Rock Band Rivals is an expansion that focuses on new modes and new ways to play the game as opposed to more songs to add to your library. Harmonix has done a good job of tweaking the overall experience of Rock Band 4 for the past year. It certainly isn’t the same game that was released around this time last fall, but it’s close. Rivals does feel like a significant upgrade to the game, but it might make me ask one question – why wasn’t this the version of Rock Band 4 that we originally got?
This game brings a number of additional play elements to wannabe rock stars, but most players will tire of this quickly, specially when there’s still no online multiplayer. Rock Band 4 was designed as a platform where developer Harmonix could add modes and features over the course of several years. Several free updates were made available over the game’s first year (including Brutal Mode, which turns notes invisible just before they need to be played), but Rock Band Rivals is the game’s first paid expansion. It has many of the things you’d expect of an expansion, including a new campaign (with a surprisingly good sense of humor you can expect from Harmonix), a new multiplayer mode (with an experience system that provides long term objectives), and new clothing and gear with which to outfit your musicians. It doesn’t seem like too bad of a proposition.
That said, you may not be getting as much as you anticipated. Unless you pre-ordered the game (and it’s too late to do that now), you won’t be getting any new songs with it. And the new Rockumentary mode can be finished in a single night, which means most players and bands are likely to quickly end up going back to playing Rock Band 4 in pretty much the same way they have over the last year – creating one-off set lists and replaying the campaign. It’s still a lot of fun to just play music particularly if you have a few friends or family with whom you can form a band. Rivals doesn’t add any essential extras beyond the base game’s core modes and mechanics. Serious players may warm quickly to the new competitive mode, but the rest of us might be better off simply spending the money we would have spent on Rivals on new songs for our libraries.
Rivals caters most to the die-hard Rock Band community, which definitely makes a lot of sense. Those who primarily chase high-scores or gold stars will get the most added value here. But Harmonix has done it in a way that casual players will enjoy and hopefully may even turn a few of those casuals into leaderboard chasers.
The first major addition in Rivals is the ability to join a crew. These 10-person crews (equipped with a cheesy name or logo) will be at the heart of the Rock Band experience from now on. Your crew will compete against other crews on things like cumulative score, instrument-specific scoring, high score on rotating weekly Spotlight Songs and an experience-based level system. Its a great way to keep the hardcore coming back each week and is a harmless addition for casuals. Hardcore Rock Band community members have another way to show off their skills and for those like me, the ability to still hop in every few weeks and play a couple songs will still be there and won’t affect the overall experience of the game.
The second major addition in Rivals is the new Rockudrama mode. Rockudrama sees your band as the focus of Beneath The Tuneage, a mockumentary version of VH1’s Behind The Music. It’s essentially a new Story Mode that details the rise and fall and triumphant return of your virtual band to glory. Your setlists are intertwined with video interviews from people who were close to your band throughout your career. From those that knew you in high school to those who were around in your darkest days. The dialogue runs the gambit form utterly cheesy to genuinely funny. It’s a nice way to bookend your gigs and is honestly what I hoped Rock Band 4 would be from the get go. And even though it’s a bit short, it’s a great change of pace from the game’s normal Career Mode. Rockudrama also contains little bits of Rivals mode as well. You can wager how many stars your band will get before most performances and sometimes you can activate additional modifiers like Brutal Mode to increase the amount of fame you receive for each show. Fame is used as the resource that will progress the story and affect the ending of your Rockudrama.
Rock Band Rivals is a more focused and diverse version of Rock Band 4. Harmonix has done well in tweaking the original game for the past year and Rivals is a great extension of this. With new ways to play and new ways to keep people coming back, Rivals is in a lot of ways what Rock Band 4 should have been when it came out. If you still have the desire to bust out your old plastic drums but for some reason haven’t so far, Rivals is a great time to jump back in.