Review: Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

Read my Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock guitar controller companion review here.

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As I’ve said many times before, the Guitar Hero series has been rolling steadily downhill since Harmonix left it behind to join forces with MTV Games and kick start the rival Rock Band franchise. That’s not to say the Guitar Hero games have been poor, because they haven’t. It’s just that there have been so many of them in such rapid succession that the series has, in recent installments, drifted away from being the campy, stick-it-to-the-man tribute to rock n’ roll it used to be and has gradually become a stale, sterile money-making machine bereft of the heart and soul it once had.

Warriors of Rock finally puts the heart back into Guitar Hero.

How so? It all starts with the music, my friends. Now, musical taste is something that is personal to everyone, so I can’t tell you that you’ll love every song of Warriors of Rock’s 93-song track list. That’s for you to decide by skimming over the complete set list and seeing if there are more good songs than bad, according to your tastes.

What I can tell you, though, is that the Warriors of Rock soundtrack is the most fun to play – and it’s not even close if you ask me. I’ve never been a rock guy myself, as far as following bands and buying and listening to rock music. So, there isn’t a song in Warriors of Rock that I’d ever want to throw on my iPod or anything like that. But I don’t play Guitar Hero games to examine composition or lyrical content on a more personal level like I do with music I choose to listen to on my own time. I play Guitar Hero strictly for guitar-shredding gaming entertainment, and from top to bottom this game’s set list is a blast.

Lately, the series has adopted a broader, almost more of a pop-influenced range of songs, but that’s not the case here. Warriors of Rock covers a diverse spectrum of styles within the rock genre, and it does so without straying away from the rock path with, say, a song like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” as was featured in GH5.

Warriors of Rock returns to its rock roots, rekindling that indescribable rock spirit other recent Guitar Hero titles have lacked with iconic tracks from bands/artists such as Alice Cooper, Queen, Black Sabbath, DragonForce, Megadeth, KISS, Pantera, Foreigner, The Rolling Stones, Rush, Slayer, Aerosmith, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, Styx, Twisted Sister…and the list goes on. And even the game’s pop-ier tunes, like R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me”, Linkin Park’s “Bleed It Out” and The Offspring’s “Self Esteem”, have rhythms, beats and hooks that are simply fun to play in the context of a rock video game. Then, of course, there is The Ramones’ version of the Spider-Man cartoon theme song, which is pure awesome.

This re-sharpened rock edge also carries over into the game’s new Quest Mode, which ultimately plays out like a typical Guitar Hero career mode, only in the guise of an RPG with an absurd storyline suitably narrated by the deep, disembodied voice of KISS front man Gene Simmons. The Quest Mode has you playing as eight rock avatars from Guitar Heroes past on a quest to restore the Legendary Guitar and free the Demi-God of rock in order to save rock from The Beast. Along the way you play through songs as each character until you’ve amassed enough stars to transform them into mutated rock warrior gods, each equipped with a unique power, such as a higher max score multiplier, a faster filling Star Power meter, Star Power that fills on consecutive note streaks, shields that keep your note streak alive after a missed note, and so on. Then, once you’ve freed the Demi-God and The Beast has been slain, all of the warriors’ powers combine and you are let loose to go back and “dominate” every song in the game up to a maximum of 40 stars each.

If all this sounds silly, that’s because it is – and that’s why it is so great!

The rest of Warriors of Rock is pretty much stock Guitar Hero. The core gameplay is unchanged; you can still jam out with your choice of guitar, drums or microphone; the character and song creation tools are essentially the same; the nifty Party Play mode established in GH5 returns; and the standard suite of multiplayer modes are in place for four players locally or up to eight players online.

One mode that has been tweaked around slightly, however, is Quickplay. Quickplay+, as it is now called, is linked into a star leveling-up system, complete with online leaderboards. Every song in the game, as well as those purchased as DLC or imported from other GH titles, has a series of challenges to complete for stars in addition to the six stars you can earn simply based on your performance during the song. These challenges include things like keeping a maximum multiplier going for set periods of time, achieving long note streaks, reaching high score milestones, and so on. And for every 10 stars earned, your rank profile increases by one level and you unlock a piece of bonus content (character creation gear, stage venues, art galleries, etc.).

Together, the new Quest and Quickplay+ modes give Warriors of Rock a constant sense of progression and accomplishment. Every time you play a song, you feel like you are building towards something, that you are doing more than just playing a song for a high score. For me, that sense of accomplishment has translated into nonstop play sessions for the first time in a long while. Save for the time when I got the very first PS2 Guitar Hero game and literally pulled an all-nighter playing it with friends (and kept playing it for weeks and weeks thereafter), whenever I get a new Guitar Hero I usually cruise through the career modes in a couple days, maybe return to replay a few favorite songs, and then move on and wait for the next installment to come along. However, with Warriors of Rock I have spent a week and a half obsessively playing through the Quest mode, going back through to “dominate” every song, and replaying many of the same songs again and again in Quickplay+ to build up my ranking (I’m up to level 16 right now, if memory serves) — and I don’t see myself stopping any time in the foreseeable future.

Again, the music gets most of the credit for that, as I certainly wouldn’t be replaying songs two, three, four or more times if I didn’t enjoy playing them. But I also love how every time I replay a song I seem to achieve a new personal goal and earn some new piece of unlockable content.

I’ve grown pretty ambivalent towards the Guitar Hero franchise and music games in general over the years, part of me always expecting to enjoy myself, part of me always expecting to become bored after a few play sessions. Warriors of Rock has, unexpectedly, sparked my interest in the genre all over again and reminded me why I fell in love with Guitar Hero so many years ago. I’m not sure where the series can possibly go from here, but for now I will happily appreciate Guitar Hero as the Demi-God of rock video games once more.

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Pros:
+ Most entertaining collection of on-disc songs yet
+ New Quest Mode is silly fun
+ Quickplay+ is very addictive and rewarding
+ Brings Guitar Hero back to its roots

Cons:
– Nowhere left for the Guitar Hero franchise to go after this, but rest assured it will continue to be milked

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available on Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft (PS3, X360), Vicarious Visions (Wii)
Release Date: 9/28/2010
Genre: Music/Rhythm
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8 (1-4 locally, 2-8 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!