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Devil May Cry 5 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Devil Arms gives you something to perpetually buy with Red Orbs
  • Reviving with Red Orbs eliminates intermediate step
  • Nero's grappling hook keeps combos going.
  • Good boss fights
  • Eclectic weapons and movesets
  • Can practice moves and combos in The Void
  • Well-hidden secret missions that aren't just waves of enemies
  • Lots of replay value -- if I only had the time...

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Micro-transactions for buying orbs and continues?
  • Daily login bonus?
  • Training wheels don't come off till game is almost over
  • Can't switch Nero's Devil Arm?
  • Hard to judge what's happening when V is far away from action
  • Lacks puzzles
  • Story is a bit stale, derivative, and fan-servicey
  • Drab, repetitive environments
  • Load times in and out of customize
  • None of the ladies are playable?!

Overall Impression : C+
Too easy for first-time playthrough

Devil May Cry 5 - cover

Developer:
Capcom

Publisher:
Capcom

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox One (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
8 March, 2019

Genre:
spectacle fighter

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence,
in-game purchases

Player(s):
single player... I guess???

Official site:
http://www.devilmaycry5.com/

Devil May Cry 5 is a lot to take in. It's a very weird game, that may be a bit overly-complicated, and which might be starting to suffer from a degree of "Kingdom Hearts syndrome".

It's a tough game to review. The core gameplay if fantastic, but almost all of the supporting features and production surrounding the gameplay is ... "odd" if we're being generous; or "bafflingly stupid" if we want to be overly critical. As such, this review is going to come off as unduly negative because I have a laundry list of complaints and "what the fuck?"s to go through. Long story short, the game plays very well. It's peak Devil May Cry and a satisfactory follow-up to Devil May Cry 4. Now read on if you want to read about all the weird shit.

Who are these new characters? What is their relationship? The game doesn't allow us to get to know them at all before throwing us into the action. In the case of V, we're given control without any real clue who he is, where he comes from, why he has monsters from the first game as magical animal sidekicks, what his relationship with Nero is... anything. The non-linear mission and story progression seems designed for no other purpose than to hold back information for a "surprise twist" that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

By the fourth mission or so, I was betting that V turns out to be Vergil, back from the dead ... again. Was I right? Is the story that predictable?

Tutorializing multiple characters means the training wheels stay on for a long time.

The fact that the game has to re-tutorialize a new character only four missions in (and then again a few missions later) means that the training wheels stay on for a long time. It feels completely unnecessary though, because V's controls are basically the same as Nero's (which are basically the same as Dante's): triangle for melee attacks, square for ranged attacks, L1 for a limited-use super attack, circle for long-distance grapple/teleport attack. The only real mechanical difference is that V can only kill enemies by using his special action assigned to the circle button.

Strategically, V plays very differently because he's basically a squishy mage or summoner. He hangs back, avoiding damage, while his minions do all the actual fighting. This does have the downside of putting V very far away from the action. I had trouble judging distances in this game in generally, but it's especially problematic when V (and the camera) is standing around half a city block away from the actual fighting. Is Shadow close enough to use Guillotine? Can't tell. Which direction do I need to press on the stick to make Shadow execute that attack, since it's relative to Shadow's position and not V or the camera? Also can't tell. Not that it really matters anyway, as I don't have direct control over Shadow's movements, so I just have to push the button and hope Shadow is in proper position for the attack to land.

V is far away from the action, making it hard to see what's going on, and encouraging button-mashing.

I think Capcom really should have fundamentally re-thought how the camera should work with V, rather than sticking with this boilerplate over-the-shoulder, third-person action cam. Perhaps more cinematic camera angle similar to the first Devil May Cry would have been more appropriate? Or the Raptor News broadcast angles used in DMC? They could have kept the action as the focal point in the center of frame, with V off on the edges. Alternatively, the camera could position itself on the far end of the enemies, pointing towards V.

Cinematic camera angles similar to DMC's Raptor News broadcast might have been welcome for V.

Unnecessary online integrations

Adding even further to the confusion is the poorly-explained (if it was ever explained at all), completely unnecessary online functionality that seems to have been thrown in even though it's completely out of place -- apparently for no other reason than that this is a "hardcore action adventure game" that exists in a post-Dark Souls gaming landscape. Seriously, these online mechanics feel about as forced and unnecessary as the similar mechanics in Nioh, except at least this time there's an ensemble of playable characters and supporting characters to justify the idea of cooperative play.

Apparently, other players are playing the levels too, and I'm expected to rate them,
even though I have no idea where they are or what impact (if any) they are having on my game...?

That being said, I have no clue how this multiplayer mechanic is supposed to work! I never once saw another player in my game, nor was I ever given an option to join another player's game. So when it came time to "rate" the other players (Demon's Souls-style), I had no idea what the criteria for rating them should be. What, exactly, did the other player do? Am I just handing out charity? In the one instance in which there actually was a co-op boss fight, the other character was controlled by the game as an NPC.

What am I missing here with this online "co-op" feature? The only thing that I could figure is that the other player(s) were somehow contributing towards my end-of-mission score (and I contributing towards theirs). So the more "stylishly" each player plays, the better all players do. In any case, the online components never seemed to impact my game at all, and the overhead of implementing them does not seem worth the reward of having such incidental and obtuse online play.

The only time I fought a boss alongside another character, the character was an NPC and not a player.

Perhaps the worst offense here is the inclusion of a "daily login reward" as if this were some online shooter or mobile game. This isn't Destiny, Pokemon, Go, or some other game that has to bribe its players with free stuff in the desperate hopes of keeping them playing! This is a story-based, single-player action game in a series that is known for being difficult-to-play, but rewarding-to-master. I don't want your charity, Devil May Cry. I guess it's better than the game being designed such that it gets ridiculously hard, and Capcom is happy to give us the "player choice" to buy some Gold Orbs in order to "speed up progression".

In any case, handing out a free Gold Orb every day means that the game is encouraging the player to play one mission per day, then turn the game off, and wait till tomorrow to play the next mission so you can get your free Gold Orb. It's so out of place and dumb. DMC5 thankfully never turns into a grind-fest like Shadow of War.

Capcom gives out free Gold Orbs as a "daily login bonus" as if this were an online shooter or mobile game.

Surprisingly simple swordplay

Having all these free Gold Orbs that I didn't earn also serves to compound the problem that "Devil Hunter" difficulty may be a bit too easy. You can also now chose to spend Red Orbs for revives after death (instead of the ridiculous amounts of Gold Orbs that you are given without earning). Spending more Red Orbs will revive you with more health. This is something that also contributes towards the easiness of the game, but I think I actually like it. You actually have to work for Red Orbs, unlike the Gold Orbs. The games have always allowed you to buy Gold Orbs with Red Orbs anyway, so this just cuts out that intermediate step.

Spending Red Orbs to partially revive is a very cost-effective option for finishing off a boss.

You can use a small chunk of Red Orbs (less than it would take to learn a new ability) to revive and partially restore your health. This can give you a second wind to use towards finishing off a boss that you had already gotten down to a sliver of health before you died. Sure, it's a cheap and easy out that affords you a lot more slip-ups than the game should maybe accommodate, and it means that I never got a Game Over; but it also means that you always have something that you can spend your orbs on if you already have all the upgrades that you want. It also means that there's a perpetual use for Red Orbs when you move onto New Game+ and higher difficulties.

Even if you do run out of Gold or Red Orbs (or just decide to "Give Up"), the game is exceedingly generous with checkpoints. You won't lose much (if any) progress at all. Furthermore, the missions are pathetically short and simple to complete. I finished most missions (on my first attempt) in under 30 minutes. So even if you do have to restart a mission, it's not really much of a loss at all.

I received lots of high ranks in my first playthrough of many missions.

In any case, I received "A" and "S" rankings in first-playthroughs of many missions without really having to try that hard. The V missions were the easiest. By far. They were also the most dull, since they could be easily completed by just mashing the Square and Triangle buttons, while still earning a "B" or better. Dante's and Nero's missions were only slightly more challenging.

I don't think I had to spend a single Gold Orb until the final two boss fights -- which, incidentally, also forced my to consume almost all of my Gold Orbs. So in addition to the game as a whole being too easy, the difficulty curve itself is all out of whack. There's no proper sense of escalation of challenge, and only a few bosses or enemies that require you to use varied tactics. Then BAM! you hit a wall of bosses that require you to use every trick in your book and still go through two or three continues.

This isn't like Resident Evil 2, in which I tried starting my first game on the hard difficulty, got my ass kicked, and demoted myself down to an easier difficulty, and then plodded through a game that was too easy for me. Devil May Cry 5's "Devil Hunter" difficulty is the harder of the two difficulties that is unlocked by default, I found that to be too easy. I didn't have the option to play on a harder difficulty more appropriate to my skill level and experience with the franchise. I feel bad for the poor sods who did speed runs and challenge runs of Devil May Cry 1 and 3, because they could probably beat 5 by playing it with a Rock Band guitar with one hand tied behind their backs and a blindfold.

This isn't like REmake2, in which I got stuck on the hard difficulty and had to demote myself to normal.

Satisfyingly Solid swordplay

Thankfully, the encroaching pay-to-win micro-transaction economy, odd online support, pathetic lack of difficulty, and short campaign do not come close to sinking this game... yet. They are blemishes on an otherwise solid release.

I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer after completing the campaign. The characters' weapons and move sets provide a lot of options. Controls are responsive, and combat is smooth and free-flowing -- as is always the case in Devil May Cry games. According to the PSN trophy screen, there's at least three higher difficulty settings that can be played after completing the campaign, and I'm sure completionists will spend a lot time learning and mastering each character's robust sets of moves -- especially Nero's multitude of Devil Arms.

There's also some good boss fights. None of them were too terribly challenging except the last two. I didn't have to replay any of them 10 times before beating them the way I had to do with Cerberus in Devil May Cry 3, but they were all fun to play while they lasted. Each boss seems designed around some subset of character moves, or some specific style of play, but they are all flexible enough that you can use any preferred methods to fight them. Not using the specific moves that the boss is designed around will make the given fight feel a bit grindy, but I never felt like the game was forcing me to use specific weapons or attacks (the way that DMC did). At least, not up until the final couple boss fights, which solidly tested my ability to use almost all of the styles and techniques available to me.

There's some very enjoyable boss fights.

Even though each fight was good, there's nothing in here that is lingering in my memory the way that Phantom or Nightmare did in the first game, or Cerberus and Vergil did in 3, or even bosses like Gwyn or Artorias from Dark Souls. This game's fights are good, but forgettable.

I also appreciated that the few secret missions I found were all unique and novel gameplay challenges, rather than grindy hoard waves and combat tests. These things are well-hidden, but provided a welcome break from the non-stop hack-n-slash when they did come around. The secret missions were one of my favorite aspects of the first Devil May Cry, but the sequels have had a shaky track record with them. It's nice to see a return to form in this regard.

I particularly like the use of Nero's grappling hook to close the distance to enemies and keep combos flowing. Dante's various styles and weapons also give him a ton of options to play with, including some absolutely silly ones. None of the outrageous weapons amused me as much as Devil May Cry 3's guitar, and I often stuck with the trusty old swords and pistols, but I found plenty of use from each and every weapon in the game.

Dante can apparently moonwalk demons to death.

Reasons to come back for more?

I never came close to purchasing all the the upgrades for even a single weapon (except the Kalina Ann) -- let alone for every weapon on one character, or every weapon on every character. This gives some reason to want to continue playing the harder difficulties to unlock more moves. To facilitate this, many missions allow you to re-play as one or two of the other three lead characters.

You really have to get into repeat playthroughs to get the most out of this game! However, I have a full-time job, a kid, a dog, this blog, am co-host on a podcast, occasionally guest on a let's play channel, and run my own amateur YouTube channel, some of which is partially-supported by my Patreon page. I barely have time for a single play-through of all the games that I want to play, let alone multiple playthroughs or 100% completions. As such, it would have been really nice if Devil May Cry 5 had put up a little more resistance in that first playthrough to force me to have to engage with its mechanics more intensely.

I don't like that I had to spend orbs to re-learn the same abilities that Dante's learned five times already, and I think the game could have started each character with a second combo unlocked. Other than that, the in-game economy felt mostly balanced (with the exception of Gold Orbs). I acquired Red Orbs at a steady pace, and was unlocking new upgrades almost every mission.

There's one special taunt upgrade for each character that costs 3 million orbs. You can buy a pack of 1 million orbs for $20, which is a total scam. You'd have to pay as much as the whole game just to buy this one taunt for one character. It's only a taunt, so it's not like Capcom is hiding moves behind a paywall.

The Ex Provocation taunt is a total scam, but the other micro-transactions are not pushed too hard.

I also like how Nero's Devil Arms (along with the new revive ability) gives the player something to use all your excess Red Orbs on once you do buy every ability in the game. You'll still probably have more Red Orbs than you'll know what to do with by the end of your second or third playthrough, but it's a start...

On the topic of the Devil Arms: why can't Nero switch his currently-selected Devil Arm? Not only do you have to pick the right set of Devil Arms before entering a mission, but you also have to queue them up in an order that will allow you to use the right arm at the right time? I guess this is another way of promoting repeat playthroughs? In your first-time playthrough, you'll have no fore-knowledge of what you'll encounter, and no way to make an informed decision on what to equip. It won't be until a repeat playthrough that you'll know what enemies and bosses are coming, and which arms (and combinations of arms) might be most effective, as well as when to use them.

Dante can switch styles with a button-press, but Nero can't switch Devil Arms?

It's still a weird limitation though, and I don't really like it. Dante can switch styles on-the-fly with the directional buttons, so why can't Nero similarly switch which Devil Arm he has equipped? If this is an attempt to encourage repeat playthroughs, it's done at the expense of the enjoyment of first-time playthroughs, which is going to hurt more far players than it helps.

Gratuitous fan service

The story is a bit stale, derivative, predictable, and very fan-servicey. Unless (of course) you're one of the few people who really liked Devil May Cry 2; in which case, no fan service for you! "Fans" who spend an excessive amount of time on the Devil May Cry pages of Rule 34 will also enjoy some unnecessarily pandering and titillating "fan service". Seriously, both Trish and Lady are rescued from the demons, are stripped naked, are ogled by other characters, then spend the rest of the game sitting in the back of the van while the men take care of business. Sigh... So much for #MeToo...

Devil May Cry 5 can be a bit ... unnecessary... with its "fan" service...

Devil May Cry 5 thankfully never reaches a Metal Gear Solid 4-level of cringe-worthy pandering fan service (even though it has all the ingredients). But then again, MGS4 at least had a degree of self-awareness and mockery in its own self-gratification. Devil May Cry 5 also has nothing that is as disgustingly out-of-place as Pyramid Head's appearance in the Silent Hill movie and Homecoming.

A lot of the structure and plot points of this game feel like minor variations of everything we've seen before. A giant tower tree comes up from under the ground, destroying the city, and our devil hunters must ascend descend it to confront the big, bad boss demon. Our new side-kick character (who is actually playable this time around) has some secret relationship with the villain. The real villain turns out to be a "surprise". Stop me if you've heard this all before.

We've seen a lot of these enemies before...

I was also very surprised by how much I was reminded of DMC (the failed punk goth reboot developed by Ninja Theory). I actually liked DMC just fine, even though I felt it mis-used its IP. The gameplay was actually really tight, the story was decent, and the levels themselves had a wonderful sense of menace and antagonism about them. But it did not feel like Devil May Cry at all. It took itself far too seriously, and the characters were unrecognizable as our beloved Dante and Vergil.

Devil May Cry 5 lacks the sense of antagonism of DMC's environments.

Devil May Cry 5's twisted city streets reminded me a lot of the Limbo City environments from DMC, only without the really cool sense of antagonism from the environment itself (so a step down from DMC in that regard). Both games also focus a lot of their narrative on the relationship and sense of estrangement between Dante and Vergil, with regard to their relationship to their mother. This combines with a setup ripped straight from Devil May Cry 3, and plot elements, concepts, enemies, and characters from past games, to create a sense of "been there, done that" that kept me largely disinterested in what was actually happening.

Dante is perfectly aware of the references to the first game.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the game a lot! That might not come through clearly in the text of the review, because so much of the supporting design elements around the core combat are either weird or poorly-thought-out. It's "weird", but it's not "broken". Capcom's Red Orb economy is flirting dangerously close with the line between a rewarding progression system, and a micro-transaction-fueled grind, but it isn't quite there yet.

Had this game offered more challenge to me -- preferably by making Devil Hunter mode tougher, because Son of Sparda is a bit too hard for a first playthrough -- I'd probably have been too engaged with the sword and gun-play to be noticing all these nagging issues. In any case, I'll be keeping an eye out for the inevitable DLC that will surely [hopefully] let us play as the ladies. Seriously, giving them some kick-ass DLC to redeem their dignity is the least you can do after you beat them up and paraded them both around in towels for half the game.

None of the ladies are playable. I'm assuming they are being held back for DLC.

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