In this segment, I’m going to cover two very different classes: the Barbarian and the Monk. As with the prior two (Magician, Demon Hunter), this duo doesn’t really shine until after they’ve unlocked their third ability slot at level 6. And like the previous two, one is a bit easier to play than the other. In this case, it should be fairly obvious which one is the true hack-n-slash champ: the Barbarian.
To be honest, I wish Blizzard would let players customize their character. I’m not talking about attributes like strength and dexterity (I’ve already whined about that), but in their general appearance. Many RPGs let us choose faces, hairdos, tattoos and whatnot to give our characters their own individuality. That kind of customization isn’t here in Diablo 3, and in the case of the Barbarian, gamers are left playing one insanely large but ugly dude.
That said, I would have slapped a hockey mask on my Barbarian and called him Voorhees had I known his destructive capabilities beforehand, as this meaty beast can decimate enemies into bloody piles of red pulp and bone without too much effort... much like the famous Camp Crystal Lake slasher. This guy unlocks the sinner in all of us, the one who secretly gets a thrill out of chopping up zombies, or relish bathing in an explosion of snakes that erupt from the bellies of Grotesques after just a few hacks.
But to keep the Barbarian from being too easy, Blizzard has created a unique system for this class that limits the use of certain skills. Instead of regenerating mana, the Barbarian generates fury by using one set of eight skills, or Fury Generators. A second set of skills will use that fury, aka the Fury Spenders, but there’s a catch: the Fury gage will diminish as he grows calmer. For instance, he could plow through group after group of zombies and fill the fury globe to the max, but that level will begin to “drain” if he’s not actively causing chaos.
As of this writing, my level 8 Barbarian has unlocked the Bash, Cleave, Leap Attack and Ground Stomp “Fury Generator” abilities. Currently he’s wielding the Broad Axe of the Raven and the Cleave spell is bound to that weapon. Because he has 0 out of 100 Fury, his Hammer of the Ancients is greyed out and can’t be used -- this costs 20 Fury. The Barbarian’s third ability is Ignore Pain and assigned to the "1" key. This seemingly acts like a temporary shield for five seconds.
On the Fury Spender side, my Barbarian has unlocked the aforementioned Hammer of the Ancients, Threatening Shout, Battle Rage and Weapon Throw. His Ignore Pain ability resides within the Situational group of abilities which may or may not rely on Fury as a source. So far I’m really liking this setup, as he can swing that axe and take out a lot of enemies in one explosive, body-mutilating, limb-shredding swoop. The more experienced he gets, the more destructive he gets.
To some degree, the Monk is similar to the Barbarian in that he has a set of abilities that generate “spirit” (or mana), and a set of skills that burns spirit energy. And like the Barbarian, the Monk is proficient in both hand-to-hand and weapon based attacks. But the Monk is more agile, assassin-like, using kicks along with fist-based hits. He reminds me of a character ripped out of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur: a quick, sleek fighting machine with energy-based skills and a superior knowledge of light weapons like Bo’s and katanas.
When I first started to play the Monk, he was different than the previous three in that his method of attack was up-close-and-personal. It felt a little weird at first -- like playing an arcade fighter in an isometric view -- but once he grew in experience, be became a lot easier to play. Compared to the serial killer-like Barbarian, he doesn’t have brute strength backing his blows and kicks, making him a bit more challenging.
Now at level eight, my Monk is kicking ass, and it’s actually exciting to see where he’ll be leveled up even more. In one hand he holds the Javelin of the Raven, a magic spear that adds a few points of arcane damage. Bound to this weapon is his Deadly Reach skill which projects lines of pure force. In his other hand, he holds the Club of Winter which inflicts several points of cold damage. His second skill, Dashing Strike, isn’t bound to the club and can be used by right-clicking the mouse. This ability allows the Monk to dash at a target, deal some damage, and then reappear behind the target. In appearance alone, he seemingly disappears and reappears like a ninja, although not quite as instant.
At this point, the Monk has unlocked ten abilities, three that are Spirit Generators, five that are Spirit Spenders, and two listed under “Mantras.” Fists of Thunder, Deadly Reach, and Crippling Wave are his current generators whereas Blinding Flash, Breath of Heaven, Lashing Tail Kick, Dashing Strike and Lethal Decoy are his current Spenders. Mantra of Evasion and Mantra of Retribution are his two out of four Mantra abilities.
Looking over his skill set, the Monk could be considered as the party healer/stat booster. Several abilities affect both the Monk and nearby comrades such as Breath of Heaven which is a blast of holy energy that heals the player and all allies within 12 yards (this ability is also my Monk’s third spell, assigned to the “12” key). Mantra of Evasion adds a 30-percent chance to dodge for everyone in a 120-second timeframe, and Mantra of Retribution will cause the Monk and all allies within 40 years to reflect damage.
Reflecting back on all four characters that I’ve played thus far, it looks like level 30 is the sweet spot, as all abilities and skill slots will be unlocked at this point. My Monk currently still has eleven skills and six slots left to uncover, but given that the beta (demo) only consists of four main quest lines, I doubt any one of my characters will max out until the actual game ships early next year (Q1 2012).
If I didn’t mention this before, the closed beta takes place in Act 1 which is broken up into four main quests: The Fallen Star, The Legacy of Cain, A Shattered Crown, and Reign of the Black King. I have no idea if Act 1 continues beyond the four quests, but the beta does have a nice epic ending that feels like we’re playing a prologue to Diablo 3 rather than the real thing.
One of the great things about playing the beta thus far is that each class brings something new to the table. Even though Act 1 is relatively short in the overall picture, it doesn’t get boring playing the same scenarios over and over again because you’re getting acquainted with someone new: learning their strengths, their weaknesses.
And despite the annoying fact that Diablo 3 MUST have a constant Internet connection, the experience gets even better when friends and strangers alike jump in from out of nowhere at any time. Granted you can play the campaign on your own, the game seems to really shine where co-op is concerned. You can see what other players are doing with their characters which in turn entices you to try out other combinations of weapons and skills.
Next up I’ll be covering the final class and going over other Diablo 3 features like crafting and a few goodies that are new to the Diablo franchise.
If you missed them: