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BlizzCon 2009: Martial arts secrets of Diablo 3's Monk

Kevin Kelly

When you think hardcore-fantasy, swords-and-sorcery killing machine, you think "monk," right? At BlizzCon, Diablo 3's new character class, the Monk, was unlocked, supposedly having been inspired by pen-and-paper RPGs. According to Jay Wilson, almost all of Blizzard's characters are meant to hearken back to the "golden age of RPG gaming." The Monk is designed to be a fragile, melee-based character that performs some amazingly agile moves. With skills like the "Seven-Sided Strike" and "Way of the Hundred Fists," we'd say he's stripped from a different golden age -- from the reels of 1960s and '70s Kung Fu serials. The only detail that's missing are the Bruce Lee yips.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2009: Diablo 3 | 36 Photos

As Diablo 3 lore goes, the Monks are from a remote region called Ivgorod. They're raised in secluded monasteries from childhood and taught a myriad of fighting techniques likened to a fusion of Eastern European and Asian styles. Rob Pardo likes to say, "One of our favorite things to do is to tell one of our artists to draw draw an Eastern European orthodox monk from the 13th century with an Asian influence, and to watch them go insane." Monks are also intricately tattooed with images of 1,001 gods all over their bodies. The process is said to take "the balance of their lifetime" to complete -- and likely a high tolerance for needles.

The Monk is meant to feel like a fighting game character, which isn't exactly a stretch for Diablo's clicking-frenzy gameplay. Several of the character's moves are combos. Take "Crippling Wave," for example: In Stage 1 of the attack (first click) the enemy is slowed down; Stage 2 (second click) deals damage; and the final stage (third click) piles on even more damage.

One of the coolest Monk combo moves is the "Exploding Palm," which places a "bleed" (an icon that appears as a beating heart) over an enemy target during the attack's third stage. If that enemy dies while the bleed is active, it explodes in a huge shower of blood and guts (just keep pounding the mouse button for the gorebomb). Plus the explosion does area damage, which comes in handy when the Monk is surrounded by hordes of hellspawn.

Although Runes weren't on display in the game demo, we did see them in action during one of the Blizzcon panels. When the Monk uses a Rune-enhanced skill, a giant, glowing Rune appears on the ground and "frames" the area of fighting. The effect is only on-screen for a second or two, but it's an interesting way to visually display skill enhancement. You can just barely see it (it's fading away) in the image below, as the Monk is deploying the Seven-Sided Strike:

The Monk is not a weaponsmith, and don't expect to pick up many items that the character can use. His body really is his weapon, and as such he's limited to staves, punching knives and other fist weapons. We picked up a ton of great loot throughout our demo, but the Monk wasn't able to wield any of it. This might be good news if you don't want to be concerned with with the overwhelming item catalog in Diablo 3; but it's bad if you were hoping to really pimp out your Monk (we know, that just sounds wrong). You'll just have to settle for magic boots and back tats.

Still, the Monk was a lot of fun to try out. The martial arts skills add some welcome variety to the clicking, and it'll be interesting to see what else Blizzard can do with the character. We did notice that the Monk could really use a ranged attack, and when Blizzard was asked if it would add a Hadouken-like attack to the character's repertoire, the developer teased, "It's possible! We're not ruling it out."

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