Diablo III: Updated Hands-On -- The Monk

We get our kung-fu grip on the new monk class announced at this year’s BlizzCon.

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Shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 BlizzCon opening ceremonies, we had a chance to hop onto a computer and dive right into the monk class for Diablo III that had been announced a few minutes prior. What we immediately noticed about the monk is that its female incarnation is still not available, but there is a silhouette that suggests she exists. We then jumped into the proper game where we saw the monk standing inside of some gates, on a path that leads to the open desert. Here, a non-player character tells you that you must go to the town of Alcarnus and also alerts you to the fact that the desert is now overrun with evil creatures. But before setting out on the quest, we checked out a few of the details, including the monk’s skill tree, which has three columns: a, b, and c.

The monk's kung fu is strong.

In this demo, the monk already has a couple of skills unlocked, as well as a few others that unlock after you level once. There’s also a nice mixture of active abilities. Of those, the two that seem to be most useful for the monk at this point are the exploding palm and the seven-sided strike. The exploding palm, which can be used in concert with the monk’s default attack (so it doesn’t drain mana), is almost like a touch-of-death skill--whenever the monk lands a third successive strike on a single enemy, a heart icon appears over the enemy’s head. This means that the enemy has only a few seconds (depending on how strong he is) before he explodes in a cloud of blood and takes a few surrounding creatures out with him. The seven-sided strike is more like a ranged attack for the monk. It lets him zip into a gang of enemies and perform several quick strikes before reverting back to his normal state. As you can imagine, this attack is especially useful for engaging groups of enemies, but it's also interesting that you can almost use it in tandem with the exploding palm. Just zip into a group of enemies to get to the strongest one and use the exploding palm. Then zip back out and let that enemy explode.

Another useful active skill for the monk is radiant visage, which blinds enemies in a certain radius, allowing you to move in quickly and take them out before they can attack. But perhaps our most favorite skill is the impenetrable defense. This is the skill that lets the monk reflect projectile attacks back at enemies for a few seconds. It's incredibly useful when you're surrounded by enemies casting any variety of spells in your general direction. And thankfully, it doesn't seem like you always need to be facing in the direction of the projectile to use it. In terms of other skills, there's also inner sanctuary, way of a hundred fists, and force without thought. Inner sanctuary is pretty straightforward. It creates a small ring around the monk that enemies can't cross, so it's especially useful when you're surrounded by a large group of enemies that would otherwise be difficult to fight through. Way of a hundred fists is a fast series of strikes, while force without thought is a counterattack skill.

A few of the other details we checked out before heading out to the desert are the character screen, the quest log, and the available skills option. The character screen gives you the basic rundown for your character and features typical stats like strength, dexterity, vitality, and willpower. The quest log shows your main quest as well as any side quests that come about as a result of exploring. Finally, the available skills option lets you quickly and easily drag and drop skills to hotkey areas in the Diablo III interface.

The deadly seven-sided strike.

We then started our monk adventure, heading out onto the Sundered Pass. The first few enemies we encountered were lowly wasps, most of which were easily vanquished in a click or two, but only a few minutes in, we encountered much stronger enemies called fallen, which have appeared in previous games. These are little demonlike creatures that like to crowd, and they come in two flavors, regular and magic-powered. Using the exploding palm on the magic-imbued enemies and then running to let them explode and take out their own cohorts seems to be an effective strategy. But one of the stronger enemies we encountered (at least in terms of the amount of damage it hands out) is the dune dervish--a squidlike creature that spins its extremities while floating in the air, making it impossible to just walk up and hit it. That is, until it stops spinning.

As we continued battling through throngs of enemies, we came across our first wanted poster, which asks you to find an outlaw camp and kill its leader. Sounds pretty straightforward and shouldn't take much time, but since this desert area is absolutely massive, we got a little lost before finally stumbling upon the camp. Once there, we found the leader and executed him, which caused his head to fall to the ground. We were then told to bring his head to the Enclave Khamsin. But before heading there, we did a little more exploring, and it wasn't too long before our monk stumbled on a camp of cultists--whose members were apparently in the middle of worshipping.

But after charging in and slaughtering almost everyone in the camp, we saw that one cultist lived (automatically). He told us about a cache of their equipment and that it's hidden in a certain location. Well, upon exploring even more, we came across another cult camp and, yet again, killed everyone in it, but it appeared that there was a survivor of some kind of attempted sacrifice. We let her go, and she threw up. Yes, this NPC barfs as she tells you that a group of girls were taken to the cultists by someone named Zakarwa and that he drugged them. With that, she led us on the path that eventually took us to the enclave where we collected our bounty for killing the outlaw and spoke to the uncle of the barfing girl to let him know that his niece was dead. A few conversations later, we ventured out of the enclave and discovered what seemed like the last of the cult camps, and Zakarwa happened to be there. Naturally, our monk killed everyone in the camp, including Zakarwa, but it seems that you actually have the option to not kill him, if you're so inclined.

Near a dungeon portal in the desert.

We returned to the enclave and told everyone that Zakarwa was dead, and then we left to do some more exploring. We eventually came upon a series of necromancer totems and a necromancer who said that he needed help to activate some ruins to contain some sort of evil spirits. So, we ventured out and came across a portal to a dungeon. This dungeon was slightly different from another located on the other side of the desert in that this one had a time limit as well as rocks and boulders crumbling because the dungeon itself was crumbling. While trying to find where we needed to go, the time limit ran out and our monk died, forcing him out of the dungeon and back to the surface.

With that our playtime ended. The monk is definitely an interesting class that seems to offer a bit more strategic options than a typical melee-focused character, like the barbarian. And you definitely have to be more careful with the monk because while his attacks may be strong, his defenses are not. Getting caught in a massive group of enemies can often mean death if you're not careful. We'll be interested to see some of the other abilities of the monk class and how they balance things out. Look for more coverage of Diablo III in the future.

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