Capcom has done it again.
A few years ago, Capcom seemed to flip a switch and got back to basics with its games, no longer trying so hard to fit the Western style and instead doing what it does best. This year's Resident Evil 2 was a bonafide Game of the Year contender as a result.
And luckily for fans of the series and newcomers alike, Devil May Cry 5 sits right next to RE2 on that list.
It hasn't always been great for Devil May Cry, a series with wild upswings and moments in the cellar. But the stylistic action that inspired games like God of War—in addition to the snappy one-liner humor while slaying demons—returns here for what might be the best release in the series.
Stuck in what looked to be a brutal launch window, DMC5 bullies its way to the top of the short list of recent releases.
Graphics and Gameplay
Expectations about DMC5's graphical prowess likely varied dramatically on a player-to-player basis.
So we'll keep it simple: the game is gorgeous.
The recreated London is stunning, even while terrorized by tree roots and decaying humans. It isn't the most colorful, but the blend of realism and shadowing throughout lend to an immersive experience.
Characters match the surroundings in all regards, and even hair looks realistic as the action unfolds. Games with action flying all over the place, often in contained spaces, sometimes suffer from a serious overdose of motion blur, but that isn't the case here.
Impressively, the game doesn't skip a beat despite looking like one of the best visual offerings out there. It isn't uncommon to dash over cobblestones with splotches of reflective water, slam through a bit of destructible environment and then get vertical for a fight five stories in the air.
Put in simpler terms, the stunning graphics march side by side with the fun combat.
While the latter isn't too surprising in a Devil May Cry game, here it's more about how fresh the experience manages to feel at every turn while also leaning heavily into the innovation department.
As always, a mix of long- and close-range attacks while the game grades the player makes for a fun time. It's a highly customizable experience, too, both thanks to the quirks of each character and the in-depth unlock system.
Dante won't surprise series fans too much. He's got the large Rebellion for close attacks and Balrog, which allows for hand-to-hand combat. Pistols and shotguns are there for range, creating a feel similar to the third game in the series in which players could choose styles such as gunslinger.
Nero has his Blue Rose revolver and Red Queen sword, but the real story is his Devil Breakers that attach in place of his missing arm. The limited skill uses from these vary wildly and allow for an intense level of customization, letting a player get down to business how he or she so chooses. Some modify movement for wicked in-air tricks and sprints, while others simply dole out area-of-effect damage.
And then there is V, who is completely different and the highlight of the game from a gameplay perspective. He stands back from the chaos and controls three demons: Griffon, Shadow and Nightmare.
Griffon, a raven, rips off wisecracks while firing off long-range attacks. Shadow is a panther who dives into the fray with melee attacks. V teleports in when an enemy is about to die and performs the execution. The third demon, Nightmare, is a towering brute only summonable in certain instances, and his arrivals—slamming through walls, dropping in from above—are both Hulkish and some of the game's best moments. He can single-handedly change the outcome of a fight.
V is such a jarring change from the other two characters it is impressive Capcom was willing to take the risk. Yet it works well, as sitting back and acting as a field commander of sorts while slyly avoiding damage isn't nearly as hectic as it sounds. One could argue he's the most enjoyable character to take into battle and a bit of innovation every game in the genre could use.
Overall, DMC5 is rewarding like a fighting game. The combos are reminiscent of those, too. Mastery isn't simple, but a rudimentary understanding at best still allows for an enjoyable time. Bosses are not only unique and impressive in scale, but they stress a solid understanding of recently revealed mechanics to overcome, which is a welcome touch.
For those concerned, pacing would normally be an issue in a game like this. But just when it would seem a player might get bored with one character, DMC5 yanks the rug out, inserting another one in a different type of environment that keeps things going.
Gameplay flow, though, is ruined at times by taking control away from the player to show the next path they need to take, or by stopping to give an overview of the entire location. These can also be skipped by the player with the press of a button, so it's a minor complaint and one that gets cleared up later in the game as players no longer need explanations about every item they come across.
Story and More
As usual for the series, the story in DMC5 is silly, and those who don't know the backstory won't feel too left out.
Unlike the convoluted mess that was Kingdom Hearts 3, Capcom does offer a "story so far" feature for those who want to catch up on Dante and Nero's adventures.
But to keep it simple, Red Grave City is besieged by a giant tree that has roots that feast on the blood of humans. Right out of the gate, Dante gets whipped by the demon controlling the tree from his throne. Nero and his mysteriously missing arm set out with V to chip away at the enemy while getting strong.
Simple, right? The game will come off corny at times to some, which is fine. Nero's lines, especially, sometimes produce more of a cringe than a laugh. But by and large, unless someone really doesn't know what they are getting themselves into, this is standard for the series.
One of the nice touches with DMC5 is the clear accessibility theme throughout. A linear game like this sits in a defined role and in past console generations had huge followings. Now, the games industry has turned in other directions, making a high barrier for entry a good way to fail.
Not here. Nico's workstation lets players preview any ability they want to purchase with their hard-earned red orbs or otherwise thanks to a function called Void Mode.
Out in the missions, players who don't want to invest in the time sink that is combat mastery can turn on an auto-assist mode that will complete even the most complicated combos for players. There's a negative impact on rewards at mission's end, but a little Forza-esque hand-holding in the form of assists is still a plus if it opens up the game to a much wider audience.
There is also a small multiplayer mode here, where players can see other randoms online in the distance fighting the same mission (one of these happens early on as the player can see another player fighting demons on the opposite side of a subway station).
After the mission, players can grade the player they saw. Sometimes, they can even team up with them in certain missions. It's an interesting feature, but it's quite limited.
Negatives are few and far between overall, though the game does suffer from a noticeable amount of load screens. These aren't meme-worthy disasters like Anthem by any means, but hopping from a menu into a load just to customize the characters is a bit weird.
There are also microtransactions within the game's customization screen that take players to their respective stores, permitting the purchase of red orbs. These orbs unlock everything, from weapons to combos and consumables.
Player agency in the form of spending real-world money on top of the game's asking price in a single player game is a touchy subject, but some skills are so expensive it might create an unnecessary sense of pressure on players.
It should maybe go without saying, but the Devil May Cry series has a solid speedrunning background.
Even the original released in 2001 had a dedicated community before the likes of YouTube because of the skill it took to master the systems. Not unlike a fighting game's community, even the third game in the series has regular runs and leaderboard battles.
DMC5 is no different in the speedrun-appeal department. What makes it more interesting than most is the deep level of customization available, not to mention a fresh face like V.
For those looking to engage in a run, the usual staples of those are here. Players can skip cutscenes. They can punch a button to have the game equip the best items at the store. There is an auto-assist feature, although it may be polarizing when it comes to runs. And when out in mission areas where doors aren't blocked off and require defeating an enemy to progress, players can simply run past enemies instead of engaging.
Diving a bit deeper, movement options like the double jump for Nero or the sprint (really a surf) for V will be critical to getting through levels as fast as possible. From a customization standpoint, speedrunners will also want to heavily invest in skill sets they know best. Whether that's using weaponry or being right in the thick of things will vary by runner, as will memorization of missions, etc.
The memorization topic, while predictable, is especially important, in addition to understanding boss patterns. Also, eventually mastering the inevitable level skips featured in previous installments will coincide with mastering the combo system to produce the best runs. In the past, some of the best runs in the recent games took less than two hours, and DMC5 shouldn't be any exception—in time.
Like RE2, it is refreshing to see a game go back to its roots—no shoehorned in RPG elements, no forced open world. This is Devil May Cry as fans know it, a linear brawler that improves on the best elements of the series and innovates in the right ways.
Slightly edgy and corny at times, DMC5 isn't winning awards for its story. But nobody is fooled—that's not why players will pick up the game. Those who come for a unique experience accessible to all with a rewarding climb up a big tree of difficulty settings and unlockables will get just that.
A return to form for the series, it's hard not to wonder where Dante, Nero and the rest will go next. Until then, a highly replayable and fun experience will persist, with Capcom once again proving trend chasing isn't always the way to go.