Rocksmith has been around since 2011, beginning as an alternative to the five button rhythm guitar craze, set apart by the fact that it lets players use their own real six strings as the controller, turning the act of actually playing a guitar into a rhythm game. Over the years, it’s more been touted for its success as a guitar learning tool than an actual competitor to other rhythm games, and that’s really what Rocksmith+ leans into. Rocksmith+ is a subscription service that costs either $14.99 per month, $39.99 for three months, and $99.99 for a full year, and along with that cost comes a library of more than 5,000 songs, a comprehensive suite of lectures to teach you how to play guitar at just about every level, and a staggering amount of tools to help meet you at your level of guitar skill, and fine tune it from there.
And it all works! Having given it a test run for a few weeks, and coming in with just a handful of guitar lessons from back when I was a teenager and a few hours of messing around with previous Rocksmith iterations as my foundation, I certainly improved my knowledge of chords, increased my finger dexterity, and learned about proper guitar playing form.
I can’t speak for what Rocksmith+ will be worth to someone who already knows how to play guitar well, but for me, what really makes Rocksmith+ earn its subscription cost is its lesson plan. They’re broken up into four learning paths: Basics, intermediate lead guitar, intermediate rhythm guitar, and advanced, with each learning path packing a bunch of lessons that are punctuated with a practice track that puts your understanding of the lesson to the test. You’re challenged to get a score of 80% of notes hit at 100% speed in order to clear a lesson, which provided me with a nice game-like incentive and made me really practice until I truly got the technique down before I moved on to the next one.
My one minor disappointment here is that the lessons are completely separate from the song library. It would have been nice to find out what songs, or even what portions of songs I could play with the chords I was learning. Despite going through a substantial portion of the Basics learning path, I felt directionless when it came to navigating Rocksmith+’s massive library of songs and trying to find something that I could comfortably play without feeling lost in a sea of unfamiliar chords and techniques that hadn’t been taught to me yet.
Fortunately, Rocksmith+’s adaptive difficulty actually works quite well. Whenever you pick a song, you’re given a recommended difficulty target that sets the note chart at what the game feels your skill level is currently at. If you play well, it’ll start adding in some extra notes, maybe turn some single notes into chords, or maybe throw in some slides. Like the lessons, it does a great job of gamifying the process of learning songs, as I kept replaying specific ones to try and raise the difficulty and up my mastery percentage. You are rewarded for doing all of this with customizable guitar necks and fretboards, but honestly, the feeling of improving is enough of a reward on its own.
Strangely enough, the weakest area of Rocksmith+ has been its song selection of more than 5,000 songs. Despite that being just an insane number of songs to have in a single game, I struggled to find songs that fit even my own basic taste in rock music. Sure, this is a subjective criticism, but if you were to do a google search for the ten best rock bands of all time, chances are most, if not all of them, would be completely missing from Rocksmith+’s song library. There’s no Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Queen, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Kiss, I could go on and on. It’s not just the classics either. Even more relatively modern and active rock bands like The Foo Fighters, Muse, The Killers, and Queens of the Stone Age are conspicuously absent. Not only that, but some of the bands that do have songs in the game are missing their biggest hits. It was an absolute shock to see that Deep Purple has eleven songs in the game, and none of them are Smoke on the Water.
Rocksmith+’s way of making up for this is by having an exceptionally wide variety of different genres, and to be fair, it’s an impressive spread. There’s everything from Reggae, to hip-hop, to blues, to Latin American music, to nursery rhymes, and heck, there’s even a handful of anime opening and ending songs, like Kesenai Tsumi from the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime. It’s cool to see hidden gems like that while browsing the song list, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that for a game that’s so laser-focused on teaching you how to play guitar, the actual number of all-time classic guitar songs for you to learn is, at least at the moment, extraordinarily small.
And therein lies the value question of Rocksmith+: As a way to teach you how to play guitar, it’s fantastic. The interface is wonderful, the lessons are straightforward and easy to understand, and there are great skill checks at every level to ensure that you’re understanding and are able to repeat what you’re being taught. But as a game that you boot up to play along with your favorite songs, it’s just not there yet. Of course, this is a look at a subscription service in its infancy, and surely more songs will be added over the course of its life cycle, with there even being a number of community creations already on the service.
As someone who’s looking to learn how to play guitar on basically the ground level, doesn’t have the schedule to allow for actual in-person lessons, and has already seen progress and improvement in just the few weeks I’ve been using Rocksmith+, I’m inclined to stick with it and see how the service evolves with time. But in order to keep my attention, Ubisoft is definitely going to have to beef up its song library with some heavy hitters in the rock world.
In any case, if you’ve got an electric guitar, a Real Tone cable to connect it to your platform of choice, you’ll be able to give it a spin for yourself as Rocksmith+ opens its doors beginning today on PC.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey