Back in 2005, peripheral developers Red Octane and software developers Harmonix came out with a neat little game called Guitar Hero for the Playstation 2. It would surpass everyone’s expectations by selling well over one million units. However, in late 2006, right after the release of Guitar Hero II, both Harmonix and Red Octane had to go their separate ways with Activision buying Red Octane and the Guitar Hero license, while Harmonix was bought by a rival company MTV Games. Harmonix would eventually create the Rock Band series, which pushed the peripheral-based music genre forward, while the Guitar Hero series has essentially been recycling the same base mechanics that it had created in its first iteration back in 2005. With Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, the series’s newest iteration, developer Neversoft is promising a brand new experience, and while the game does push the series into a new direction, it does so at its own expense.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is the sixth proper installment of the series, not including various off-shoots like Band Hero or the band-specific spin-offs. Yet even with all the talk of change, for the most part the game is essentially still a peripheral-based music game, with the same highway of notes that cascade down the screen and the player still having to use a plastic guitar, drum set, or microphone to try and hit those notes at the right time. There’s also the same modes—Quickplay and Party—that we have seen in the last couple of Guitar Hero games. However, Neversoft has decided this year to focus on a brand new mode called Quest Mode, hoping the game will distance itself from other music-based peripheral games like the Rock Band series by introducing the idea in which the player embarks on a rock n’ roll odyssey.
It moves away from that novel experience of emulating a guitar and inches ever closer to feeling like a video game.
In this mode, you play as various characters in a campaign trying to unleash their rock “warrior.” Achieving this nirvana-like rock n’ roll state is done by attaining a certain amount of stars for each character, which can be acquired by playing the various songs on each character’s predetermined setlist. The better you play the song, which is usually derived by hitting correct notes into a streak, the more stars you get. While this does present an interesting alternative to the usual bland setlist structure, I feel this actually does the series more harm than good.
Originally when Guitar Hero was introduced to mass audiences, some of the game’s appeal came from the fact that it had accurately emulated the feel of playing a real guitar. Sure, it wasn’t nearly as complex as playing an actual instrument, but those individualistic achievements of getting through a particularly hard song was quite satisfying. The series was at its best when it allowed the player to feel as if they were playing an instrument without actually learning how. With Quest Mode, Warriors of Rock moves away from that novel experience of emulating a guitar and inches ever closer to feeling like a video game. While this does create a new and interesting experience, I think the game actually takes a step backward, moving away from the moments that made the Guitar Hero series so special and devolving it with a more game-like feel that isn’t nearly satisfying.
In the end, to say that Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock isn’t a competent game would be disingenuous. It does exactly what it sets out to do, creating a new and unique experience in the music genre. The only problem is: By trying to go in a new direction, they may have lost what made the series great at one point in its existence.