second level effect of a skill. Do it again and you’ll land the third and final level. There are three stages to several combat skills, with various pluses and minuses to their function.

    Cooler is the fact that you can chain and interconnect different skills. You can use one skill for stage one, switch to a different skill and get the hit at stage two, and then switch to a final skill to get the stage three hit. This can be done very intelligently; different skills give you a charge, or a multi-target hit, or a debuff to enemies, and you can use each one where it fits best. For instance, you might start with the charge to close the distance, use the debuff on stage two to slow monsters, and then use a big AoE hit for the third to clear out a mob.

    The first skill the team described was the Hundred Fists. This skill progresses with three stages, as do most of the Monk’s combat attacks. The first stage is a dashing hit. The second is a multi-strike attack a bit like the D2 Amazon’s Jab, and the third stage is an AoE blast that hurts multiple targets.

    Crippling Ward is another three stage attack, but one that can be used in somewhat defensive fashion. The Monk’s defense isn’t about raising his hit points or defense. It’s about being speedy and elusive and tactical. So with this skill he starts off by hitting the enemies with a debuff that slows their movement, then lands a second hit that decreases the enemy’s damage. The third level increases the duration of both effects, and adds damage to the Monk’s attack as well.

    Exploding Palm was the last skill the team covered, and it was clearly their favorite. This one is more or less patterned after the infamous Exploding Heart technique in Kill Bill; the skill causes huge internal damage to enemies, but takes a moment to work.. The first and second levels of Exploding Palm aren’t very powerful; they’re almost like plain attack. The third level though, causes a “dot bleed” to appear on the monster. It lasts for a few seconds, and if the monster dies while it’s in effect, they will explode with a massive and gruesome blast, dealing huge AoE damage to anything in the vicinity. This skill can be mixed and matched with the others as well, so you’re free to use some more powerful skill for stage one and two, before switching to Exploding Palm for the devastating and oh-so-stylish third stage execution.

    Monk Graphics and Design

    The panel didn’t talk at all about how the Monk’s design evolved. His facial or physical features, what the female version will look like (no images yet), how they formed him in the Diablo world lore, etc. Nor did they ever mention the Hellfire Monk, who was quite similar in design and combat style. What they talked about in this section of the panel was the Monk’s special spell animations. They stressed the speed and movement of the character, and how they’d optimized graphics and animations to emphasize it. Early movements had used shadows and blurring, but they’d decided eventually to go the other way, and make the Monk’s darting and dashing highly visible, with glowing, golden effects.

    They also mentioned the Monk’s color palette, and how white light, golden light, and other stereotypically “good” or “holy” colors were prominently featured.

    Another key element are the runes. Not the runes you find in D2, or the skill runes of D3 (which are disabled as of this build, since they’re being heavily revamped and redesigned) but runic symbols, like the classic Celtic designs and patterns. These appear glowing and floating in the air here and there during Monk combos and attacks, or on the ground during massive skill attacks, or float over the heads of monsters that the Monk has debuffed in various ways.

    The biggest example of a runic effect comes during the Seven Sided Strike, one of the Monk’s signature skills.  (Though that previously ubiquitous term was not in evidence during this particular panel.)  Jay Wilson said that this skill was one they’d had in mind long before the Monk concept was finalized, and that they were basically just waiting for a character who was cool enough to use the skill and to do it justice.

    The concept of Seven Sided Strike was to essentially make the Monk a sort of human version of Chain Lighting. To hit multiple enemies, or the same enemy multiple times, very rapidly, from different angles. When this skill is used the Monk chooses a target, a huge rune appears on the ground beneath it, and the Monk flashes through, sort of teleporting as he moves with blurring speed, hitting the enemy multiple times in less than a second, from all directions.  Functional details were not divulged, so it’s not clear if this one requires charge ups, a ton of mana, or has other balancing elements.

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