Devil May Cry 5 is an entertaining romp through the underworld, made even more exciting by its three mechanically different protagonists.
We've come a long way from the blood-soaked, gore-laden titles that populated the action game genre a few decades ago. While modern iterations still contain enough gratuitous violence to make explaining them to co-workers or family members a little difficult, players are just as likely to inhabit the body of a gun-toting witch as they are a hulking, faceless soldier. Style has been the name of the game for some time now, and the Devil May Cry series has rarely found itself short on that particular quality.
Devil May Cry 5, like its predecessor, stakes its reputation on the execution of style. The game presents players with three protagonists: the grizzled, nihilistic demon hunter Dante; the brash, youthful Nero; and the brooding, mysterious V. Each character leans hard into some of the stereotypes one might expect from a game about hunting down denizens of the underworld, but they look good doing it. Devil May Cry 5 isn't greater than the sum of its parts, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when the parts are mostly heavenly.
Devil May Cry 5's combat will, at times, feel like it's doing something different than its contemporaries. It's a hard feeling to pin down, but it likely has something to do with the fluidity of battles as they begin to descend into chaos. Despite the game having extremely good one-on-one skirmish sections, it's when enemies begin to swarm the player that executing complicated, environment-spanning combos allows you to really shine. Chaining together ground, aerial, and transition attacks is not just satisfying when it's competently done – it also looks beautiful. Each character moves with their own kind of grace, and the result is some of the most watchable instances of fighting trash mobs that any game in recent memory has rendered.
Battling with each demon hunter is a different experience too, so it's worth discussing them each separately. For better or worse, Nero is the character players will end up spending the most time with over the course of Devil May Cry 5, despite having a rather simplistic skillset compared to his contemporaries. Nero's Devil Breaker is the most interesting element of his design, and definitely the most rewarding part of his kit. Customizing how Nero's mechanical arm behaves opens up a lot of possibilities in combat over the course of the game, including abilities that manipulate time. Even as the least exciting protagonist, Nero remains fun to play. Additionally, if anyone has difficulty with some of his nuances then the game has an auto-combo system that assists player inputs to chain together appropriate - and visually stunning - attack patterns.
The next hero players will get a chance to spend time with is V, a mysterious man who quotes William Blake and summons familiars to fight for him. There's Griffon, a raven familiar who uses electrical attacks and swooping dives; Shadow, a panther-like familiar who holds the ground and helps dispatch enemies quickly; and Nightmare, a powerhouse mass of demonic energy only available once V has saved up and then expended Devil Trigger charge. As you can tell, V's playstyle is wildly different to any that have been seen in Devil May Cry, and it’s also why he’s so engaging.
Unlike Nero, V is fairly frail in combat. For the most part, he needs to stay away from the thick of the fighting to be the most effective. This mechanic is made more complicated by the fact he also must deal the finishing blow to any enemies that his familiars fight. There’s a palpable tension between the nexus of V’s abilities: balancing letting these battles play out against the spacing of the character among enemies and allies, and the micro-management of at least two familiars makes V's segments some of the most challenging (and rewarding). Unfortunately, it feels like we just don't get enough of V; he’s a character who absolutely deserves his own game if Capcom wants to capitalize on all the unique design decisions that went into his creation.
Naturally, Devil May Cry 5 also offers players the iconic Dante as a hero. Dante has by far the widest range of weapons and abilities, but he's also the character who gets introduced last. Many of his weapons unlock relatively late into the course of the game’s missions, with the most egregious of these slow appearances being nunchucks that spit elemental damage at enemies. Dante's combat arsenal is a delight, but it feels like players only get to enjoy the fruits of the design team’s labor sparingly during the main campaign, whether it's because the narrative shifts back to one of the other demon hunters or because Dante unlocks another cool toy to experiment with.
That rapid pace at which you unlock bigger and better things to do is really what holds Devil May Cry 5 back. The game continuously introduces new weapons and mechanics as each protagonist advances through the story, but the story in itself is pretty short. The narrative progresses at a quick clip that matches each character's nonchalance in the face of mortal danger, but as a result, weapons, abilities, and cool combos get left in the dust as newer ones get introduced. There is no clearer illustration of this than how Nero unlocks an incredibly fun power in the final mission of the game. Luckily, players can replay their missions or start over and maintain what they've learned. There's also going to be a Bloody Palace mode post-launch for fans to test themselves using these abilities, but it otherwise seems like a Goliath-sized waste to introduce flashy new abilities at what will still be the end of the road for many players.
While the game's interplay between stylized combatants and a world trying to kill them is the blood running through its veins, the beating heart of Devil May Cry 5 is the story shared between its heroes. Make no mistake: this is a Devil May Cry game, which means those diving in shouldn't expect anything close to the Dante's Inferno source material that inspired the franchise many years ago. There's still crass humor, and a reluctance to let characters actually feel much of anything, especially when it comes to Dante and Nero. Even still,the series takes some valuable steps forward. V is a vulnerable character who is shown to have made peace with his weaknesses, and Nero actually learns a few things on his way to being a more likeable protagonist in his latest character arc.
Unfortunately, not all of the game’s characters benefit from the same sensitive treatment. Dante gets left behind in this progress by comparison even if there’s a decent narrative reason for it that fans will have to play through the campaign in its entirety to find it. The supporting cast, especially Trish and Lady, seem perfect for DLC adventures should Capcom choose to expand the Devil May Cry 5 universe but they’re not much more than plot devices during the main campaign which is a shame. These are characters fans have come to love over the years, and it would have been nice for them to get a bit more of the spotlight. It's two swaggering steps forward and one stiff step back, then, but it's still an evolution.
That's an endearing trait of Devil May Cry 5 - it's a slow progression toward the future of the series, and this forward momentum is at its most noticeable in this entry. Things are changing. Capcom played it safe with many game elements, especially the level design, which feels right at home in a generic action game from fifteen years ago and clashes unproductively with the charismatic cast. Despite that, the combat has been refined and smoothed to a fine point not unlike the tip of the Yamato, ready to slice open a gateway into the next iteration of the series.
The most encouraging factor is the presence of V, a character who fights entirely unlike Nero or Dante. That Capcom’s boldest decision pays off in the form of Devil May Cry 5’s most memorable character should mean more risk-taking in the future, something the series sorely needs.
That Capcom was able to make this game so compelling and fun despite taking on a select few design risks is a welcome sign that Devil May Cry 5 might be the progenitor of a more varied kind of hell. Devil May Cry 5 is an over-the-top, chainsaw-motorcycle-wielding hellfire blast that catapults the series back into form, and it's one that leaves us craving more by the time the last demon falls.
Devil May Cry 5 is available on March 8, 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.