2009 saw six Guitar Hero releases, none of them selling very well. Flooding the market with games rather than DLC led to oversaturation of the market and such a marked decrease in sales that Activision dissolved Red Octane and then took the franchise away from Neversoft, the developers of the franchise. Before Neversoft was completely done, however, they were tasked with one more game. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is that game.
The Guitar Hero franchise has undergone innovation with every major entry. Nearly all of these innovations are here now, though noticeably missing fromWarriors of Rock is the touch-pad on the lower neck of the guitar. I found this helpful, since the heat-sensitive touch-pad often fired off when my fingers were still an inch or so away. Warriors of Rock still allows you to gather any foursome of rockers you want. Four drummers, two vocalists and two guitarists, whatever combination you have instruments and friends for, you can play with. While this is a nice feature, vocals are still limited to only one part - no harmonies. It's particularly difficult trying to find a specific note on songs with complex harmonies, like Bohemian Rhapsody.
Speaking of that guitar, the new one looks great. While previous games have featured a guitar with a replaceable faceplate, the Warriors of Rock guitar puts all the technology in the neck, running all the way down to the bottom of the guitar. This allows for the ‘wings’ of the axe to be changed out, allowing you to not only change the appearance but also the shape of the guitar to your comfort. The guitar was also noticeably more reactive to tilting for ‘Star Power’.
Still available are an in-depth tutorial system, GH Tunes for creating and sharing songs, as well as familiar competitive and cooperative online modes. The biggest in-game innovation is the introduction of ‘Quest Mode.’ Previous games have had a career that consists of setlists, but this new game features a true story. The DemiGod of Rock has lost his Legendary Axe and is locked away. Destiny must find eight warriors of rock to find the guitar and free the Demigod so he may destroy the angry robot-beast-thing that apparently doesn’t like rock and/or roll.
The warriors of rock are the six classic Guitar Hero characters, along with two new additions to the line-up. Each has a setlist, organized stylistically. Axel Steel’s list is mostly 80s hair metal and glam rock, while newcomer Austin Tejas’ list is blues and Southern rock. Earning stars will transform each rocker into a warrior version, complete with a special ability. After beating the first four, they form a band, and you unlock the Legendary Axe by playing through the entirety of Rush’s 2112 Overture.
Don’t think you’re done after that challenge, however. Four more rockers await you, then the final battle. This final battle consists of three Megadeth songs, one of which was custom written for Warriors of Rock. All this leads to one inexorable conclusion: Guitar Hero has brought back the difficulty. I can generally play any guitar song on medium and many on hard. I failed these Megadeth songs three times on medium. It was reminiscent of Through the Fire and the Flames, coming out of nowhere back in Guitar Hero III. Even the tracks I imported in from Band Hero and previously purchased DLC were noticeably more difficult in Warriors of Rock.
Guitar Hero 5 saw the introduction of challenges in its career mode. Each song had three challenges to complete. Some were specific to instruments; some were for the entire band. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock takes that concept and runs with it in Quickplay+ Mode. This takes the same old quickplay and adds challenges to it. Not just three challenges per song, but several challenges for each instrument and for the entire band are available for each song, allowing scores of stars to be earned for each track. This adds further replay value to replaying every song with every instrument AND as a whole band.
Sound – as it has been for several games now – is pitch-perfect. All the tracks are from the master recordings, not covers. I cranked this game up on my 7.1 sound and it put a big smile on my face. Nothing less could be acceptable from a music game, of course. The art direction is still similar to the oft-criticized style of the franchise, but this time somewhat evolved. More time is spent creating a sense of cohesion in each of the venues available in Quest Mode, matching the music style and the character featured in each one. The ‘Warrior’ versions of each of the Guitar Hero characters are awesome, out-of-this-world renditions of their normal selves.
The characters are also given voice actors, though most of their lines are non-verbal. Narrating the Quest Mode is famed Kiss frontman Gene Simmons. The members of Rush also narrate a story between each track of The 2112 Overture during Quest Mode as well. Despite unlocking a multitude of character-specific powers, Star Power, and Band Moments, these various effects don’t interfere with gameplay. Previous titles have sometimes distracted from the highway with lightning bolts, screen shakes, and the like. In Warriors of Rock, these are thankfully kept unobtrusive. If only the menu system were as clean, instead of burying everything you want to do beneath confusing levels of menus.
The setlist is something I despise talking about, partly because music is so subjective. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock focuses its list on rock, metal, alternative, and punk. The attempt was to emulate the success of the high-selling Guitar Hero III: Legend of Rock. While this is welcome for someone like me, who really likes rock and metal, the game really won’t work for the Band Hero crowd. The game also often feels like it’s scouring the bottom of the barrel.
Some songs are piano or synthesizer heavy, forcing you to play these parts on the guitar. Some songs are from great artists but are strange B-sides because all the good songs are either already on another game, available as DLC, or wrapped up by the competition. Listen to Her by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bleed it Out by Linkin Park, or Call Me the Breeze (Live) by Lynyrd Skynyrd come to mind as examples. There are some songs that are hardcore, difficult tracks with challenging parts for all performers and appear to be carefully selected for those reasons. Then there are the fill-in tracks like the ones above. This makes the whole setlist feel uneven at best.
Value is a place music games always excel. They have intrinsically high replay value which keeps players at it for hours at a time. The game also features a monstrous 93 songs right on the disc, as well as a multitude of free tracks available from Neversoft. Tracks can also be imported in from Band Hero, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Guitar Hero 5, and Guitar Hero: Metallica; each for a small cost. Warriors of Rock is also compatible with all DLC that was compatible with Guitar Hero 5 and will continue to receive DLC support.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a labor of love and a swan song. RedOctane was dissolved by Activision back in February. If Guitar Hero continues, it will no longer be developed by Neversoft, but rather by Vicarious Vision who have developed the Wii ports of Guitar Hero games for a while now. The ‘if’ is the part I have to stress. Warriors of Rock is the only Guitar Hero game of 2010 because of the over-saturation of the music genre last year as well as very poor sales.Warriors of Rock is a very good game. While it may not be innovate enough to take the throne back from the Rock Band franchise, it definitely improves over its own predecessors.
The truly sad thought is that this really may be the last Guitar Hero. While most fans have firmly planted their flags in the Rock Band camp, the loss of the only other real contender in the genre would take the pressure off Harmonix to constantly innovate and push the genre forward. We can only hope that Guitar Herofinds a way to continue. If it doesn't, Neversoft can rest assured that the franchise went out not with a whimper, but with a thunderous bang.