I got a little more alone time with the Diablo 3 beta today, and I took the opportunity to finish my Wizard run and play through it again with the Monk.
The only new active skill that my Wizard picked up this session was Diamond Skin, which absorbs pretty much all incoming damage for three seconds. I tried it once for kicks, but seriously, you know how support skills are crap in a beta where everything dies so quickly? It applies even more to Diamond Skin, especially since the Wizard, being a ranged attacker, just doesn't take that much damage. I'm sure things will be different on higher difficulties, but here it's an exercise in futility. Level 10 unlocked my first passive slot, and with it the choice between the first two passive - recovering 30 Arcane Power when healed by a health orb, and slowing down enemies by 30% when hit by an arcane attack. Considering all three of my skills dealt arcane damage, guess which one I went with? It came in handy for slowing down Leoric, who enjoys whirlwinding all over the place. The fight was remarkably easy, partly because, well, this is still the first third of the first act of the first difficulty, and partly because I was using a ranged attacker.
The main challenge at this point was getting used to the new skill control scheme. In the first two games, you mapped skills to the two mouse buttons and swapped them using hotkeys on the keyboard. Here, though, you have two skills mapped to the mouse, and four mapped to 1, 2, 3 and 4. The first two games gave me a nasty habit of keeping my left hand near the Shift button, so I could stop while attacking with the left mouse button, which is also used for moving. This wass important for ranged attackers, so you don't run straight into the fray. Here, however, you want to keep your left hand near the 1, 2, 3 and 4 buttons. After a decade and a half with the original scheme, pressing 1 to attack was a novel idea, and since Arcane Orb was the skill that was mapped to it, my accuracy with it was pretty lousy. Oh well, I'll get better. I will adapt, I will survive.
From there it was off to try the Monk. It did feel a lot more powerful than the Wizard, since his free skills (the Spirit generators) are a lot stronger and pretty much meant to be his bread and butter, as opposed to the Wizard's signature skills which are best used when you're out of Arcane Power. On the other hand, the fact that he's a melee attacker, and a glass cannon one at that, means it's the class that's the most likely to take substantial damage in the beta. I found myself struggling with boss packs a lot more than with the Wizard, and to make matters worse it seems every single one was Frozen. That meant I had little choice but to deal with the freeze every time I killed something, unless I managed to sweetspot with Deadly Reach's third hit.
Fists of Thunder, the one skill he starts with, is pretty basic but does the job well for the early stages. Its main draw is that it's faster than the other Spirit generators, and as such will not only rack up the damage quickly, but also generate Spirit a bit faster than the rest. With that in mind, the other ones I got to try are still much superior. Deadly Reach, obtained at level 4 is a bit slower and has the same damage per hit, but as the name implies it has a slight range element, which allows you to attack without being straight up in your opponent's face. Very effective against slow-moving enemies before they get the chance to land a hit. I would have to say, I expected it to be somewhat worse than that.
However, it still pales in comparison to Crippling Wave, which is acquired at level 8. It's a short-ranged attack more in line with what you'd expect from the Monk, but the first two hits hit all enemies directly ahead of you, while the third hits everything around you and slows them down for a few seconds. In a game where multi-target attacks is king, this is the most likely candidate for the skill that's going to be found on every single Monk. Words cannot make this thing justice, if you want to see how brutal it is you'll have to try it for yourself.
As for spirit spenders and mantras, the only two that I bothered using beyond just seeing what they did were Mantra of Evasion for the dodge bonus (but only once I got to level 6 and unlocked the third skill slot) and Lashing Tail Kick for powerful offense. The latter's development was rather interesting, since it started out as a skill about as powerful as Crippling Wave, but with knockback instead of a speed debuff, and it not only consumed spirit instead of generating it, but also had a three-second cooldown. Since then it's evolved into a much more viable crowd control solution, especially against boss packs. It saved my bacon on a couple of occasions, let me tell you that. While Exploding Palm's effect sounds really cool, I can't see its usefulness being as widespread as Crippling Wave.
The rest was really meh, though. Blinding Flash is a skill that could have some interesting applications in later difficulties, as you'd expect from a cheap-cost skill that disables all nearby enemies for three seconds (mind the 15-second cooldown, though), but at the beginning of the game, why status enemies when you can just kill them? Breath of Heaven is expensive (a full third of your spirit bulb), and it's ineffective as well, healing you for about 20% of your max HP. Pass. Dashing Strike is mostly a mobility skill, though it does deal some damage to a single target. I've honestly never been fond of that kind of skill, so I used it a few times to get a feel for it, and then that was it. As for Cyclone Strike, for HALF of your max spirit, it deals a lot of damage to everything within 24 yards of you... once again, not really worth the hefty cost. Lashing Tail Kick did the job just as well. Mantra of Retribution... sorry, but no. When you try avoiding taking damage as much as you can, having a skill that hurts enemies when they hit you just doesn't sound like a winning proposition.
I ended up hitting level 10 on Leoric's defeat, which is sort of a shame, because one of the passives you get at that level reduces damage done by enemies you hit for a few seconds. It would've definitely been useful, as I took a bit of a beating during that fight (thanks for the health globes dropped by summoned skeletons, by the way).
As a final thought, one of the more controversial changes brought forth by patch 10 was the new method for skill swapping to infinity - you can't use the newly swapped skill for 30 seconds, and you can't swap it back out during that time either. I would have to say, this is more painful at earlier levels, when you don't have many skill slots. Let's say you want to change Magic Missile for Shock Pulse, and your Wizard uses a weapon that's not a wand... during the cooldown your only attacks are AP-intensive moves like Arcane Orb, or whacking monsters with a melee weapon. This is the main flaw of that method, as I think it works out better when you have access to more than three skills at the same time. And since it doesn't happen in the beta unless you grind and grind and grind, I can see where the generalized frustration comes from. I'm pretty sure it'll become a non-issue later in the game, though, especially when you'll have to swap runes around in the meantime anyway.