It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Guitar Hero franchise for the last few years that the most recognizable franchise in music gaming has an identity crisis. Publisher Activision, developer Neversoft and even the series own fans do not know what the purpose of the long running music franchise is anymore. Is it an arcade game with a focus on blazing guitar parts? Is it a single player game with a strong single player component? Is it a full band game trying to appeal to a mass market public like its primary rival Rock Band? These are questions that the series needed to answer with its sixth core entry into the franchise, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Unfortunately all the latest title does for the franchise is muddy the waters further for its loyal, albeit shrinking, fanbase.At its base level this game is just like its predecessors in the fact that colored gems (notes) stream down the screen and players are tasked with hitting the gems in the proper sequence using their arsenal of plastic instrument controllers. If you have played a Guitar Hero or Rock Band game in the last five years, you know how to play Warriors of Rock. This stagnant formula is both the appeal and the drawback of the genre. It is easy for new players to pick up and play but it is also the exact same gameplay mechanics that have been used since the series’ inception.
For the past two games the Guitar Hero franchise has languished while trying to compete with Harmonix’s (co-creators of Guitar Hero) Rock Band series. It moved away from the strong guitar songs to more band centric set lists and in doing so lost a large chunk of its identity. It also moved away from the style, personality and presentation of the first few games in the series. Warriors of Rock is a return to form in a manner of speaking as the set list is very guitar focused and in at least some ways the classic style and personality has returned.
The set list of a music game is one of the main selling points for the genre and Warriors of Rock shifts, somewhat, from the all encompassing approach of the last two entries to a more hard rock, guitar centric set list. Warriors of Rock includes Metallica, Megadeth, Muse, Def Leppard, Avenged Sevenfold, and a lot of other great rock acts. As with all music games, one’s appreciation of the set list is going to come down purely to personal preferences and some are going to enjoy certain songs more than others.
Characters like Judy Nails, Axel Steele, Johnny Napalm, Lars Umlaut, amongst others were creative and helped infuse the style and personality the series built its foundation on. While Warriors of Rock still allows for creation of a personalized avatar, the single player campaign focuses on the pre-created characters journeying on a quest to save the world of rock. At first glance quest mode may seem drastically different from previous Guitar Hero games, unfortunately it is all just a cosmetic look and the mode simply boils down to character oriented set lists.
The big difference in quest mode from previous campaigns is that each of the characters has a special ability to help gain additional stars. For instance Johnny Napalm has a meter that rises as you maintain a certain multiplier and when it reaches the max a star is granted. Multiple stars can be earned this way but being as the objective is to always play the song as well as you can the special abilities seem somewhat unnecessary. These powers also pose a large problem during the end game as the on screen indicators get very cluttered with stars exploding out of all parts of the screen making it quite distracting to follow.
The quest itself is pretty standard fare. Assemble a team of the best rockers and take on the giant evil threatening the land. As the team is assembled each character must undergo a transformation to their true warrior form. This essentially doubles the effects of the special abilities and grants each character a new monstrous skin. Playing through the quest I could not help but think that the idea for quest mode was inspired by Brutal Legend, possibly even being inspired by the fabled guitar controller parts that were left out of that title after Activision decided to not publish it. The gameplay of the quest is very much traditional Guitar Hero but the aesthetics of it all are very reminiscent of Brutal Legend.
Regardless of where the idea for Quest Mode came from, it does not do anything to reinvigorate the franchise and feels extraordinarily aimless. The campaign songs are all locked until their completion in Quest Mode including the entirety of 2112 by Rush, a major selling point of this game for some people. The presentation of the song seems somewhat random as some players seem to have a set list based on their rocker theme whereas others just seem all over the place. While Neversoft should be applauded for attempting to make a strong single player component, it is very hard to do so when the core games have basically become extra large track packs with a couple new features added in for good measure.
The single player campaign is not the only mode to get a makeover though. Quick Play was hit with a complete overhaul of the traditional pick a song and play it system. Obviously pick and play can still be done but Warriors of Rock’s Quick Play + incorporates the challenge system first seen in Guitar Hero 5 presenting players with an added layer of depth to the usually simple mode. Every song in the library, including DLC and exported disc based songs from previous games, has a bevy of challenges for all four instruments as well as for multiplayer bands. Adding to the draw of the challenges is the new Hero Feed which tracks the progress of friends giving you the opportunity to top their highest score.
Cooperative play has been a strong focus of the Guitar Hero games for the last few years and that doesn’t change with Warriors of Rock. Only have two microphones, a drum kit and a guitar? Warriors of Rock accommodates that with no problem, in fact any combination of instruments is workable. This can present some goofy multiplayer moments but it also does not exclude anyone from playing, provided there is at least some combination of four instruments. While cooperative play retains its strong focus, competitive multiplayer is relegated to a bullet point. The classic competitive modes all return but there just seems to be something missing on the competitive side of things.
From a technical standpoint Warriors of Rock is arguably the best looking Guitar Hero game to date. Character models are crisp and clean while the note highway really pops. The only real complaint about it visually is that the venues just don’t seem to fit the over-the-top style and presentation of the rest of the game. And as would be expected, Warriors of Rock is a great sounding game.
It is hard to look at Warriors of Rock and feel that it is an evolution of the genre because it is essentially the same game that people have been playing for six years now, just with new songs. It is a good game but the franchise is stuck in neutral and sadly no one seems to know the direction the series should move in. It is a sad state of affairs but unless a plan of action can be formulated Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock may be the last big battle for fans.
3 out of 5.