Video Game Review: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk (PS4, 2017) is a bloody good time marred by repetitive design

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk bases its narrative on the popular and long-running manga series of the same name. It’s only natural that such a franchise would eventually be adopted into the gaming sphere. Further, Berserk‘s gory and action-oriented nature seem like they’d be the perfect ingredients for a Dynasty Warriors style beat ’em up, however there is definitely more style here than there is substance. That’s a shame, because there are sections of this title well worth playing, but the rest is plagued with repetition.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk follows the path of series protagonist Guts, and his rise from mercenary to battlefield legend through what is mostly known as “The Golden Age” story arc. While the game tackles different story arcs later on in its single player campaign, I was surprised by the narrative itself, presenting players with a much more streamlined version of the anime series. This not only attempts to satisfy fans of the series by including beautifully remastered footage pulled straight from the original anime, but also attempts to attract newcomers to the series (myself among them). I can say that in this department the game succeeds, making me feel somewhat invested in these characters, but also pushing forward at a steady pace, allowing you to grasp the direction of the narrative.

Outside the story itself however, cracks begin to appear, some much greater than others. The gameplay itself is pure hack-and-slash mayhem, similar to the aforementioned Dynasty Warriors series. Being acquainted with the Dynasty Warriors games, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk was easy to jump into and understand. Combat mechanics were easy to learn and utilise, but this also means the combat quickly stopped presenting itself as a challenge. Your attacks send large groups of enemies flying into the air, designed to make you feel like a deadly opponent for whom everyone around you is merely a practice exercise. While certainly fun to look at, it never really feels earned. Killing multiple soldiers in quick succession grants you the ability to trigger rage attacks, which wipe out everyone on screen, further reducing the challenge but providing a little breathing room. Even on the harder difficulties I struggled to find a challenge, tearing my enemies apart, rarely encountering defeat. Boss battles that are mixed in to the regular field of play definitely presented a bit more of a challenge, but would only take one or two attempts to whittle down. While abilities like dodging and blocking are available, they frequently went unused beyond the odd boss battle that discouraged mindless hacking and slashing, but these were too few and far between.

Over the course of its 46 (!!!) story mode missions, the game tries to shake things up from a gameplay perspective where it can. At a certain point you start unlocking the other characters that make up The Band of the Hawk and the devs do try to make them play differently enough to be distinct from one another — from Guts’ powerful, sweeping attacks to Griffith’s absurdly quick stabs and slashes. But these differences are, when you get down to it, a little sparse as the game only lets you play as characters other than Guts for a total of five missions throughout the story. Yes, you heard that right, FIVE missions out of a total of 46. Pair this with repetitive mission objectives (destroy, rescue or kill), all of which involve dashing and riding your warhorse to various points of a map taking out enemies of importance. While traversal itself gives you the opportunity to explore a bit and make your way to objectives at your own pace, it feels stiff, unnatural and at times inexplicably quick.  It’s a recipe that gets old fast, and I soon found myself playing through the game just to advance the narrative. The fact that I wasn’t looking forward to playing through the next mission but more to see the next anime cutscene isn’t what you want from a game based on a popular property. Things did not improve when playing in Free Mode which allows you to replay all the story missions with all available characters. Endless Eclipse is the third mode involving a round styled survival structure. This mode, too, falls victim to the repetitive nature of the combat. A major annoyance was the lack of cooperative play of any sort, a jarring realisation as Dynasty Warriors style games are perfect for this kind of gameplay and would help alleviate many of the game’s less interesting moments when flying solo.

There is a neat character customisation system to keep you company while hacking and slashing on your own though. Unlocking and equipping new items for your character give you an edge on your enemies you may not really need, increasing perks such as attack speed and rage finishers. I must admit it’s a nice feeling to equip a certain item and see its immediate effects in battle, breaking up the monotony of constant combat. However, once again the repetition of the combat itself means that while these perks amuse you with their initially fresh feel, they too get repetitive as you get used to how they feel in combat. While I understand that combat itself can a repetitive part of many games, to use the God of War series as an example, character upgrades and perks were not just used for combat purposes. New abilities could be used in puzzle solving situations and modified or used solely against certain enemies. In Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, the enemy types are mostly the same, decreasing the amount of time an ability feels fresh and new. Hitting the same object with three different weapons yields the same result. To combat this repetitive nature, missions are between 10-15 minutes long, so you won’t be stuck in the same mission for too long. This being the case, I would attack each mission as a bite sized play through, to keep the repetition from setting in.

Overall, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is not a terrible game. But there is also much better out there. Although it falters due to its repetitive gameplay mechanics and mission structure, there is a nifty progression system and a surprisingly engaging story, that is if you don’t get fed up of the mechanics before it’s all over.

Score: 6.0 out of 10
Highlights: Story, Progression System.
Lowlights: Repetitive combat and mission structure.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Microsoft PC

Reviewed on Playstation 4.