Somewhere between Freebird and the YouTube video of the 8-year-old kid playing Dragon Force, someone decided that Guitar Hero should be about buttons instead of music, and that’s never been more evident than in Warriors of Rock. The series that began as a casual reason to gather with friends over a couple of beers has become a blister-inducing monstrosity, and while it’s still fun, it’s a vindictive shadow of its former self.
Before you start spewing accusations, yes, I do know how to play Guitar Hero. I play primarily on Expert and I’ve mastered the art of alternate strumming. The problem is that – beyond the title and the plastic guitar – this isn’t the Guitar Hero I remember. Once you strip away all of the trimmings, there’s too much relentlessly impossible Megadeth and not enough casual appeal for the layman.
Getting into the details, Warriors of Rock is the sixth core installment in the Guitar Hero franchise and very little has changed since the beginning. Notes still fall towards the bottom of the screen and you still press buttons in time with the music. There are no real gameplay innovations beyond a few tweaked multiplayer modes, and even those utilize the same mechanics camouflaged with new metrics for success.
To find something different, you have to look at the 110-song set list – most of which is immediately available in Quick Play – and the surface presentation. Warriors of Rock boasts a revamped Quest Mode with two boss battles and narration from Gene Simmons.
Sadly, the promised “epic” Quest never materializes, as the story is nothing but substance-free drivel. You play through songs in order to harness the power of rock before a final battle against the beast. Guitar Hero III basically did the same thing, and that game pulled it off without the bland voiceover.
The Quest Mode is divided into eight tiers, each one corresponding to a different Warrior of Rock. Each warrior has a unique (and helpful) power designed to give you a strategic gameplay advantage. For example, one character will double your Star Power output while another allows you to maintain a streak through one or two missed notes.
The powers are gimmicky, but they’re all independently useful and legitimately amusing. Tearing through an entire song with Star Power and an unbreakable string of notes is surprisingly satisfying, although it kind of feels like cheating and it does create a skewed single player campaign. Quest Mode never tracks your high score, as the developers have eschewed the usual five-star rating system in favor of an achievement-based system in which there are 40 Power Stars in each song.
Quick Play offers a more conventional Guitar Hero experience. There are hundreds of challenge stars there, too, but you’ll at least get a high score to put up on the leader boards. Meanwhile, you can also hop online to play co-op with strangers or go head-to-head in a series of who-can-hit-the-most-notes competitions.
Be warned, however, that poor online functionality reduces the game’s appeal from a multiplayer perspective. It’s tough to make a connection in the barren online lobbies, and you’re better off trying to scrounge a few friends together than you are jumping into a queue. The local co-op works fine and is probably more enjoyable.
There are plenty of other features - you can record your own songs, create your own characters, and keep up with the latest Guitar Hero news – but there’s nothing that’s noteworthy enough to talk about. Everything is highly intuitive and user-friendly and inoffensively unremarkable.
That’s what makes Warriors of Rock so unusual. Most of the new ideas aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just pointless. The Jam Session is a glorified version of something you would see in Windows Media Player and the competitive multiplayer just isn’t as much fun as co-op.
It’s all indicative of a game that doesn’t have an identity. As previously mentioned, Warriors of Rock is unreasonably difficult, and while that remains true, the game isn’t unfairly cruel. You can earn Power Stars with any instrument on any setting and you can change the difficulty of any song with no serious repercussions.
For this, I give Neversoft credit. Warriors of Rock is highly accessible with five different difficulty levels and some excellent on-disc tutorials. Outside of a few achievements/trophies, nearly all of the extra content (venues, guitars, outfits, etc.) can be easily unlocked if you’re willing to put in the necessary playtime.
The problem is that the accessibility becomes a crutch for some extremely shoddy design. The difficulty curve is relative to nothing – some songs in tier three are more challenging than songs in tier seven – and the final showdown is almost unforgivable. I had to switch to Medium in order to have a chance and the constant adjustments create an aggravatingly disjointed gameplay mess. Deliberately or not, Warriors of Rock makes you feel bad for being anything less than a phenomenon.
There are simply way too many songs with hand-cramping solos (Fury of the Storm) and offbeat rhythms (Been Caught Stealing) that feel as if they’ve been included solely to trip you up. Even worse, the music frequently doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the distribution of notes, as the developers opt for three notes whenever one would be appropriate.
Despite all of the complaints, it would be disingenuous to burden Warriors of Rock with a truly crippling score. The mechanics that made Guitar Hero so much fun once upon a time are still as engaging as ever, and if you’ve got a copy, Warriors of Rock will provide many hours of entertainment.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t bring anything relevant to the table. The new features represent a random yard sale of useless stuff and when you’re playing through a guitar port of the piano intro to Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s tough to dismiss the notion that Warriors of Rock just isn’t as good as Rock Band.