Oct 23 2011

Monk Class: Blizzcon Preview

Blizzcon just finished and I’m sure we’ve all heard the new announcements by now.   New race: Pandaren.   New class: Monk.   Demo computers were available to see both the Pandaren starting zone and give the new class a whirl.

WoW fan sites have posted the details of all the new World of Warcraft announcements, ability lists, gameplay trailers, etc, but I thought I’d do something different and talk a little bit about how actually playing the new monk class felt and give my own impressions.

Remember, all of these details can change between now and when the expansion goes live, and probably will.

Basic Information

Monks are a new hybrid class; they have specs that will allow them to heal, tank, or melee DPS.  They are heavily martial arts themed, aiming for the archetypal monk class.  They are not a hero class, and will begin at level 1.

They wear leather and will share their gear with rogues and druids, depending on their role.  They start in leather gear from level 1.  They can currently use fist weapons, polearms, staves, and 1-handed swords or axes. As healers, they will use offhands rather than shields.  The current plan is for tanking to lead towards 2h while DPS and heals will use the 1h weaponry.

They will use stances, presumably similar to a warrior and based on their role.

They are available for every race except Worgen and Goblin.

Resource System

Monks use a unique resource system different from the current ones in game. They have an energy bar, called Chi, which functions similar to that of rogue and cat druids by refilling quickly to a hard cap.  This is paired with a combo points-like system, but this is where it departs from the familiar.  Monks get two sets of combo points — Light and Dark Force — and these are tied to the player and not the thing you’re fighting.  They do not appear to decay (although they probably clear at log out) so you can carry them from fight to fight.

Your basic attacks cost Chi but build combo points of either the Light or Dark Force or both.   You then spend those force points on special stronger attacks.  Unlike the finishers that rogues and cats spend their combo points on, these abilities don’t scale based on number of points – they cost a flat amount.  Because of this, you will not be capping your points and then spending them, but rather using a rolling priority system of using both as needed.  The playstyle ends up being very different than the usual “point-point-point-finish” feel of other energy classes.

Blizzard has said that when Monks are spec’d for healing, their Chi bar will be replaced with a Mana bar.   It was not explicitly stated but seems obvious based on their design goals that the class will still keep its Light and Dark Force bar for healing, allowing it to maintain its unique feel in all three talent specialisations.

Abilities

Here are some of the spells & abilities that were available in the demo:

Level 1 Abilities

Jab
40 Chi – Melee Range, Instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You jab the target, dealing 5 damage and generating 1 light force and 1 dark force.

Jab is your basic attack. This is the button you are hitting the most to spend your Chi and generate your Force points. I imagine you get different ones later as you level and based on spec.

Tiger Palm
1 Light Force – Melee range, instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
Deals 10 Physical damage, deals 5 additional damage if the target is above 50% health.

Level 2 Abilities

Roll
50 Chi – Instant
Roll a short distance.

Roll is a mobility tool to keep you moving around the battlefield (and, when out of combat, to appease your pining for that mount that is eighteen levels away).  It costs only energy, so you can zoom around as often as your bar refills.  It’s very fun for getting quickly from enemy to enemy or just getting around faster.  You can roll in any direction, including backwards and sideways.

Level 3 Abilities

Blackout Kick
2 Dark Force – Melee range, Instant
Kick with a blast of energy, causing 28 physical damage to an enemy target. If the target is killed by blackout kick, you are returned 1 Dark Force.

Level 5 Abilities

Flying Serpent Kick
8-40 Yards range, 25 Seconds Cooldown, Instant.
Soar through the air towards a targeted enemy, knocking them down and stunning them for 2 seconds.

Spinning Crane Kick
Instant, 2 Lights and Dark Forces
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You spin while kicking in the air, dealing 23 damage every 1 second to all nearby enemies within 8 yards. Movement speed is reduced by 30%, last 6 seconds.

Some other abilities were loosely discussed at the various panels, but were not in game to try.

Auto-Attack

Monks do not have an auto-attack like every other class.  Blizzard developers said they wanted the monk to have a “street fighter feel” where each button press from the player is an attack from your monk.  This is very unique to the game, and it is controversial enough that this may end up not going live (in fact, I would predict it will be in and out of the beta several times before a decision is made).  There are some concerns about that, and I’d like to address them the best I can for a player who has only played the first six levels of the monk class.

The first worry I have heard expressed (totally justifiably) is that this will make playing the Monk very spammy.  I’m sure those of us with Warriors heard the announcement and were thinking old school Heroic “I eroded a hole in my keybind” Strike.  The good news is that it does not feel like this at all.  Your Jab costs enough that you are not hitting it a million times a minute, but fast enough that you don’t feel like you’re standing around waiting for energy regen (usually… more on that below).  You are also limited by your GCD, which is current the same 1.5 seconds of most players [note:  I am pretty sure Jab is limited by the GCD]. The playstyle is fast paced but far from overwhelmingly or spammy.

However, the lack of auto-attack does have some weaknesses that need to be addressed eventually.  It is annoying when you find yourself in a situation with neither Chi nor Force points and you’re up in some mob’s grill unable to do literally anything but stand there.  That might not happen often, but it can happen in numerous circumstances:

When moving quickly from fight to fight, the small delay before your opening attack could prove frustrating in those situations where you’re racing to tap a rare mob and have to stand there waiting for the precious energy to claim it as yours.

As a raider who currently plays a rogue, I can think of a lot of current situations in group play where I am swapping to an add and auto-attacking it until I have enough energy to use Mutilate.  This would be very frustrating to find myself in that position as a Monk, chasing an add but doing literally no damage.  I can think of a lot of situations where the add dies before I get enough energy for that special, making my only contribution my white damage (or perhaps I am pooling for when I return to the primary target).  For a monk, there would have been nothing.

I can also see it being problematic from a tanking perspective, where one at least builds minimal threat in the seconds before or between breaking out a special, especially if you’re juggling multiple mobs at once.  Those white attacks can often be the difference between you or the healer tanking in those first microseconds of a pull.

There are also the circumstances of when a mob has a sliver of health left, and one would finish it off with auto-attack. A Monk would be forced to use its resources which perhaps it wanted to save for the next fight. At the very least, it would be a bit overkill.

The other thought that occurred to me is doing old content.  When I was working on Loremaster, I often had to bare-knuckle auto-attack mobs that I needed to get low but not kill for some quests.  If a Monk can only use specials, how would he do such quests?  A level capped Monk would surely one shot these low level mobs in a single Jab.

That may sound like a lot of problems, but they are very situational.  I actually like the feel of the gameplay and being in total control without the auto-attack, so I hope these issues can be resolved in a positive way that allows Monks to keep this unique flavour.  Perhaps a no-cost but super weak attack with a cooldown to use in those situations?  Still, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Monks went live with auto-attack like everyone else.

Healing

My disclaimer here is that this is all based on Blizzard’s conjecture and will [very probably] not end up like this on live.

They want the heal system to be unique and involve damage reflected into AoE healing for friendlies, rather than the traditional three-cast-time-heal bread and butter for current classes.  For example, Blizzard envisions moves like this to be the means through which a Monk heals its party:

Statue of the Jade Serpent
5 Sec Cast
Summon a statue at the target location. Anytime you deal damage, a nearby friendly target within 20 yards of the statue will be healed. You can have up to 3 Jade Dragon Statues active at a time.

I have serious doubts that the class with go live with things like this as their primary means of healing.  It’s too different, too hard to balance and seems like the kind of thing that would end up overly powerful in some circumstances and too weak in others.   Statues radiating heals seems like it would be very awesome as a raid healing, but what about five mans, or high movement fights?   What about when the healer needs to keep up a tank taking a lot of damage?  What about when the monk is forced to move out of melee for whatever reason?  It’s a very big move away from the “we want all the healers to be able to do successfully do all roles” design goal that Blizzard just implemented, and against the homogenisation that all other healers faced in the last expansion.

The current design goal for healing is to heal through DPS, making the Monk the true melee healer.  This is something they’ve toyed with trying to achieve with Holy Paladins with limited success.  The difference is that Blizzard wants even healing Monks to do “massive” damage and for that to be the vehicle for their heals.

I’m not sure what the implications of that will be for gameplay if we have one healer who is able to contribute significantly to DPS while the others are not. The worry is always that the other healers will be less desired if a raid could instead choose one that helped with those tight enrage timers — a variation of this was voiced frequently when Death Knight tanks were doing a lot of damage and while it didn’t end up proving true, DKs did ultimately receive a series of nerfs in this area to bring them in line with other tanks.  I can see this also having negative PvP connotations if your arena player can both DPS and heal effectively at the same time.  And what of the shadow priest, whose passive raid healing was nerfed because it was too powerful in conjunction with strong DPS?

I suspect that when Monks are being beta tested and tweaked, we will find them being homogenised into the same foundation as the other healers, with the [fast expensive heal], [long, big heal], and [slow efficient heal] and the moves like the statues and vampiric-embrace-like abilities will be dropped to supplemental, expensive AoE heals like Prayer of Healing or Tranquility.  I think they will use melee attacks to add the flavour of their class and to earn the Force Points to do unique and different things with their heals in order to keep their very unique class feel.  I suspect they will not end up doing significant damage as healers, and may perhaps be more in line with a tank or smite-spamming Disc priest.

Tanking

We don’t know much about Monk tanking, except that it will probably involve using staves and polearms and the gearing will be about the same as current Bear druids.

Overall Impressions

Despite being somewhat similar to rogues (my primary reason for being uninterested in feral cat), I found the Monk to be fresh and engaging and am definitely interested in leveling one up in Mists of Pandaria.  Monk is definitely appealing to me a lot more than Death Knights did initially (the DK class and starting zone was amazing but I found the resource system cumbersome and the pace at which you get abilities as a hero class overwhelming).  I thought the resource system here was unique and fun but still very intuitive and user-friendly. The abilities are fun, simple, and well paced.  Roll is super cool.  That handful of levels I got to play in the Blizzcon demo was very enjoyable.

I love hybrid classes and I’m interested in trying both tanking and healing as this new class.  I’m already thinking about which races I will choose for each faction.

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  1. Another gameplay write-up… « The Roundish Monk — November 10 2011 @ 09:27

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