A Hardcore Look at Rock Band 3
Instruments: Drums/Guitar/Keyboard/Pro Keyboard
The main differentiating feature of RB3 is how open all of the options in the game are. It adopts a system of career goals and road challenges not dissimilar to the ones seen in Guitar Hero 5 and Warriors of Rock. Career goals are potentially the largest draw to the hardcore crowd and range from simple things like “5* all songs on Expert Keys” to more involved goals such as “Play 5 songs from bands that have had Dave Grohl in them.” With goals and challenges it would be easy for them all to feel totally separated from one another. RB3 avoids that feeling of feature isolation by tracking career goals and song stats every time you play a song. What does this mean? It means that whether you're playing alone in quickplay, going through road challenges, or even playing with a full band you will always be making progress towards your career goals, gaining fans, and your song percentages, scores, and star count are always presented and saved to your system. If you want to focus on the goals entirely, you can enter the career itself and choose one that sounds fun at the time, but you don't have to pause career progress just because your friend wants to hop on Guitar for a song or two.
Which brings us to the major UI change, what Harmonix called the Overshell. At first glance it may sound like a relatively minor change to the system, but its effects are outreaching. The function of the overshell is to allow the user, at any time, to open a menu where he or she can toggle a number of things including what instrument they want to play, breakneck speed, drum fills, mic volumes, and just about everything else. RB3 has no traditional options or systems menu, it's all launched from the Overshell. This change gives the player a new ease of access to many of RB3's features. If your friend picks a really hard song, no-fail can be easily turned on as the song starts. Playing a fun song on drums with a lot of fills you want to play? It's just as easy to turn off drum fills for a song or two. It's a remarkable system that works relatively flawlessly. Its impact on the way the game is played is only second to the Pro instruments.
Harmonix has introduced a series of Pro Instruments for RB3: A 2-octave keyboard, a drumkit with 3 added cymbals, and a 17-fret button guitar. The purpose of all this? To give the user a closer connection to the music and give them something they can take away from the game and onto a real instrument. My experience with the keyboard peripheral follows that trend very well. There's a certain pride in learning a song and being able to take what a game taught you out to show other people. Sure, knowing how to play the lead to Rock Lobster isn't going to change my life in any way, but I appreciate the knowledge. There's also a set of 15-20 trainers per Pro instrument meant to guide players along as they learn new techniques and even a little bit of music theory. Pro instruments also bring a deeper level of solo-play to the Rock Band franchise. It has always been a huge party game but now with the ability to spend time learning an instrument, it has broadened its value in a more meaningful way than, perhaps, just making goals only achievable solo.
RB3 does a lot of things right, but the hardcore community may itch for more. Just about everything survived the jump from RB2 to RB3, but all forms of direct competition were removed. The hardcore community no longer has the ability to compare skill to one another in any direct or immediate way. This has been replaced by the ability to create battles and setlists that last over a period of time, but that's more of a new feature than a replacement to the old system. Also frustrating to many devote players is that practice mode is not as versatile as it once was. The 50% and 60% speeds and the ability to increase the scroll speed of the track through breakneck speed are all missing in RB3's practice. These may sound like minor nitpicks, but they are major issues facing the most active fans of the series.
Rock Band 3 offers more to its audience than any other rhythm game. It offers an elegant, simple interface for connecting to the music, and can even help spark a deeper interest in an instrument. It may not cater to the hardcore like a Warriors of Rock tries to, but it goes above and beyond what it aims to achieve. RB3 isn't just a game for gamers, it's a game for musicians.