The Devil May Cry series began with Dante, a lone demon hunter. Today, he’s not so lonely; other playable characters have rotated in over the years, including Vergil, Nero, Trish, and Lady. Devil May Cry 5 expands the cast again with V, a mysterious man who uses demonic companions to fight. V offers a unique approach to DMC’s stylish battles compared to the slash-and-shoot mechanics of Dante and Nero, but his addition comes at a cost: Bouncing among three characters provides fun variety, but it keeps you wading in the shallows of combat too long, rather than letting you dive into its impressive depths.

The core appeal of Devil May Cry is stringing moves together to form your own elaborate and spectacular combos. Devil May Cry 5 generally delivers a precise and satisfying (if familiar) version of that formula. You launch underworld abominations into the air, slice them up, and blast them from afar, all using responsive controls that make it easy to cut through the horde. The story is ridiculous and barely coherent, but it works thanks to a few awesome moments I can’t spoil here. All this serves as a consistently entertaining foundation, and all three playable heroes add their own variations.

You start playing as Nero, who still uses his sword, gun, and grab to combine mobility and lethality. The biggest change from previous entries comes from his robotic arms. Each arm gives you different powers, like firing off a metal fist to pummel an enemy, super-charging your attacks, or giving you an extra mid-air dash. In theory, this system expands your arsenal with lots of new tricks. In practice, it isn’t fun to manage. Several arms have contextual utility, but you can’t switch among them manually; you have to break (i.e. waste) your limited supply until you get to the one you want. Plus, the arms cost orbs to replenish – the same currency you use to buy your moves and health upgrades – so spending resources on them feels like throwing your money away. Ultimately, they are fun to experiment with, but they aren’t powerful or interesting enough to warrant the hassle and expense.

Controlling V offers a departure from tradition, since his approach is all about staying back while directing his demonic allies’ actions and summoning a brute when his Devil Trigger fills. Since his distance from the fray makes him less likely to get hit, I had the easiest time racking up SSS ranks with V. However, executing his companions’ specific moves feels less reliable. Even though using V to plow through fodder enemies is cool, his haphazard style isn’t great for focused encounters, and provides a diminished sense of strategic accomplishment.

 

Dante has some new weapons (like dual rocket launchers) and a twist on his Devil Trigger, but he is the least surprising and most fun of the three heroes. Switching among various styles and weapons feels like the classic DMC I love, and I’m glad Dante’s the one squaring off against DMC 5’s most fearsome foes. That’s not something you can change, since only 2 missions (of 21 total) let you choose your hero; the other 19 are locked in as either Nero, V, or Dante.

This assigned-character structure creates a few frustrations. You play as Nero for a bit, and then you switch to V. But V is a blank slate, so you have to start from scratch, often re-buying abilities (like increased speed) that are practically identical to what you’ve already bought for Nero. Then you do the same thing again when Dante unlocks. This gives the pacing a weird, start-and-stop sensation that makes it hard to gain momentum. Once you start to get in the groove with one character, a mandatory swap is always just around the corner.

The diffuse gameplay focus also prevents you from accessing the full complexity of each character in a single playthrough. With my time (and orbs) split among three heroes, I felt like I only had the opportunity to climb halfway up the ladder to mastery with any one of them before I finished the final mission. Capcom must have recognized this problem, because the solution appears to be making sure none of the fights require full comprehension of your capabilities – even on Devil Hunter, which is the hardest option available at the start. I’m not saying the game is a total cakewalk, but I was about halfway through my second playthrough (on the next difficulty level up) when I finally hit fights that tested my limits, made me practice techniques, and forced me to improve – something Devil May Cry games normally deliver before the credits roll.

However, once you finally reach the depths, Devil May Cry 5 stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessors. Each character has a solid complement of moves and abilities to play with, and some of the more difficult enemy configurations almost feel like puzzles as you prioritize and control the crowd while trying to maximize your rank and keep your health high for the next encounter. I like how the removal of manual-use items (like green and purple stars) prevents you from brute-forcing tough fights, but I also appreciate that you still have gold orbs to let you keep fighting when victory is within sight. All of these wrinkles  (and more surprises I won’t ruin) kept me hooked post-game, though I wish the game provided more gameplay-related incentives to keep playing on other than the simple satisfaction of getting better and finishing harder modes.

For all of its pacing issues, Devil May Cry 5 is still a lot of fun to play. Combat is a blast, and the cutscenes are delightfully absurd; fans of Devil May Cry 3 and 4 should feel right at home here. Capcom goes back to the baseline action I’ve always enjoyed, and executes that with the series’ signature over-the-top style. However, this entry’s changes and additions to that core experience don’t enhance what the series does well; they feel more like roadblocks than steps forward.



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