Devil May Cry has been absent for five years or 11 years depending on who you ask. People unwilling to acknowledge the reboot have been without an entry for a bit over a decade, while those who did enjoy said reboot haven’t received a follow-up either. Devil May Cry 5 is essentially trying to be “Devil May Cry 4 2,” as it wants to only live in a world where Dante has a head of white hair and never went through a My Chemical Romance phase. Hearkening back to the early years of the series gives it a solid base but aggressively forsaking DmC may have stunted the game from progressing as much as it should.
The series wouldn’t be where it is today if that base wasn’t solid. Combat evenly balances swordplay and ranged attacks and is held up by the smooth controls that give you the precision you need at the high frame rate it deserves. If you’ve played Devil May Cry 3 or 4, it yields a similar sense of utter control but with a better camera that you don’t have to fight with. Mostly fixed camera angles are gone in favor of a modern, standard camera mapped on the right stick that the core installments have never seen.
Its camera is one of the few objective improvements that make the game feel new as most of it is a blast from the past. Dante and Nero have returned and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Devil May Cry 4. Dante’s four styles are still mapped to the D-pad and can be freely switched between in an instant. Each member of the quartet has a specific function and exponentially raises the skill ceiling without punishing those who just want to focus on one at a time.
However, all of your old Dante combos will work without much calibration. The red-coated smartass controls almost identically and has the same moveset, making it easy to slip into old patterns and juggles you’ve been practicing for a decade. It’s a double-edged Rebellion because for as satisfying as it is to use these smooth moves during adrenaline-soaked combat encounters, it’s a little disappointing of how similar it actually is.
And while there is enough to mine in the borrowed core moveset, it doesn’t fundamentally change how the game plays in an original or interesting way. Dante does get some new weapons later in the game so, hopefully, those can expand on his mechanics and give him the fresh coat of paint he’s entitled to.
Devil May Cry 5 preview | Nero, the returning hero
Nero falls into a similar boat but with some caveats. A handful of extra abilities sit alongside his returning combo set and ensure that he’s not a carbon copy of his past self, despite still being mostly the same. Juggles routinely carry over and give him a generally same tempo and feel, despite the few new abilities that give you a bit more flexibility.
The biggest changes come through his demon arm that has been replaced with a robot arm. These mechanized appendages do more than just grab and throw and have unique attributes. For example, one arm lets you grab enemies from farther away and attacks in a large area around you. And by charging it, it unleashes a mega grab ability that swings one enemy around to hit everyone around it. Another acts as an upward attack dash that morphs into a huge laser when fully charged. Nico, your (literal) arms dealer, will reward you with another arm or two every level or so, which kept up the game’s momentum from level to level.
An array of different arms is a smart way to change how Nero plays but it’s oddly limited in a way that will likely make many players hesitant to use them. Arms are disposable and break when you take damage while using them, use their charged ability, or manually detonate them to push enemies away from you. The very nature of them being a limited resource makes the arms easy to horde and never use.
Some are scattered around the levels but you’ll mainly be buying them with the same currency you use for nabbing skills and upgrades. So instead of purchasing something you’ll have forever, you can burn it on this arm that you could lose in one combo on some dinky grunt.
While it’s possible that the rest of the game showers enough arms on you and alleviates this issue, it’s weirdly limiting for Devil May Cry 5’s best new feature. It makes more sense to have arm loadouts that players could use and cooldowns would replace them breaking. This approach would make them feel like special items but ones that the player could use frequently without being overly punished. It’s possible that making arms more scarce makes sense within the full game, but it seems more possible now that it’ll just hamstring its most inventive new feature.
Devil May Cry 5 preview | The very vexing V
Dante and Nero at least have a solid base to work from but V, the only new character, has no such foundation and is the wild card. V never attacks his opponents himself but summons a panther for melee attacks and annoying bird for ranged ones. They both attack while V avoids damage and once each foe has been weakened, V must teleport in for the kill before they regenerate. Ensuring that both animals don’t take too much damage while also making sure the enemies are rightfully executed is a unique approach for crowd control that makes it stand out from the series at large.
Commanding a legion of ethereal demonic animals to do your bidding is entirely unlike anything in the series thus far, which makes it harder to see how it will all play out. Initially, it lacks the tactile feedback since you aren’t hitting anything yourself. There’s a disconnect between doing the hitting and telling someone else to and this entire genre is predicated on the pure feeling of clubbing someone else. Taking that out robs V of one of the joys inherent to the genre. And indiscriminately mashing both attack buttons yielded more S ranks than it should have, showing how alarmingly easy it could be.
But there is some ray of hope. It’s possible that these handful of early levels were there to be easy to get players into the groove of controlling someone so bizarrely different the rest of the cast. Devil May Cry has always had a great set of difficulty levels that test players of any skill level and it’s possible that pumping it up a notch forces more careful play. Knowing how to effectively command your forces appears to have depth that its early stages didn’t quite tap into. However, the Devil May Cry team has shown its skill in making slick characters so V may need the more levels to reach his full potential that is probably there.
Despite how different V is, the game as a whole is still seemingly falling into the trap of not taking much of DmC’s advancements into consideration. Dodging is dependent on the lock on as opposed to a simple single button press, the ranged grab is limited in both function and range, the story still seems like bad anime with some cool set pieces, and the environments are as boring as ever. But it’s a return to form that looks to have the strengths of its earlier entries like as well as some of the same warts. Devil May Cry 5 appears to be an overcorrection and that’s a bit disappointing. But when it’s overcorrecting to incredibly smooth combat with some sublime boss fights, it’s hard to stay that disappointed.