The next Guitar Hero game, due out in two months, bears the subtitle "Warriors of Rock." It's a name that doesn't suggest a whole lot on the surface. This is, after all, the series that let you play as barrel-chested rock titans like Lars Umlaut and Axel Steel since practically the beginning. If those guys aren't warriors of their chosen craft, we haven't the foggiest idea who would fit that description. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find meaning behind the name. Warriors of Rock is the first game in the series to play host to a narrative-heavy storyline, which developer Neversoft is calling Quest mode. It's a Gene Simmons-narrated journey that revels in hard-rock aesthetics, mixing eccentric characters with thunderous venues while often weaving the music you play into the storyline. This new feature was the focus of our most recent hands-on demo with the game, after previously catching a look at Warriors of Rock just before the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
The story in Quest mode is, at its heart, a simple tale between good and evil. Only, evil is a giant robot and good is an axe-wielding demigod that embodies the purest essence of rock and roll. Oh, and it's a battle that's fought everywhere, including CBGB, fictional megavenues, and flowing lava pits. OK, so maybe it's not that simple after all. At any rate, along the way, you'll recruit Guitar Hero's various recurring characters, like the aforementioned Lars and Axel, who all have their own backstory and transformational abilities that play into the storyline. They can all change into a slightly insane, beastly alter ego that affects the gameplay with various modifiers (like a minimum multiplier threshold) to make unlocking stars to progress the story that much easier. In short: Quest mode is Neversoft taking that hard-rock edge that it has embraced slightly more with each passing game and just completely running wild with it.
One of the more interesting aspects of Quest mode is the way that the plot and the music frequently intersect. We got to experience some of that firsthand with the Rush sequence in Warriors of Rock. Rush is a band known for highly conceptual prog-rock where the instrumentation is every bit as elaborate as the lyrical imagery. There's a whole chapter of the Quest mode dedicated to one of the band's more abstract songs, the 20-minute opus "2112" from the album of the same name. This seven-part song takes players through multiple venues on a story that runs fairly close to the main narrative in Warriors of Rock: The player has to enter a cavern and obtain a magical guitar to further progress the story; a task completed, naturally, by successfully completing the song.
Doing so is no easy feat considering the shifting, at-times unpredictable nature of "2112." But though it is a genuine challenge, it's far from impossible. Fortunately, you also have breaks between the 20-minute song's seven parts. We saw one that felt like a serene dream sequence, with a camera panning through the clouds while lead singer Geddy Lee read from the liner notes. It was an interesting contrast to the intense musicianship of the song, as well as the testosterone-fueled heavy-rock imagery with which the rest of the game surrounds itself. Oddly enough, when we first walked up to the game and saw this cloud sequence out of context, we thought for a moment that it might have been Gene Simmons--who narrates the rest of the game--reading poetry in an inexplicably high-pitched voice. Fortunately, someone from Activision was there to let us know what was actually happening onscreen. But the fact that our mind was able to jump to such a bizarre conclusion gives you an idea of just how out-there Quest mode is in comparison to previous Guitar Hero career modes.
We'll be honest: We were skeptical about Quest mode when we first had a look back at E3, but it seems like Neversoft might have made the right decision in going completely wild with those gritty aesthetics and hard-rock tropes that people have come to associate with the franchise. It really looks like a lot of ridiculous fun was had here. If nothing else, building a fleshed-out story mode with all those crazy sights and sounds should at least add a fun bit of spectacle to a game that's grown quite familiar throughout the years. We should see how it all comes together when Warriors of Rock arrives on September 28.