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Mists of Pandaria Beta: First impressions of monk leveling

Pandaren monk in a tornado for a starting zone quest
The first monk I leveled to 15 in the Mists of Pandaria beta was a tauren, and I'm still having nightmares about it. I thought it would be a grand idea, allowing me to focus entirely on the monk experience and not allowing myself to get distracted by the shininess of the new pandaren starting zone. Going with something I've already done tons of times in the past seemed to make sense, and the fact that tauren are still my favorite race in WoW was just icing on the cake. For this same reason, I eschewed heirlooms; I wanted to give myself a holistic monk leveling experience.

I had the best intentions, but the actual experience was pretty bad. Most of this can be chalked up to the beta test being a beta test; I'm fairly certain the monk isn't a fully developed class yet. One of the biggest issues was ability progression. You start off with your basic chi-building attack, Jab, at level 1. After that, you get the awesome and always-useful Roll ability at level 2. I have no complaints about Roll, even though the animation hadn't been implemented on tauren models yet.

An incredible drought of leveling abilities

After that, you get two chi-consuming abilities at level 3, Tiger Palm and Blackout Kick. Tiger Palm hits for mediocre (not bad!) damage, does slightly more damage when the target is above 50% hit points, and consumes one chi. Blackout Kick is only available to use when the target is below 35% hit points, costs two chi, and hits like a four-stacked Arcane Blast. It's powerful.

However, this is it. These are all your abilities you get until level 10, when you choose your specialization.

Now, this might not have been totally awful if these abilities weren't so incredibly front-loaded and available in the wee levels of monking, but they were. Once you hit level 3, you have nothing to look forward to until you gain access to your spec at level 10. If your attention isn't grabbed by something else in your leveling experience, these are the levels where you're going to get bored and go do something else. It was sheer willpower that allowed me to level to 10 and escape Mulgore on my tauren. However, I was so engrossed in the zone on my second monk, a pandaren, that I barely noticed skill progression.

The current tauren roll animation
Matters are made even worse by your next class ability's being Provoke, which you get at level 14. A taunt that increases your foe's movement speed, this ability is something you really only look forward to if you're playing a brewmaster (the tank spec). If you're a mistweaver (healer) or windwalker (my choice, the DPS spec), this means you've gone 11 levels without getting any worthwhile class ability. Your next ability is available at 18 and is spec-based. These abilities are all pretty cool, but going eight levels between attractive new abilities is a painful proposition, especially given that we know that Blizzard loses most new players before level 10.

Mechanics that work at 85 but not at 15

The other real problem with low-level monks comes in their damage rotation. First off, monks start with 100 energy and four empty chi bubbles. Jab consumes 40 energy per strike and builds one chi, up to a maximum of four. As far as I can tell, monks have the same base energy regeneration as rogues and feral druids, at 10 energy per second, which means you gain the energy for a Jab once every 4 seconds. Jabs build chi, which you can consume for harder-hitting abilities. As mentioned earlier, Tiger Palm takes one chi, while Blackout Kick uses two but gives one chi back if it successfully kills the target.

A low level tauren monk jabbing a cougar
My basic priority against normal mobs while leveling looked like this:
  • If 4 chi and target below 35% hitpoints, any energy level: Blackout Kick.
  • If 4 chi, target above 35% hitpoints, any energy level: Tiger Palm.
  • If 2 chi or higher, target below 35% hitpoints: Blackout Kick.
  • If nearing 100 energy and not at 4 chi: Jab.
  • If below 4 chi, target not below 35% hitpoints, and 40+ energy: Jab.
  • If above 2 chi, target not below 35% hitpoints, and less than 40 energy: Tiger Palm.
  • If below 2 chi, target now below 35% hitpoints, and less than 40 energy: Wait for energy regen and Jab at 40.
This might sound confusing, but the basic premise was this: You never want to waste a Jab and not have it build chi, so use a chi consumer any time you hit 4 chi to avoid wasted Jabs. In the same vein, you never want to allow yourself to allow your energy to hit 100 while in combat, because if you're at 100 energy you're no longer regenerating and you've effectively lost Jabs (which means lost chi and lost chi-consumer opportunities.) As a result, the only reason not to Jab if you're nearing 100 energy is if you can Blackout Kick and end combat quickly. (BoK is almost always a kill on leveling mobs, provided it hits.)

In the same vein, any time you're over 40 energy, you want to be using Jab to build chi, as long as you're not at 4 chi already. Tiger Palm hits harder than Jab by a long shot, but it can be used in the 4 seconds you're regenerating energy for another Jab. I also prioritize jabbing higher than Blackout Kick on instance bosses for this same reason; you have 4 seconds in between jabs to do your big damage moves. Lastly, I don't let myself drop below 2 chi when leveling, so that I always have a Blackout Kick available when the mob hits 35%.

Image
This priority is nice and works very well against leveling mobs, but it has a few huge problems. First off, low-level monks are hugely penalized by enemy misses, dodges, or parries. A missed Jab doesn't refund any of its 40 energy cost; we end up waiting the full 4 seconds to be able to Jab again. As a comparison, feral cats get refunded 80% of their special ability's cost if it misses. Chi-consumers also don't refund their cost if they miss, and missing a Blackout Kick and being left chi-less can be particularly painful.

With this in mind, leveling can be particularly painful and frustrating if RNG is not on your side, as sitting around waiting for energy is not incredibly fun. It becomes even worse when you enter your first dungeon; in my case, this was Ragefire Chasm. After you drain your energy and build chi in the first few seconds, the entire boss fight becomes a matter of waiting to Jab, Tiger Palming, and then waiting to Jab again. It's incredibly boring.

It does get better

On the plus side, this does all change at level 80, which I'll discuss in a later post. Combo Breaker, the windwalker mastery, makes the priority system a lot more exciting, and the spec becomes quite fun. My only concern is actually getting to 80 without pulling my hair out. I know from playing at 85 that I get fun abilities like Rising Sun Kick on my way there, but I'm not sure how I'll generate the chi to use it.

Monk fighting second boss of RFC
That said, this is beta, and the entire point of beta is feedback. My feedback: The monk has a lot of potential, and I've seen it excel as a class at 85. I think the rate of ability acquisition may seriously need to be considered, and access to energy or chi-building cooldowns needs to come earlier, to prevent people quitting from boredom. It has potential to be a super-fun class, and I can't use words to do justice to how cool monk animations are. You'll have to play your own and see!

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Mists of Pandaria

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