Game Design Talk: Rock Band 3 Career Mode

Since I wrote up my initial impressions of Rock Band 3, I’ve had the opportunity to play a few more sessions, including one family party where this and Just Dance 2 were big hits. Harmonix did an amazing job revamping the game on all levels, though I’m of two minds about one major change to the game.

My brother and I were big fans of the career mode in Rock Band 1 and 2. It was great playing as a duo, working our way from crummy venues to the biggest stages in the world, playing increasingly difficult songs while earning money for new clothes and gear. With the first game, we even dedicated an entire afternoon to beat the endless set-list.  I even liked the Lego Rock Band career mode for its whimsical story.

Based on the changes Harmonix made to career mode in Rock Band 3, I get the feeling we were in the minority of people that liked its old form. My gut says that most people never finish a Rock Band career (or any music game career) for one of three reasons:

1. Players get stuck on a challenge that they’ll never be good enough to beat.

2. Players are forced to play through a series of songs they don’t like.

3. Players lose interest long before the mode is complete.

With this in mind, Harmonix completely reworked career mode. In Rock Band 3, progression through the game isn’t explicitly tied to the career mode. You can progress through the Road Challenges, but you can also progress through the games goals system just by playing the game in Quick Play. This should be a God-send for most people who play these games. Instead of going through stretches where you get stuck, lose interest or get burned out, you’re rewarded for playing the game exactly how you want to play it. I’m certain that more people will complete the game thanks to this feature.

In order for this feature to work though, what remains of career mode is a shell of its former self. For starters, you don’t have to touch this mode at all to complete the game. Instead of the elaborate world tour format, you’re given Road Challenges, which are basically groups of set-lists strung together to feel like some sort of tour. It’s great that this mode has a lot more flexibility than its predecessors and it goes out of its way to minimize or remove any of the issues that came with the old career mode. However, Harmonix also removed a lot of the story bits and peripheral elements that made that mode feel like you were a band on tour. Instead, it feels like you’re just navigating menus and playing set-lists. Technically, you were doing just that in the first two games, but the weight of the career mode is almost completely lost now that it’s been restructured in this fashion.

For most Rock Band players, this career structure works a lot better. It’s better suited for how players actually play the game, myself included. I’m grateful that I don’t have to play the same song 8 times in career mode or be forced to play through the hardest songs in the game back-to-back on an instrument I suck with. It just sucks that Harmonix cut out a lot of the parts I liked about career mode in the process, too. The lack of structure, exposition and actual importance to the career mode almost makes it a moot point. Am I the only one who is iffy on these changes?

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