In many ways, Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock resembles another iteration of the franchise, Guitar Hero 3 Legends of Rock. Both have questionable subtitles, increased difficulty, and added traditional gaming elements to the established music game formula. Perhaps the most telling similarity is the fact that Warriors of Rock and GH3 were both released a short time before the competing franchise’s latest offerings. Rock Band’s new instruments and 4 player co-op put GH3 to shame, and the keyboard and pro mode of Rock Band 3 threaten to do the same to Warriors of Rock. But does the latest Guitar Hero stand on its own merits as a solid music game?
Warriors of Rock shares many of the same attributes as last year’s Guitar Hero 5, and that’s a good thing. One of my favorite features, mixing and matching instruments, has returned. It's very co-op friendly, as is the excellent Party Play, where you can change difficulty on the fly, no dropping out or even pausing required. GHTunes is back, if you’re into that sort of thing. In these respects, Warriors of Rock has changed little from its predecessor (meaning GH5; I’m trying to forget GH Van Halen ever existed).
But there are lots of changes, and the most obvious is the heavily-hyped Quest mode. It’s been a while since a Guitar Hero game tacked on a story, and I was looking forward to seeing what Warriors of Rock could do from a narrative standpoint. Unfortunately, Quest mode is a really only a glorified career mode. The Demigod of Rock has fallen at the hands of The Beast, and powerful warriors must be recruited to help recover the Demigod’s axe. These warriors are the familiar faces of previous games like Judy Nails and Lars Umlaut, with a couple new additions thrown in the mix.
The characters must “power up” and unleash their inner warrior before progress can be made. To do so, you have to earn a target number of stars while playing songs in that warrior’s list. To help you do this, all characters now have special abilities that allow them to do things like extend multipliers, earn extra stars, etc. Once the stars goal has been reached, the characters transform into truly outlandish caricatures of themselves that look like they walked off the cover of an old heavy metal album. While in this form, the characters’ special abilities are even more powerful.
You might think Quest mode feels new and exciting, but really, it’s not all that different than beating so many songs to unlock a new venue, as in previous such games. In fact, it’s a bit of a step back from GH5 in that you must earn stars only in a particular character’s setlist in order to power them up and advance. Each character has a theme of sorts, including classic rock, punk, or alternative. If you like that genre, great, but what if you don’t? You are stuck in progression until you stick it out. I found that my family was unwilling to sit there and play six or eight songs they didn’t know to unlock a character. For a genre that is typically thought of as casual and multiplayer friendly, this should never happen; why not allow players to choose a few favorite songs they’ve downloaded or imported to earn these stars instead?
Admittedly, there are a few very cool moments in Quest mode. At about the halfway point, an extended sequence based on Rush’s 2112 album shows up. That can be a good thing or bad depending on your feelings about their music. Narrated by the members of the band themselves, this sequence blends in nicely with the theme of the “story”. In the second half of Quest mode, more warriors are recruited, allowing the Demigod of Rock to be freed. The final three songs come from Megadeth, and the trio is brutally difficult, even with the combined powers of the characters. The over the top nature of Quest mode is fun, but certainly not revolutionary enough to make up for its other problems.
Another change in Warriors of Rock is Quickplay . In this mode, you can select from nearly all the songs on the disc from the get go, and also access all the songs downloaded or imported to your hard drive. Challenges, like those of GH5 and Band Hero, are in Quickplay+, and there is also a level up system in place. There are many achievements for Warriors of Rock that come from Quickplay+ mode; it feels like this is where the meat of the experience is this time around, in contrast to the “also ran” status of Quickplay modes in previous games. Quickplay+ is far friendlier to the casual music game fan than difficult, restrictive experience of Quest mode.
As with all music games, the set list is very subjective, but the broader, pop-influenced direction the franchise had been taking has been done away with. Of the 90+ songs on the disc, most are very heavy on screaming lead guitar riffs and extended solos. While this isn’t a bad thing by any means, I feel like the setlist swings too far away from more popular material. Could it be that all the best classic guitar songs have already been featured in video game form already, and there isn’t much left? Another quirk of the setlist is that the majority of the songs on the list are from the past decade. This doesn’t really coincide with the “back to the roots of Guitar Hero” hype to me.
There is one glaring omission in Warriors of Rock, namely, the fact that you are limited to only four players. The Beatles Rock Band, Green Day and the upcoming Rock Band 3 have support for two more vocalists using harmonies. There isn’t even the hint of anything like this in Warriors of Rock, though its been almost a year since this feature was first introduced. Mixing and matching instruments is nice, but having more players would be even nicer. And why exactly can’t we have drop in/drop out and difficulty changing on the fly in Quickplay+ and Quest mode? Surely such user friendly features could have been included somehow.
The new guitar for this version of Guitar Hero has been changed considerably. The electronics of the unit are all in the neck, so the bottom half is swappable. The touch-sensitive pad is gone, oddly, though there are touch pad sequences in the note charts. The guitar feels very much like the stalwart X-plorer from Guitar Hero 2, which was a fine piece of hardware.
Overall, I found Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock to be a mixed bag. Quest mode was mildly entertaining, but full of problems that got in the way of having fun. Quickplay+ is great, and easily the highlight of the package. I found the setlist to be a bit extreme for my tastes, coming from the perspective of a casual fan. Taken on its own, Warriors of Rock is a solid title, but with Rock Band 3’s major innovations just over the horizon, this latest Guitar Hero title seems rather lackluster, despite the large dose of heavy metal swagger.