Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is easily the bloodiest action game that Omega Force has ever squeezed out. True to the often gruesome source material, the game doesn't skimp on the red stuff, soaking the screen as you forcefully cleave your way through hundreds of enemies. Indeed, if there's one thing that Band of the Hawk gets right, it's the brutality that's so key to Berserk's overall tone.
Band of the Hawk has an awful lot in common with 2016's Arslan: The Warriors of Legend. Both titles are based upon an existing manga and anime franchise, both adhere to the tried and tested Warriors formula, and both lack the depth of the developer's more refined releases, such as Samurai Warriors 4 and One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3. Both games also place an unmistakable emphasis on their featured story modes, with Berserk offering an especially lengthy retelling of the beloved dark fantasy tale.
Taking place over the course of 50 or so missions, the story mode is broken up between your typical Warriors battles, boss fights, and cutscenes. During the first half of the campaign, the cutscenes are taken directly from The Golden Age arc movies, and the storytelling is competent as a result. While the game does skip a few plot points here and there, it hits all of the main narrative beats; our only real complaint is that taking footage straight from the well-animated movies makes the in-game cutscenes look rather crappy by comparison.
As a result, the second half of the story falls a little flat thanks to the fact that it doesn't have any films to rely on for footage. Once The Golden Age arc is over and main character Guts becomes the Black Swordsman, the plot starts to flag, missing out important parts of the original narrative and rushing through specific events in order to glaze over certain characters and themes. It still gets the overall point across, but it's clear that the developer was forced to cut corners.
And sadly, this lack of quality is present in other areas of the release. A handful of stages are reused throughout the campaign, and filler missions which add nothing to the plot are shoehorned into proceedings. Remember the time Guts stopped an army of around 3000 thieves from ransacking Godo's cabin? Yeah, we don't either – but really, this is the kind of thing that we expect from a licensed Warriors game, and to be fair to Band of the Hawk, the gameplay template does at least meld well with the original work.
As hinted, there's certainly enjoyment to be had in smashing your way across battlefields teeming with opponents. There's a real heft to Guts' attacks, and watching his massive sword, the Dragonslayer, tear through swarms of foes – man or beast – is thoroughly satisfying. Fortunately, the same can be said of the other playable characters; Schierke's spells take time to conjure but hit enemies with a devastating crunch, and Serpico's magical blade feels suitably quick and deadly. The playable cast isn't all that expansive, but it boasts a good amount of diversity.
Annihilating hordes of clueless soldiers and murderous trolls is a lot of fun, then, but the game doesn't always stick to what it clearly does best. At various stages of the story, you'll be thrown into tedious boss fights. Big baddies tend to have huge health bars and fail to even flinch when hit with your strongest attacks, leading to some seriously poor encounters. The bottom line is that the combat mechanics just aren't built with precise one-on-one duels in mind; most movesets are based on broad attacks that cover wide areas, and although a lock-on system does help keep your adversary in view, some bosses are so big that the camera ends up getting lodged in the surrounding environment.
Shaky boss battles aren't a total deal-breaker; a few of the better ones do offer something a bit different and they can punctuate important aspects of the plot quite well, but they're easy to criticise when you're using the exact same combat system to gleefully mash thousands of enemies into a fine paste. There's no doubt whatsoever that Band of the Hawk is at its absolute best when you're wading through entrails, the fantastically over-the-top, squelchy sound effects only adding to the bombastic bloodshed.
Thankfully, despite its many similarities, Berserk outdoes the aforementioned Arslan when it comes to content. Outside of the story, free mode makes a return, allowing you to play any cleared stage with any unlocked character, alongside an original mode in the form of Endless Eclipse. An infinite gauntlet of missions that only comes to an end when you're killed or you decide to quit, Endless Eclipse can be an entertaining aside if you're keen to test your skills – but the hack and slash combat system as a whole doesn't really have enough depth to keep you glued to the action, particularly since later stages of the abyss see you go up against ridiculous odds where only cheap tactics will prevail.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk's fate is to be branded as yet another not-so-great initial effort from Omega Force. While the release does get a decent amount right – the story mode is nicely done in places and the fundamental combat mechanics are super satisfying – it stumbles on several fronts. Again, we're left with a Warriors game that's begging for a much improved sequel. Fans of Berserk will enjoy bathing in the blood for a good few hours, but it's hard to ignore the cracks at this sword's core.