Devil May Cry 5 Review

By Kevin Tavore, 20 days ago
My first memories of Devil May Cry are as a kid on Halloween night in what must have been 2001. After filling my bag to the brim with candy, my group walked the neighborhood until a friend invited us to his home to show us a cool new game he was playing. I wasn’t too interested in watching someone else play a game so I made do with conversation, but as I glanced at the screen I quickly became enveloped in what was on display. Dante was a badass, the action was cool and the music was thunderous. To this day, that’s still what Devil May Cry is about and Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t shy away from those roots.

E3

The recurring theme of Devil May Cry 5 is that you are always awesome. It’s a design philosophy that seeps into every aspect of the game from its story to the combat and it’s obvious that the developers took the time and care to ensure that each element took this core value to heart. It’s rare that a game can dedicate itself to a single ambition with such excellence, so Devil May Cry 5’s success in that goal should not be overlooked as I discuss the game’s merits. It is the core reason Devil May Cry 5 is so perfectly able to encapsulate what makes an action game tick.

Devil May Cry 5 is the first game in fifteen years to actually move the series’ story forward and it does so with careful reverence to what’s come before. Almost every major hero from the previous games make an appearance in some form and they carry a story that’s interesting for fans of the series, though so ridiculous that some people could be turned off of it. The game takes the modern approach to storytelling in that it’s decked out in gluttonous visuals and a sort of faux elegance, and in many ways the quality of the storytelling itself really doesn’t deserve that level of luxury. But it’s valuable in that it allows the action set pieces to shine bright right from the beginning when Dante and Nero fight a demon king all the way to a series of climactic battles near the end. It may not always be successful or necessary considering the content of the story, but the self-indulgent visual excess certainly has its positives in terms of making awesome scenes that much better.

Moving the story along are the three main heroes: Dante, Nero and a newcomer, V. These characters are not remotely believable, but they do exhibit a certain level of charisma and their personalities are adjusted just right so that their actions are sensible in the context of the story even if the motivations seem warped and ill-conceived. The side characters are a bit worse, with only Nero’s friend Nico being given a personality at all while Trish and Lady show up seemingly only as fan service with little to nothing of substance to offer. Ultimately, the story is totally forgettable and that’s not ideal, but it’s at least understandable as Devil May Cry 5 isn’t about the story — it’s about the action and the trio at its heart certainly serve as exemplars of action combat thanks to their own unique designs.

E3

Nero’s introduction to the series came in Devil May Cry 4, and he’s been redeveloped here to focus on his own strengths and his new prosthetic arm. Devil May Cry’s combat began before traditional 3D action games were clearly settled by games like Ninja Gaiden, and so the series has always focused on context-sensitive, single-button combos. That makes the play slightly difficult to learn at first, but once you do it begins to flow smoothly. Nero’s unique mechanic is his arm, which is essentially a weapon that can be used and broken in combat and then hot-swapped to something new in real time. Each arm does something a bit different and once you switch to a new one, the old one is destroyed, so skilled players will need to rely on strategy to know when to switch to maximize the abilities they have in their arsenal. Nero is fun, fast and brilliantly designed to feel unique despite similarities to Dante. Most importantly, Nero simply feels awesome to use as you flowing around the battlefield causing elemental explosions while cleaving enemies with your sword and blasting others with your gun.

Dante is the traditional bread and butter. He’s got an arsenal of weapons from pistols to a shotgun to rocket launchers to swords to pieces of a motorcycle that he swings around like nothing’s strange about that at all. Dante also uses context-sensitive combos, and like Nero these work brilliantly once you get used to them. Dante also features added complexity thanks to four stances he can swap between at will to get additional abilities depending on the needs of combat. A master Dante player will be able to switch between weapons and stances seamlessly to maximize the style meter, and once it clicks, it’s a blast.

Devil May Cry 5 Gamescom screenshot

The new hero, V, is simultaneously the freshest and weakest character. In a radical shift, V eschews swords and guns for shadow animals that he can command on the battlefield. In theory, you’ll be making context-sensitive combos with your shadow panther while having your bird shoot energy and maybe riding on the back of a big behemoth. In fact, the best strategy seems to be to stand away from your enemies and button mash til your hands hurt — a strategy, I’ll note, that doesn’t work for the other characters very well. To make matters worse, it’s sometimes hard to control the shadow animals and I often found they would attack the wrong enemy or, worse yet, attack nothing in favor of jumping up in the air and spinning for no damage at all. V’s an interesting concept, but fundamentally a failure and I found myself choosing the other characters any time I was given an option.

The enemy design is a massive success. There are a solid dozen different “normal” enemies you’ll face off against throughout your journey and each one has its own distinct look and moveset. This means you’ll always be able to identify what you’re fighting and prepare accordingly, which allows the game to minimize feelings of unfairness and maximize the thrill of using your own skill to take them all down. The bosses are even better, with very few duds and mostly excellent design that makes them very challenging and rewarding to kill. The final boss fight is especially fun, with the finale going well out of its way to make you feel like an unstoppable badass when all is said and done.

Devil May Cry 5 Gamescom screenshot

The side content is the only place Devil May Cry 5 is truly lacking. The series has primarily relied on secret missions and the Bloody Palace in the past to pad out the extra content. In Devil May Cry 5, only the secret missions make it. These missions are scattered throughout the world and will increase your lift total if you can manage to find them and complete them. I looked and didn’t find them all, but the ones I found were fun and varied and I was happy to try them over and over again until I beat them. Unfortunately, the Bloody Palace mode is not yet in the game and that’s disappointing despite Capcom’s assurances that it will come in the next few months. The intent is that you'll replay the story on higher difficulties, and fans of this game will definitely appreciate updated enemy spawns and carrying over all of their abilities, but that's not quite enough coming from previous games in the series.

On a technical level, the game looks beautiful and features some varied environments though I would have preferred to see more. An action game of this nature essentially demands 60fps and that was the target Capcom shot for. I don’t have a way to technically measure how often they hit that mark, but I can say the game always felt smooth and noticeable frame drops were very few and far between. Considering how flashy some of the combat can be, I’d call that a success.

Summary

Devil May Cry 5 is so successful because it is impeccably designed from top to bottom with one goal in mind: be awesome. It knocks that goal out of the park in nearly every element of the game. Nero and Dante each bring something unique to the combat while still maintaining the trademark feel of the series, with plenty of depth to ensure they feel awesome to play. The enemies follow suit, ensuring every battle has plenty of challenge, and the boss battles are almost all excellent. The story is backed up by flashy set pieces that are fun to watch, though I’ll admit the story itself is not particularly good in any way. The only major negatives are that the new character V seems unbalanced and doesn’t control well and that the Bloody Palace mode has been left off the feature list. Devil May Cry 5 is excellent and you won’t be disappointed.
4.5 / 5
Devil May Cry 5
Positives
  • Nero and Dante both feel fantastic to play
  • Enemy design makes every battle a joy to play
  • Boss fights are challenging and fun
  • Cinematic set pieces are flashy and enjoyable
Negatives
  • V isn’t well-designed and feels awkward to use
  • Story is excessively dumb
  • No Bloody Palace at launch
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 12 hours playing through the game on Devil Hunter difficulty plus a few levels of Son of Sparda difficulty, annihilating bosses and searching out secrets. Because the achievements were not live at the time of writing, an unknown number of achievements were unlocked along the way. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.