Rock Band 4's release last year was just the beginning. Its tour during the past 12 months has brought with it an admirable number of new ways to play, from new songs to modes. Iteration is the theme this generation, with post-launch support receiving incredible investment from Harmonix. New features like Brutal Mode allow you to participate in the musical experience in a new way, while new songs have broadened the breadth of gameplay variety.
This month's debut of Rock Band Rivals is certain to not be the last time we see the game grow and improve, but it is certainly a package that bears impactful significance.
Rock Band Rivals is an expansion focused on features. This means new formatting around how performances are consumed and perceived. It doesn't expand upon the large list of available songs, and you don't have to adjust how you play since the gameplay is unchanged. Thankfully, these are two areas where the core game already excels. Harmonix made the big decision to focus on adding new modes, and that is likely to be perceived as a great decision.
Rockudrama will be the highlight of the expansion for most players. This is an all-new mode that wraps the song-to-song gameplay loop in a new package. This package delivers short videos as well as narration between performances, providing a sense of context to your Rock Band existence that previously was missing. It's a story mode of sorts, making you part of a dramatic narrative arch that progresses from humble beginnings to stardom.
Rockudrama does a great job of making you feel like what you do on stage bears significance, even if you'll notice over time that there aren't a great number of outcomes. Its narrative pieces are usually funny in a silly way, existing as a passive form of reward for completing performances. It's cheesy at times, with moderate production values, but does a great job of instilling a sense of progression that isn't just based on numbers and leaderboards.
Speaking of leaderboards, Rivals is a new mode that makes Rock Band 4 feel more competitive and connected. Asked to create a crew of yourself and nine other members, your goal is to out-rock other player-made crews. This creates a sense of community, comaradarie, and rivalry that relinquishes the game of any introversion due to how it's implemented across all the game modes, including Rockudrama. You will never feel alone on stage ever again.
The presentation of Rivals is very attractive, laying out how well you stack up to other players, using tiers, per-instrument data, and more to evaluate you. It's also dynamic with weekly challenges that would like nothing more than to bring you back as often as possible. This is particularly successful in getting groups of friends to come together and fight for the highest scores possible, making a name of themselves online in the process. It's worth noting that with synchronous multiplayer support, your friends don't necessarily have to use gas to enjoy the social side of the game with you.
Rivals will most resonate with players who addicted to combos and scores. Although this might come across as a negative for softcore players, the way it's implemented is compelling enough to instill drive in many softcore artists. Meanwhile, the hardcore will have more reason than ever before to improve their timing and work up a sweat.
How much you will get out of Rock Band Rivals largely depends on your attraction to the Rivals mode. Rockudrama will entertain you for a few hours, and its rewards don't penetrate beyond its borders. The leaderboard style of Rivals is what will be responsible for you coming back, supported by the promise of continued updates.
Rock Band Rivals has once again iterated in a way that makes it unquestionably the most attractive rhythm game so far this generation. It doesn't include the new songs or fundamental changes that fans might expect from such a package, and instead relies on the combination of its offerings and recent updates to satisfy players. Musical enthusiasts who wouldn't turn down a good reason to invest another few dozen hours into Rock Band 4 are in for something that will keep them coming back for the weeks if not months to come.