Diablo III Beta: Skill System and Monk Impressions

I’ve gotten my hands on the beta for Diablo III! As promised, I’ll be posting a lot of updates about the beta over the next couple of weeks. The content available in the beta is reportedly the first third of Act I. It took me about 2.5 hours on my very first (methodical) playthrough. I recorded a video of my entire playthrough, so make sure you check it out here. In this post, I’ll talk a bit about the skill system in general, and then also my impressions about the monk.

The way the character system works in Diablo III is very different from the talent-based approach in Diablo II. Instead of having a skill tree where you have to invest points, you have a limited number of skill slots, and must decide which skills to put in said slot. Skill slots are broken down into two varieties: active and passive skills. The maximum number of slots are 6 active skills and 3 passive skills, though when you first start the game you only have 2 active slots and no passive ones. Then as you level up, you unlock more slots in addition to new skills.

You can pick and choose what skills to equip in your active and passive slots.

Passive skills are “always on” and active ones are ones you will use throughout combat. You can’t use any skills which aren’t in a slot, but you are allowed to change out your skills at any time. Humorously, there was one instance early on where a mini-boss was immune to one of my skills, so while I was in combat I changed my skill to another one. I’m not sure if the game will ultimately ship this way, as it feels a bit overpowered.

In the case of the monk, there are a total of 21 active skills to choose from, and 13 passive ones. This leaves you with over 15 million possible skill combinations, which is quite a few. Now granted, of those 15 million combinations only a subset will be viable, but I still gather there will be quite a few unique builds out there. Furthermore, while they’re unavailable in the beta, later on you get “rune stones” which you can socket into a skill to (in some cases) dramatically change what it does.

So far, I like what I see from the skill system. I do think they need to restrict when you can swap the skills, but I love how the skill system encourages experimentation. In the Diablo II days, if you wanted to experiment you could potentially ruin your character as there was no respec. So if you ended up getting a skill that was worthless, you would be stuck with that skill forever. The new system now really encourages you to look at new skills you acquire and consider swapping them in for other ones.

All characters share the same four stats, and they are automatically incremented as you level.

For my first playthrough, I decided to go with the monk. I felt like playing as a melee character, but I didn’t want to choose a barbarian since that was my highest level character in Diablo II. So I went with the monk, even though I was a little skeptical on how well it would work.

The monk’s primary resource is called spirit. You have two main categories of active skills: spirit generators which build up small amounts of spirit, and then spirit spenders which spend a large chunk of it. So the basic combat has you building up some spirit with your attacks and then unloading it on something big. Your spirit doesn’t decrease when out of combat, so you can save it up if you know you’re going to need it for a harder enemy.

There is a third type of active skill which are your “mantras.” Mantras are similar to an aura in Diablo II or World of Warcraft, but unlike auras do need to be refreshed every couple of minutes. This is kind of odd, because you can only have one mantra at once, and they cost absolutely no spirit to use. I hope that in light of this, Blizzard decided to just make them an always on toggle rather than forcing you to hit the button every two minutes.

The crafting system replaces gambling, but should provide a more targeted method of acquiring items.

One of my concerns with the monk is that it would have a hard time with large numbers of enemies, compared to some of the other classes. However, even though the monk is a melee character, they do have a reasonable amount of range. At level five, you get an active skill called “Deadly Reach” which can hit groups of enemies at once. In one case, I used it to kill seven enemies in one blow. Sure, you aren’t going to pick off enemies from a distance as a demon hunter or wizard might, but you still can handle those large groups of enemies, which is pretty important in a game like Diablo III.

Overall, I had fun with the monk. But I can’t really gauge its power level in relation to the other classes until I get a look at those, so I’ll wait until I make any claims on how good or bad the monk will ultimately end up being.

Game Canary’s special Diablo III beta coverage will be continuing over the next several days.

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156 Comments to “Diablo III Beta: Skill System and Monk Impressions”

  1. Joeybo 13 October 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    I had great fun watching your playthrough; thanks for taking the time to record it! I especially appreciated how it was unedited, so we can see an all-natural progression; the infrequent but poignant commentary made an amusing and helpful addition to the experience. I love the way you work these things!

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    • Sanjay 15 October 2011 at 1:23 am #

      Thanks. I’m glad you liked the videos!

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