Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Damage Output and the Monk

Having played the Monk primarily since the release of Diablo 3 and thinking about its advantages and disadvantages, I want to address the problem of dealing damage as a Monk. The Monk is crazy defensive, the best (and possibly only viable) tank in the game. That's all fine and good. But we were promised tons of viable options. I should be able to build a damage dealing Monk maniac, and I can't. The Monk is very limited in how he can deal damage, and it's mostly because all of the damage-dealing abilities are, well, just bad.

There are two different kinds of abilities for the Monk whose primary function is to deal damage. The generators deal damage and provide you with spirit that you would, in theory, spend to deal even more damage (or perform other useful combat actions). As of right now, the "other useful combat actions" are the only viable ways to spend spirit, and abilities that spend spirit primarily to deal damage are pretty awful.

Let's go into detail on all of these abilities, in both categories. If you find any flaws in my reasoning, please point them out to me. I want to be wrong about this analysis. I want to have more options than I feel like I do. But I've tried them all out, and I've come to these conclusions with experimentation.

Fists of Thunder - This move hits in mostly the same way as Way of the Hundred Fists, but not as hard. Both have small AoE hits initially and a bigger one on the last attack. Both can be runed for a mini-teleport and for additional spirit generation. The only possible reason to use Fists of Thunder over Way of the Hundred Fists is for a bonus dodge chance, if you are going very focused on a dodge-centric build. I'm not sure exactly why this skill exists, honestly.

Deadly Reach - This skill seems fine. The damage output feels low but there are no glaring flaws with the design of the skill. The damage probably only feels low because the spenders don't help out, so when all of my damage is coming from this one skill, I am being outclassed by all the other classes in the game.

Crippling Wave - This skill seems fine. The one skill that they got right, in my opinion.

Way of the Hundred Fists - While the argument against Fists of Thunder is that it's obsoleted by this skill, the argument for this skill is that it's garbage compared to Deadly Reach and Crippling Wave. Area of effect attacks are important, and single-target damage attacks are important. Any good build is going to have both. Way of the Hudnred Fists is very clearly designed to be a viable single-target generator option, and while it may not be flawed for that reason, it is flawed when taking a look at the Monk's damage-dealing abilities on the whole. Our AoE damage options are so limited that it is almost mandatory to take an AoE generator, which Way of the Hundred Fists does not quality for. Way of the Hundred Fists can be made viable simply by fixing the Monk's other abilities.

Lashing Tail Kick - Of the spirit spenders that deal damage, this is far and away the best. It's awkward to use and unreliable in a pinch, but it's still the best. What I mean by this unreliability is that Lashing Tail Kick has a very long startup. There's a lot of downtime between when you press the button and when the actual damage occurs. In a fast-paced action game like this, that time makes an enormous difference. You have to predict when Lashing Tail Kick will be useful, instead of using it when it is useful, because that's generally too late. That said, 30 spirit for 200% AoE damage is a bargain compared to the Monk's other skills. It is the best of a bad lot, but could probably still stand to be buffed a little bit. Its sheer damage output is hard to calculate because of its knockback. If you try to use it multiple times in a row, it generally will miss on subsequent uses due to knocking enemies out of its reach on the first hit.

Wave of Light - It's hard to pick one ability as the worst of the damage-dealing spenders, but this is one of the two that's in closest contention. It costs 75 spirit to deal 215% damage in a very small AoE in front of you (far enough away that enemies in melee range are actually missed by this attack), followed by a pittance of 45% damage in a line. This is a total of 260% AoE damage for 75 spirit, or 3.46% damage per spirit. Compare to Lashing Tail Kick's 6.66% damage per spirit (which also hits a more useful area more consistently). If Wave of Light cost the same as Lashing Tail Kick, it still wouldn't be as useful. The cost should be reduced to 25 spirit at most, one third of its current cost. Whoever's job it was to balance skills against each other did an absolutely atrocious job with this one.

Exploding Palm - This skill is also complete trash as it stands, just like Wave of Light. It costs 40 spirit to do 220% damage, or 5.5% damage per spirit. It's not as cost efficient as Lashing Tail Kick, and this only affects a single target, and over time at that. It is more cost effective to spam Lashing Tail Kick against a single target than it is to use Exploding Palm, a single-target-only ability. That is ludicrous. To "compensate" for that, Exploding Palm does 30% of the target's max health in damage if it dies before the damage over time effect finishes. That's hardly a consolation, however, because that as a mechanic is inherently flawed. If you use Exploding Palm against trash mobs, that damage is meaningless because you could just have killed them more effectively with real AoE abilities. If you use it against strong mobs, you're crippling your ability to kill them quickly using a garbage damage over time for one explosion of damage that you're lucky to see hit any other enemies. Exploding Palm can sit with Wave of Light in the trash pile of the Monk skills list.

Seven-Sided Strike - This skill is an interesting beast. Seven-Sided Strike, with all but the Fulminating Onslaught rune, is effectively a single-target only ability. What that means is, it deals 777% damage all the time. With Lashing Tail Kick, an area effect, you deal 200% damage to each enemy within a range. With Seven-Sided Strike, you deal 777% damage divided among enemies within a range. This means that one cast of Lashing Tail Kick has the potential to deal much more than 200% damage, but Seven-Sided Strike will always deal exactly 777% damage. At 15.54% damage per spirit spent, this sounds like a great deal anyway. The problem is the cooldown. You can use the ability once every 30 seconds. I don't understand this at all. Monk abilities are all expensive enough that you can't spam them more than a few times before having to rely on your generators to build spirit back up. What's the big deal if you use Seven-Sided Strike 3 times in a row and utterly drain yourself of spirit so you have to play defensively now? Finally, we come across a skill that has the potential to deal real damage, and it's nerfed back down with a cooldown. Against a group, you're better off attacking once with an AoE spell to deal more damage than the entire activation of this skill. Against a single target, your burst using Seven-Sided Strike barely increases your overall damage per second because you're rate-limited. One thing it does have going in its favor is that you are invincible during the animation of this skill, so there is a trade-off here. Even so, the cooldown at 30 seconds is far too long. The only legitimate use of this skill is with Fulminating Onslaught against tightly-packed groups of enemies. This one may see the light of day, but it's going to be mostly for the invulnerability period and not for the damage output.

Sweeping Wind - This is another skill that's strange to analyze. There is no simple equation to do for this skill that will give you damage per spirit spent, because this skill can last for as long as you are able to keep yourself in combat at a one-time cost. You deal between 15% and 60% damage (depending on luck and runes) per second to enemies that are very close to you. Getting up to the maximum damage doesn't generally take terribly long, so I won't worry about that here. My gripe with this ability is that it just doesn't have enough of an effect. It is by no means a bad ability, but this isn't something you can rely on for bursty damage output like I want to see on the Monk. It's not the kind of spender you can rely on in a pinch to deal some big damage or to give you that breathing room. At 75 spirit, Sweeping Wind costs the same as 2.5 Lashing Tail Kicks. Using Lashing Tail Kick 2.5 times (deal with it) against a single target will deal 500% damage. Sweeping Wind will deal 15% damage per second, which would take 33+ seconds to deal the same amount of damage. Even if you rune Sweeping Wind for damage and assume you can instantaneously get to maximum stacks, you're talking about 8.33 seconds to deal the same damage you can do with 3 activations of Lashing Tail Kick. Is Sweeping Wind useless? No. Sustained damage can be very useful in the long drawn-out battles of Inferno. Is it a good crutch, though? The kind of damage you want to rely on? No, not at all.

I have now addressed every single Monk ability that is intended to be primarily a damage dealer. Everything else is for utility, defense, survivability, etc. All things told, the Monk is going to be relying on its generators very heavily for damage output. You would think that spending spirit to deal damage is a mechanic that would be rewarded, but it really isn't. Your damage comes from Deadly Reach or Crippling Wave, because you just need that AoE. Lashing Tail Kick's awkward startup actually doesn't make it do too much more damage than Crippling Wave. It's a slower animation, so you can't use it as quickly.

I haven't found a combination of skills to use for the Monk that included any spirit-spending damage-dealers where I didn't just settle back into a pattern of relying on my generators to deal damage and ignoring the skills I was trying to focus on.

If you have a build that is able to make good use of one of these spirit spenders to deal damage, please let me know about it. Yes, Lashing Tail Kick can be runed for huge knockback and slow, but that doesn't help your burst damage; it just helps your survivability. I want to deal damage, and I'm starting to think I just need to pick up another class for that.