Dante’s back. The wisecracking devil hunter who’s equally versed in gun- and sword-play. There were fears when Capcom's stylish Devil May Cry series was rebooted in 2013, that we wouldn’t see classic Dante again. But despite the excellence of Ninja Theory's fresh spin on the character, Capcom has decided to return to the original white-haired, red-coated guise in Devil May Cry 5. And what a glorious return it is.
The setup is typically wild Devil May Cry fare. A terrifying demonic presence has reared its ugly head, laying waste to the London-inspired Redgrave City, and it’s up to Dante, his cocky nephew Nero and mysterious newcomer V to stop it. The action begins as they engage in confrontation with the big bad, and things get worse from there in all the most entertaining ways.
Nero’s introduced as a playable character first and in many respects, it is the youngster's story. Since the events of Devil May Cry 4 he has lost his demonically-powered right arm. But his business partner and prodigious weaponsmith Nico is on hand to create Devil Breaker prosthetics, a diverse collection of fragile robot arms that Nero can utilize in combat.
There are a whole bunch of these, with special abilities ranging from energy bursts to rocket launchers to slowing down time or healing Nero. Every arm type has a default grappling hook function that can be used to grab enemies or swing from vantage points, giving Nero’s combat style flexibility and range.
All of the Devil Breakers can be self-destructed in an extra powerful attack, and the arm you’re using can’t be manually selected, so there is a depth of strategy that sees you sacrificing arms in destructive ways to switch up your style. And it’s simply one part of Nero’s arsenal and the more you play the more it’s revealed just how in-depth Devil May Cry 5's action is.
On top of his Devil Breakers, Nero utilizes a twin-chamber revolver and a sword, both of which can be charged to make their attacks more powerful. There are dozens of special moves and combos to unlock for each of these weapons. Nero functions as a solid all-rounder character, strong as a ranged or up close fighter. And even then, it’s not until you reach the final level for the first time that you get full access to Nero’s abilities, with a significant (and terrific) twist at the end of the game adding further depth to his abilities.
Next up is V, and boy is he an interesting and unique character for an action game. V suffers from ailing health and isn’t capable of attacking enemies by himself. Instead, he makes use of three demons who he can summon to aid him in combat; a bird, a panther and a giant one-eyed golem.
V is an absolutely fascinating character to play as. You’re in direct control of him in battle, and for the most part you want to keep him out of any enemies’ path. To attack you are able to directly control Griffon (the bird) and Shadow (the panther), firing off ranged attacks with the former and melee strikes with the latter.
There is a fascinating juxtaposition of keeping V at a distance but using the lock-on to attack with both demons. If you want to focus on just using one demon, you can set the other to Auto by expending some of your Devil Trigger Gauge (essentially the special move meter you increase by smacking things around). Or you can set both to auto and focus on keeping V safe. You can also choose to build your Devil Trigger Gauge manually by reading from a book of William Blake poetry as V strolls around the battlefield. You can do this even while directly controlling the demons. It is delightfully weird.
Build up enough DT Gauge and you can summon Nightmare. He’s a hulking behemoth who lays waste to everything on-screen. By purchasing an upgrade, you can even ride and directly control him, allowing you more tactile access to his destruction.
Despite his frailty and the unusual complexity of his combat systems, V is the easiest character to play as. The trade-off between auto and manual attacks means that if you’re not getting to grips with his unique approach then you’re still not going to struggle, but for those who want to delve in a bit more there’s plenty to get your hands on.
This approach extends throughout every area of the game; there are multiple difficulty settings, with the easiest being extremely easy. This means players of any skill level can jump in and enjoy, but there is no compromise to the complexity and difficulty the game has to offer for higher tier players. V’s combat design mirrors this most effectively, showcasing the thought that has been applied to each aspect of Devil May Cry 5’s design.
Then of course there’s Dante himself. While Nero and V have their own depth and are great fun to play as, Dante is on another level, with his combat options able to fill multiple games alone. On your first playthrough you’ll be unlocking new facets to Dante’s arsenal on almost every level. And when you think you have seen everything he has to offer, a new set of systems are added that offer an entire playthrough’s worth of experimentation.
Dante wields Ebony and Ivory, his twin guns, and Rebellion, his sword. But he also has a shotgun and Balrog - a set of gauntlets that turn him into a kung fu master. Balrog offers two unique combat styles, letting Dante focus either on punches or kicks. Just getting to grips with Balrog and its various upgrades could last you for the whole game if you wanted it to.
But then you start unlocking other weapons, each one offering an entire moveset and combat style that in many other games would be the full focus. And while this may sound like an overwhelming and intimidating amount of things to learn, it’s entirely in your hands. If you want to play Dante purely using pistols/sword then you can.
Capcom's intent is to hand you loads of toys, and loads of systems go with them, and giving you this demon-slaying sandbox to hone your own style and approach. Dante has four styles in total; Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger and Royalguard. Evasion, melee, ranged and defensive. Each of these styles add new movesets to each weapon and you can switch them on the fly. At times it feels like a Combat Choreography Simulator, as you’re chaining together weapons, moves and styles on the fly, creating a bloody and balletic setpiece.
Dante has his own Devil Trigger mode too, allowing him to go all demonic. Again adding new movesets to every weapon, and by this point the depth is dizzying in the most enjoyable way. And then you get a whole other modifier for Dante that adds a whole new set of movesets. Narratively it’s a spoiler but mechanically it’s yet more proof that the developers simply want you to have of fun and experiment with Devil May Cry 5 well past your initial playthrough.
The whole game seems to showcase developers having a lot of fun. The plot’s silly in the best way. Numerous points are designed to have fans grinning from ear to ear, while newbies will likely appreciate the silliness. It doesn’t take itself at all seriously, except in its combat. Then it’s all business.
One thing that may seem jarring at first, however, is the design of levels. They are fairly simplistic, short and very linear. There are a few secrets to find off the beaten track but, for the most part, they consist of corridors leading to arenas leading to more corridors to more arenas. If you just play through the game once from start to finish then, even with all the combat complexity, it might seem a little light on content.
But this is not a game designed to be played through once and forgotten. Much like Capcom's brilliant remake of Resident Evil 2, it takes a deliciously old-school approach; challenging its players to work through the increasing difficulties, using its combat arenas to explore various styles and chain together supremely stylish moves to improve your rank each time.
The first playthrough feels like a preface, setting you up to have all the abilities needed to tackle the meat of the game. This is evidenced by the fact that both Dante and Nero receive some fairly game-changing abilities right at the end, which then come into their own in subsequent playthroughs.
There is a modern twist to all this in the Devil May Cry 5 may well be the kind of game where videos of skilled players rack up scores of views on YouTube. It even has this neat function where, while playing some levels, you can observe another player’s run of a linked level; watching how they performed as one character while you, as another, trek along your own route. It’s a fairly inconsequential addition all told, but it’s pretty cool to know that the Nero fighting away on a bridge below you is showcasing another human player’s abilities.
With planned DLC support, including a free Bloody Palace tiered arena mode, there’s no shortage of combat playgrounds to make your own, and even after putting dozens of hours in, you’ll still be discovering new things about how Dante, Nero and V play.
It’s stylish. It’s cool. It’s supremely fun, fluid and rewarding. Dante’s back and he’s brought some friends. And with combat flair that makes up the finest pure-action game we have seen in a long time, we hope they stick around.