I’ve had a weekend with Rocksmith 2014 now; and my initial take is that it’s subtly better than its predecessor in a few interesting ways.

I spent most of my time in the original game going through the Events that it gives you: a collection of songs each of which has a target score, so you first have to reach the scores (or fail enough that the game takes pity on you) on the individual songs, and then play through them all at once. (And then be surprised with a song in Master mode, at which point I generally flailed.) It seemed from the previews that Events weren’t there in the sequel, which I was a little worried about; it turns out, though, that most of the components of that mode are there, they’re just rethought and recombined in ways that work better.


If you’re in the mood to have the game give you a song to work on, that’s there: you can sort the songs in ‘Recommended’ order and pick the one on the top of the list. This gives you the external recommendation benefits of the first games’ Events, without tying it to a score: that both removes the frustration of not succeeding at reaching that score on a song you don’t enjoy and the subtle nudge of saying you can move on once you’ve reached that score. The game still gives you quiet recommendations about goals to work on (in a range of areas: sometimes it’s a percent correct, sometimes it suggests that you try a section in Riff Repeater mode, etc.), but there are multiple recommendations involving distinct ways in which to work, and it’s much easier to take them or leave those goal recommendations.

What this means in practice is that, over the weekend, I often ended up spending more time on individual songs: I’ll play through it as long as I feel like I’m in the mood to learn from it. I’m still learning the basics of the new songs in the game, so I’m not focusing on individual sections much yet; I hope that I’ll spend more time on sections as I learn the songs better. Of course, the original game was also hampered in that regard by a bug that would cause the game to occasionally lock up when you repeat a song; that had me popping out to the main menu by default, at which point I’d lose easy access to that song once I met the score goal.

On that topic, one thing that it took me a little while to notice: the scores are actually completely absent in Rocksmith 2014. Or at least almost completely absent: there’s a percentage that I believe/hope is a straightforward reporting of what percentage of the notes in the full version of the song you hit. (The score that the original game gave you, while normalized to some extent, was a lot more variable.) And you only see that percentage at the end of your playthrough: there’s no non-musical goal distracting you during your play, and there certainly aren’t numerical bonuses printed out when you get a long sustain or something. Rocksmith already had a big advantage over Rock Band 3 in this regard; it’s nice to see the game go further away from the genre’s arcade button pressing extrinsic motivator history and deeper into a focus on learning. (Though, if you really like scores, there is a “Score Attack” mode, but it’s located where it belongs: in the arcade games, not in the main learning tool.)

The other nice thing about Events in the original game was just playing a bunch of songs. And Rocksmith 2014 has that, too: if you just want to play guitar for a while, there’s a “Nonstop Play” mode. You tell the game how long you want to play, and it will throw songs at you until you reach the time limit. (And it will let you continue past that, if you want!) Also, while the game will do the choosing, it’s easy enough to skip a given song if you’re not in the mood: I did that a few times over the weekend when I didn’t feel like changing the guitar’s tuning for a specific song. Great for just relaxing and enjoying music.


So those are the replacements for Events: more of a focus on learning and on music, less of a focus on scores. And this change in focus seems to be showing up in other places, too. I suspect that Riff Repeater mode is going to be noticeably (though probably not dramatically) more helpful, and the game has expanded the range of techniques that it teaches you. My favorite of those new techniques, actually, is one of the simpler ones, namely vibrato. I believe (I haven’t verified this) that the game doesn’t try to judge whether you’re actually doing vibrato (vibrating?) when it tells you, but that doesn’t matter: I really appreciate having both a nudge that it’s something that I should work on and suggestions for when to apply it. With that, my ears can do the rest; I’ll experiment with my technique, with using more or less vibrato, and I’ll see what I like listening to and what feels right with my hands. And quite possibly I’ll end up using vibrato in a different set of scenarios than the game suggests. But I probably wouldn’t be doing it at all without a nudge from the game; yay for the suggestion.

There’s also a Session Mode for when you just want to experiment musically: you can improvise, and it apparently gives you a virtual band to play with that react to what you’re doing. I haven’t tried it at all, so I have no idea how well that works, but if it works at all, it would be pretty cool; and it would be useful to me, given that my nature has me sticking too closely to music as written instead of just messing around. (And given that I’m unlikely to make time regularly to play with friends.)

The game also supports a wider range of tunings: the tuning screen probably has a dozen options to choose from. I don’t know which of those are yet represented by songs in the game, so that may just be there as option value for DLC (can we have The Only Exception, please?) or for support when playing on your own, but I have noticed one thing: there are multiple songs on the disc that are in “standard” tunings but with the E noticeably off. (E.g. You Really Got Me.) Which, on the one hand, is a little frustrating, since it means you have to retune the whole guitar; but, without that, that song wouldn’t be available at all! So yeah, certainly the capability to support more tunings, including more values of A is good; and, while I’m not excited about retuning my guitar a lot, I like You Really Got Me enough that, on the balance, I’m glad it’s there.

There’s apparently a new version of Master Mode; I haven’t run into that yet. I’m optimistic that it will be significantly better than the original Master Mode, and the simple fact of not having it as a gating factor for Event encores will certainly be an improvement, but we’ll see how it works in practice beyond that.


Not much to complain about so far, but there are a few things. The main one is that the game has hung on me twice so far; the original game did that way too much, I’m not at all thrilled to see that still present. (And these hangs are hanging the whole system, not just the game; which seems like an OS flaw to me, but still.) Navigating songs is much much easier but still not quite easy enough: e.g. there’s no way to jump to a specific letter, and with two discs of songs plus a lot of DLC, I have more than enough music that that would be welcome.

And then there’s tuning. It’s nice to only have to tune once, and it’s nice that the tuning is more precise. But there’s something weird going on where I’m either find it hard to get in tune according to the game or where my guitar sounds off after I’ve tuned it. Honestly, though, it seems unlikely that that’s the game’s fault, so I assume it’s something with my guitar; I never got it set up properly, the G string has always sounded off to me, and the current set of strings have been on there for a while. So I think it’s time to finally get the guitar set up; we’ll see if a professional set of ears notices anything, and I expect the guitar will be subtly better after that. This means that I’ll be guitarless for at least parts of one weekend, but we’ll be out of the house some on upcoming weekends, so now is as good a time as any.

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